Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for DCI California

June 23, 2022 -10:00am Burlington, VT

It is with great anticipation that I am about to embark on my western DCI tour, sitting comfortably in the BTV gate 12 in Vermont’s Queen City, Burlington. I am bound for San Diego for the first drum corps show of the season this Friday. The plane is at the gate and all things seem good for my day-long travel through MSP, Minneapolis, MN to San Diego. I went to a DCI show a few years ago in Minneapolis and really enjoyed myself. It is the hub airport for Sun Country Airlines (the lowest fair I could find), so I may return to there for a show next year and take advance of the direct flight. Today, I will have about two hours layover to further contemplate my upcoming return to Southern California in forty-three years. I spent about 9 months living the California lifestyle back in 1976 before returning to the northeast to begin a family.

First on my California tour is a reunion with an old friend, Bruce that drove across the country with me back then and has never returned from San Diego. There were four of us in a powder-blue VW bug with just enough room for the backpacks in the front compartment, my 10-speed bike on the rear rack, and cooler for beer in the back seat between two of us. I will be reliving some of what it was like when I was a young snare drummer back in the early 70’s. We will be going to the show together on Friday, so I hope the experience will be a good one. Not everyone gets it the first time they experience live drum corps or catches the passion as I have. Time to board the 737.

2:00pm Minneapolis, MN

Bladder stretched to the limit upon arrival in MSP, I am happily relieved to complete my first leg to San Diego. Further reflection on my youthful time spent in Southern California in 1975, takes me back to body surfing, girl watching, and embarking on my career in the graphic arts with a job making custom handprints and photographic enlargements. I had left college the year earlier and began to strike out on my own. Those were the days before kids and major life responsibilities. Now on the back end of that career, I am glad to be free to lark about with DCI and to return to the sunny climate of Southern California. I’m not sure I will be up for body surfing, but the girl watching should still be fun.

Now onto the topic of drum corps. I am really looking forward to catching the spirit of the western corps including Pacific Crest Drum and Bugle Corps (PC), a world class corps from Diamond Bar, CA. Hosting the shows in San Diego on Friday, and in the Rose Bowl on Saturday, this emerging corps is shooting for a place on the final night of the World Championships in Indianapolis in August. They achieved their highest placement of 14th in 2019, within reasonable reach of the goal of 12th or better. I will be meeting up with the renowned photographer for Drum Corps World, Russell Tanakaya who is exited to introduce me to the California drum corps community. In addition to PC, I am anxious to also experience the open class corps, and the venerable championship corps: Blue Devils from Concord, CA, and the Santa Clara Vanguard. And I fully expect to be entertained by all the other open and world class corps on the roster.

The DCI excitement has been building slowly with a couple of short visits to Castleton University in Vermont, the spring training location for the Boston Crusaders (BAC), my adopted home corps. I delivered four cases of Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese singles donated by Cabot Creamery Cooperative for the kids to enjoy as a parting gift. They will enjoy the sharp tangy treat while on the bus ride to Boston. What a treat for me to be enwrapped by the love and glow of the 80-member horn line during their afternoon warm up. The incredible sound and feel is impossible to experience fully other than live, especially in the center of the arc. Even the high-quality DCI downloads on my Bose sound system at high volume falls short of being there. Due to inclement weather, BAC had to cancel the Community Night performance, leaving me still quite longing for more drum corps. This has set me up perfectly for entering The VOID, Pacific Crest’s 2022 show theme. I have enjoyed the early pirate videos on YouTube and look forward to immersing myself fully in the show with attendance at three shows and hopefully a rehearsal or two. Of course, the highlight of the tour will be going to the Rose Bowl for an evening of high energy and DCI excitement on the iconic 1.32-acre gridiron in Pasadena. Time to walk the terminal as I have a couple of hours to kill before my next flight.

BAC horn line ensemble warm up. Music to my longing ears.

June 24, 2022 – 10:00am San Diego, CA

It’s a show day! I am sitting in the relaxed atmosphere in the backyard in a lovely neighborhood listening to the melodic bird songs, and the gentle tone of the wind chimes activated by the light breeze. I am where the climate is quite optimal for homo sapiens – sunny, warm and dry. It is like this all the time here unlike in Vermont where the weather can dramatically change hourly. “If you don’t like the wetha just wait.” With a full day of travel yesterday and having enjoyed the merriment of an old friend and sampling some of California’s finest beers last night, this morning is a welcome rest and reset in preparation for tonight’s first DCI show. It is the season’s opening show at the Rancho Buena Vista HS just north of San Diego. It will be a great start to the season for the high number of newbies to the marching corps, and warm up for the show in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, where I will be a guest of Pacific Crest supporters. Surely there are incredible staff, volunteers, board members, and supports behind this emerging corps, and I am anxious to meet them and hear their stories.

The Academy schooling us on a proper drum corps show.

June 25, 2022 – 8:00am Enroute

All aboard! I am on Amtrak Pacific Surfliner in transit to Los Angeles. The train is winding its way north through the canyons, the high walls towering above. We are making deliberate progress north with an occasional slow crawl through some rough patches where the track is not quit up to speed. Now we are hugging the coastline where the beach is just below the tracks. People are taking their morning walks and surfers are enjoying the minimal waves. The sun is obscured by a thick haze that seems to be burning off to reveal another fine sunny California day. The ride is approximately 2.5 hours long. So far, the train car is uncrowded, and the comfortable seat is rather spacious compared to the cabins of today’s airliners. From the Los Angeles Transit center, I will take a short bus ride to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) where I will be picking up a Tesla Model 3 from Hertz, and then on to the Rose Bowl for some more DCI. Planes, trains, and automobiles. The train is a great place for me to catch up with you between frequent looks out my window.

Bones and Buicks.

Last night was a great night for the start of the DCI season with the show at Rancho Buena Vista High just north of San Diego. The eight corps in competition had their first opportunity to impress the wanting drum corps fans and the judges who are again present, the first time since the finals in 2019. The World Class corps in competition finished in this order: Santa Clara Vanguard, Mandarines, The Academy, and Pacific Crest. The high score was just under 70 points out of 100 total possible. We will see a steady uptick in the scores at the corps continue to improve and embellish their programs throughout the season. It is amazing what a difference each day makes with their progress toward perfection. I fully expect to see the high 90’s at the finals from SCV. 

Once again, I enjoyed taking in the show with my seat neighbors including Dan who marched in the 70’s and was responsible for bringing DCI to the San Diego area. It is amazing the instant bonding that occurs with avid drum corps fans. DCI=Love, Family and Friends. I have a new one. My other seat neighbor was my old high school good friend who graciously hosted me during my stay. It was his first show. His takeaway comments: “I never realized this existed. It was a real education. I thought it was going to be like marching band (from the 70s). Wow!” I enjoyed giving him some insight and context as we strolled through the lot and adjoining athletic fields watching the corps disembark and prepare for the show. It is cool to see the members up close and personal, and watch them march in formation, two-by-two, as each section heads off to some secluded area on campus. Their steely concentration and focus is evident as few make eye contact as they passed by. This gives one a clue about the intense focus and dedication of the members as they warm up for their first run. There will be a few thousand people in attendance to give the love back. 

SCV props that elevate for a three-dimensional wall of sound.

My takeaway from the show was that the World Class Corps are much more prepared with their show, most completing their full program. Mandarins’ show seemed to be truncated as they were not quite ready to show off their closing act. Their program is one to watch as it is very creative and unusual with high props and very interesting drills and sounds as they rearranged the scaffolding-like structures around, and around. My newly adopted favorite emerging corps, Pacific Crest closed out the show. This is a well-run organization of volunteers and staff, and a major force for engaging more youth in the activity and will be filling up the Rose Bowl with students from far and wide on Saturday. 

Pacific Crest welcomes you into The VOID. Can you name the props?

The sun is breaking through the haze and the beaches are getting more crowed. We have passed through Solana Beach and Oceanside. The waves are lapping at the sand, the view beyond pure horizon. The train cruises past piers, lifeguard shacks and public accommodations, just below the tracks. The waves seem a bit higher as several surfers are making their way out to the surf, prone on their boards, arm over arm digging into the water. I am glad that I chose this mode of transportation for the comfort, quiet, and great views along the way. I’ll keep you posted on this continuing tour of California and the western drum corps scene. 

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