Home, Where the Heart Is

August 16, 2023 – Along the Mill Brook

Sunday, the morning after DCI the finals, I did not need audio traveling home from Indianapolis to the Mad River Valley of Vermont. The musical repertoires ingrained from weeks of intense listening to 2023 DCI drum and bugle corps shows that climaxed last night with the World Championship Finals rang in my cranium non-stop. My heavily exercised thalamus gland and the nucleus tegmental area, which houses the pleasure button and the trigger to my tear ducts, were again fully engaged as I sped along in the left lane. 

Atlas has risen. The Cadets move up the ranks.

These were the days that mattered. The experience of a two-week DCI auto tour through six states to eight shows, watching thousands of young Americans perform their hearts out, defines what is good and worthy. I am proud to participate in my small way by chronicling my experiences for you to enjoy vicariously in this blog. The past three days in Indianapolis have been a veritable love fest of fans, friends, and family who converged to watch, listen, and feel the most incredible youth performing arts activity on earth. I was there to soak it all up in row fifteen, 50-yard line, and to share it with you. 

The Blue Devils take home their 21st Gold Medal.

I fully appreciated the gamut of show themes that were presented. Today’s drum corps is not like it used to be, even though some elements are hard to shake (and catch), such as the sabers and rifles that remain, once part of the formal military-style color guard customary during the pre-DCI days of drum corps. It is incredible what they do with them today. A fifty rifle toss is a sight to behold. My favorite show White Whale by the Boston Crusaders depicted a literary standard ­­­– Moby Dick. One show, Where the Heart Is, performed by the Colts, exemplified that wherever you are, as long as you are with those you love, you are at home, especially if you are on the road with drum corps. Other shows depicted art, poetry, sin, rising above, personal struggle, triumph, tragedy, conquering climate change, and the side effects of a banned alcoholic beverage. Yup, I saw green fairies at almost every drum corps competition in person and on the Flo. Bravo to the Blue Stars for tackling the unique theme with In Absinthea

Blue Stars have become green fairies.

Memories of people and pageantry continued racing through my head as I sped east along the interstate route alone in my 5-cylinder marvel, the Silver Bullet. To enjoy drum corps fully is to be in the stands for a live show. That requires traveling by plane and car, and sometimes train. If you have followed my DCI stories these past seven years in my blog and Drum Corps World magazine, you will have endured the stories about my Volvos that have transported me along the way. I am comforted to have had the unwavering support of such a fine car and brand. The Silver Bullet purred the whole way to Indy and back with its new lease on life, a new engine replaced in 2022 by Volvo for excessive oil consumption. The wagon achieved a maximum mpg of 25.4 while touring the dollar store routes, the two-lane roads that connect our communities with that ubiquitous box store on the outskirts. Now in its eighth year, this car is going the long haul.

As the sun rose before me, I zipped through the level lands of eastern Indiana and Ohio. Ready for a late morning nap to catch up on some of the lost sleep the past recent nights, I chose a shady spot at Snow Trails, a ski hill in central Ohio, to hang my hammock. My goal for the day was to reach Ithaca, NY, in time for dinner with my sister. My DCI tour has had the side benefit of this annual reunion and comfort station in my sister’s comfortable home with a nice piano. That is, except last year when she was out of town. That summer, instead of a nice comfortable bed, at dusk, I hung my hammock between two cedars next to the Millers in the Richmondville cemetery, where they gently rocked me for a midsummer night’s sleep. 

Phantom Regiment is kicking it out.
Capturing the wind in Central New York.

Leaving Ithaca Monday morning, I chose the NYS Rt. 13, part of the dollar store route, to visit my other sister in Clinton, NY, for lunch. The fast lane was left behind, and I again enjoyed the rolling hills of New York’s heartland. Unbeknown to me, I was traveling along part of the Renewable Energy Trail, an identified corridor across the state dotted with wind farms and solar orchards. Nostalgia overcame me when I crested a hill near Peterborough, a small hamlet in Central New York. Sixty years ago, my father was involved in radar development for the Air Force, and a testing site for his work was on this hill. There once was a B52 bomber mounted upside down on a pedestal for testing purposes. We rehearsed fallout drills in school, hiding under our desks. Peterborough was also the home of Garrit Smith, a land baron, philanthropist, and abolitionist. His mansion was an active stop along the underground railroad. ‘He denied himself and his family in order to give to others’—a remarkable story to be learned by walking the grounds destroyed by fire in the 1930s.

Gerrit Smith was memorialized.

After two days of travel and visiting my two sisters, I arrived back here on the Mill Brook on Tuesday. The constant rain has kept the brook running bank-full all summer. This is unusual for the dry dog days of August when it lazily flows with a quiet trickle through its rocky bed. Now it has a loud, constant din, falling fairly fast and full down toward the Mad River. Our soils are like a loaded sponge with no more absorption quality. A heavy rain storm can spell a catastrophic flash flood. With the tropical storm season just beginning, we are again sitting on a powder keg of potential destruction. Ironically, for me, while on tour, this has been the best season for outdoor drum corps. Attending nine outdoor shows, only a partial interruption in Canton caused three corps to perform at a standstill. All eight other shows I attended were perfect weather for drum corps. Thanks to Siri, I adjusted my route to Canton to avoid a tornado warning area. Otherwise, I was blessed with great travel weather, too. 

Blue Knights on Saturday night.

Another area where I am blessed is the people I have met and the friends I have made along the way on my drum corps journey. This is the biggest takeaway. Moms, dads, grandparents, alumni, volunteers, staff, board members, fans, security, and police all participate in the endeavor and are all very approachable. One such person, Michelle, the mother of a BAC mellophone player whom I met back in Boston, gave me a nice hug on finals night. She was so proud we both cried. Multiply this by a factor of thousands, and you get a picture of what it is like at the end of it all. Relief, happiness, and sadness all rolled into a profound gratefulness. Of course, there is considerable merriment with friends before and after the shows, like with my drum corps brother, Garry, whom I met in 2017. He encouraged me to keep writing my stories and introduced me to many incredible people involved. He is everybody’s best friend and a pleasure to tour with. 

Thank you, Officer J., for assisting me with the confusion at the western gate of Lucas Oil Stadium. Several hundred drum corps fans and family stay at the hotels on the west side. The west gate was closed to the general public to benefit the Friends of DCI only. This was a huge annoyance to everyone else and a hardship to those with mobility issues. Most DCI fans had to walk approximately half a mile around the great oil can in the sky to the east side. Unfortunately, those who chose to walk around the south were blocked from passing through the area where the percussion ensembles were warming up and had to turn around and double back around the north end. There were no lines at the west entrance and throngs of folks trying to get in on the east side. Once finally inside the gate on the east side, the sweaty, tired throng had to walk all the way back to the west side to their seats. This guaranteed they would pass through the congested souvie area, the ulterior motive for restricting the west gate. I called upon Officer J. to help rectify the situation. DCI, please address this for next year. You may have made more enemies than friends.

Setting that constructive criticism aside, I have had the pleasure of writing about very positive aspects of this fantastic thing called DCI, chronicling my tours of shows and the final Championships for the past seven seasons here at alongthemillbrook.com. Contributing these blog entries to Drum Corps World and sharing them with a larger audience is a special privilege. Preparing each part for publication, I revisit a slice of the tour each month in the off-season—a big thank you to Steve Vickers, Publisher, for his support and encouragement. I continue to reassess my purpose. Am I writing so I can go to DCI shows, or am I going to DCI shows so I can write about them? What am I actually writing about? Is it about the drum corps, music education, my car, the weather, climate change action, the kids, the adults, the North Country Trail, cheddar cheese? Like a good drum corps program, a lot is going on. My DCI fandom is a unique part of my total eccentricity. So, mostly, it is about me, a very active retiree and summertime drum corps fan who happens to want to share.  

Sporting Harwood Union black and gold.

This is a very melancholy time for me. The excitement of the tour is now past, leaving a large hole in my psyche. The lines at the airports, long days of driving, the intensity of drum corps sounds and sights, and evenings of revelry are now memories, replaced with the tranquility of my brookside domain. It’s now time for me to transition to post-drum corps season activities, like the HS golf team, my two non-profit board duties, guest teaching, and lots of hiking. Skiing is just around the corner. I know that throughout the off-season, I will watch headcam and in-the-lot videos that will propagate on my desktop streaming feed while I share these stories with you each month from the comfort of my home along the Mill Brook. Thanks for reading. See you next summer. 

Kevin Russell

Looking west from the Appalachian Gap.

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