August 4, 2023 – Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
I’m sitting here along the Delaware River on a bench that I built out of two large stones, a log, and a 12x48x2” milled board, all flotsam found on the sandy bank. I am about midway through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. It is my favorite route to Allentown, with now commercial vehicles and a comfortable 45-mile-per-hour speed limit as the road wends its way through this crack in the earth, carved out over the millennia. The setting is idyllic, perfect for hanging my hammock between the flood-tolerant trees that shade the area. This would surely have been a location for Native American travelers to camp. As a North Country Trail Association board of director member, I serve on the jEDI committee. I was proud to help craft this important acknowledgment statement, which is precisely how I am feeling today: The North Country Trail Association respectfully acknowledges the North Country National Scenic Trail rests on the ancestral and contemporary homelands of Indigenous peoples. We aspire to recognize those who inhabited and stewarded this land throughout history by treading gently, and treating these places with honor and respect.
I arrived here this morning after my midnight drive from Boston. This included a 3-hour snooze along the interstate route at an unknown rest area. Rolling out the mattress in the Volvo was welcome at 1:30 am after a long day of scratching my drum corps itch. The afternoon was spent sitting with others outside the stadium within perfect earshot of the music being rehearsed throughout the movements and pages of the music book on the field nearby. Later that evening, I had a wonderful dinner with Mary and an unexpected guest, Michelle, a BAC mom. She was visiting from Texas to see her son in the awesome baritone section. We met earlier in the day during warm-ups, and I pulled her over to our table. What a great opportunity to hear from someone such as Michelle, who, prior to her son’s interest in drum corps, had no idea about the activity and what it entailed. This is not a new phenomenon, as I have met several of this type, who at first are clueless, then become enormously impressed and supportive. The drum corps family is large, many moms and dads give so much of their time to volunteer during the long summer slog. The BAC community, like all drum corps, has a whole-family approach. A big takeaway from Michelle’s comments was how each member supports one another without prejudice or envy. A profound sense of fairness prevails. They strive together and are proud of each other’s accomplishments, such as achieving a solo role. She also lamented about the criticism of the old guard of drum corps fans about the creative changes. Noting that it is a downer for the kids to hear that. Unconditional support is the motto for parents and drum corps supporters who care.
Following dinner, we arrived at our seats at the low, right, 40-yard line. The stadium was just right for drum corps fans up high and low in the stands. Mary and I were in the epicenter of sound and excitement that night. The up-close-and-personal nature of the stands so close to the field is a treat to really capture the emotion and performances of the members, especially the pit, the ensemble of percussion instruments arrayed along the front sideline. If you want to focus on the drum majors, this is your zone. Another visual benefit is the flying rifles and sabers tossed up high above our heads like flashes of lightning or fireworks. This up-close experience was somewhat unsettling, watching members spin frantically in the prop cages during the Mandarins’ closer. At first, those in the audience around me were dazed and confused, but then slowly rose to applaud the visual and audio experience they had just consumed so close. This was only the beginning. Phantom Regiment was next to deliver their well-crafted show with several visual and musical elements that marked a new phase for Phantom. I did miss the tarps, though, and was left wondering if the next one will be more graphically embellished as the show continues to unfold toward the final night in Indy. Bluecoats were shockingly good and as out there as one can imagine. I mean, who imagines this stuff? I had several moments where my mind said, “Like… what was that?!” If art is ‘anything that causes a reaction,’ then this was art in the highest order of Avant-garde, in motion with music and dance. Bravo to those geniuses who envision the show designs and the kids who love performing their magic. Last but not least, for those bated-breathed Boston fans around me, the Boston Crusaders brought back to the area a well-forged program with a seasoned crew to once again depict their epic sea-born tragedy to the local fans. This show has the highest General Effect for its emotion and powerful lamenting and haunting closing climactic chords. Drained once again, even though that was only four of the top corps, I walked Mary to her car and headed out along my DCI journey. Today is another show day: day 1, Allentown. I’ll keep you posted.
The pilgrimage is complete. I have arrived in Allentown. Each year since 2017, my friends and I gather in the back parking lot of the Hamilton Family Restaurant for tailgate merriment before the show in the J. Birney Crum Stadium, a block away. This is the venue for DCI Allentown, a two-day extravaganza of drum corps. Most top DCI junior corps converge in central Pennsylvania to share their accomplishments over the past few weeks of touring across America. From the coasts, deep south, and heartland, these kids have endured thousands of miles on the road, eaten hundreds of meals out of a trailer, and taken countless swigs of water during the long, hot days of summer rehearsals. And they, indeed, will have something to share. When I rediscovered drum and bugle corps in 2012, I decided to make the long journey from Vermont to check it out. It is a mecca for the drum corps enthusiasts. If drum corps is a cult, J. Birney Crum Stadium would be a shrine. How cool to have been in Whitewater, WI, earlier this year and now in the JB Crum in Allentown, PA. These are two historic DCI stadiums where you can experience this uniquely American performance activity in its best outdoor form. Last night’s exciting show in Lawrence, MA, was a great beginning to my late-season DCI tour. Tonight’s will ramp up my excitement even further. Meanwhile, it’s time to enjoy this annual reunion with my fellow cult members with whom I have become indoctrinated for the past dozen years.
Weather is always a factor in drum corps (and everything I do outdoors). This year, the weather has seemed to be more intense, with extreme swings of heat, rain, and havoc. The one-hundred-plus-degree days in the south that the marching members have recently endured is the crucible that forges these talented kids. What a joy for them to be up north again to be in the moderate temperature zone of mid-80s in the afternoon and fabulous 70s in the evening. Did you know that temperatures on a football field can reach as high as 125 degrees at ground level? At home, rain continues to plague the mountain towns of Vermont. Saturated soils, steep slopes, and narrow valleys are ingredients for potential disaster. Just add more water. I am watching two radars and forecasts – back home and where I am going. The forecast for Allentown threatens rain later today but is clear on Saturday. The long-range forecast for Pittsburgh and Canton looks iffy, but we will worry about that later. This year, I loaded my golf clubs into the box on top of the Volvo for a round at a nearby course on Saturday with friends, a great way to kill time before the show. I have yet to swing a club this year. It is time to get the kinks out before coaching the high school team this fall.
The buses are beginning to arrive with the corps who will perform on this first night in Allentown. Kids from all over the country are converging to give the J. Birney Crum life. There is something about this place that brings out the best in them. With shows four nights in a row and friends to reunite with, I know I will be busy and not likely to stay on top of a daily blog, so thank you for your patience. I will catch up sometime between the Pittsburgh and Canton shows while I cruise at a grandfatherly pace along the Lincoln Highway. I will try my best to carve out some time to catch up with you—peace out for now.