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 Drum Corps International (DCI) tour, sitting comfortably in the BTV airport gate 12 in Vermont’s Queen City, Burlington. I am bound ­­­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 to San Diego with a stop at MSP, Minneapolis, MN. 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 in the California lifestyle back in the mid-seventies before returning to the northeast to begin a family in 1976. Drum corps had become a thing of the past for me by then. First on my California tour is a reunion with an old friend since the third grade, Bruce. He has been living the great southern California life the past five decades since we drove out there together back then. Bruce will be going to the show with me 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 max 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. Now on the back end of that twisty 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. And it will be good to connect with a friend from long ago, even though we have discovered that we are on the opposite side of the political divide that is so prevalent in this time. We’ll see if the music can unite us again.

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, a world class corps from The City of Industry and Diamond Bar, CA. Hosting the shows in San Diego on Friday, and in the Rose Bowl on Saturday, this corps will tour the US and is shooting for a place on the final night of the World Championships in Indianapolis in August. Coincidentally, this corps I will see the most as they are scheduled for the shows that I will attend later in the summer. I will be meeting up with the renowned photographer and contributor to Drum Corps World, Russell Tanakaya for an introduction to the California drum corps community. He has invited me to join his family in the box at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night. In addition to Pacific Crest, I am anxious to also experience The Academy from Tempe, Arizona, the Mandarins, Sacramento, and the venerable championship corps: Blue Devils from Concord, CA, and the Santa Clara Vanguard. And the emerging California open class corps Gold, Golden Empire, and the Watchmen. 

My 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. The members enjoyed the sharp tangy treat while on their 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 lead by Gino Cipriani. The incredible sound and feel are impossible to experience fully other than live, especially in the center of the arc. During one visit, I encamped with my hammock off campus in a nearby park and enjoyed listening to the snippets of the repertoire by the various horn sections as they worked through the musical book all afternoon. Unfortunately, due to inclement weather, BAC had to cancel the Community Night performance, leaving me still quite longing for more drum corps. Will this be a summer of rain outs? I hope not! Surely, in Southern California the chances are good for fair weather, and the forecast confirms it. Now, it’s time to walk a few laps in 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. With a full day of travel yesterday and having enjoyed the merriment of California’s finest beers last night with an old friend, 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. I am getting very excited! Meanwhile, it is time for a nice long hike into the Tecolote Canyon before heading north on the way to the show to visit another high school friend and convert to California, Dennis. We all played on the football team and graduated together fifty years ago, the year that DCI was formed. They will be going to the class in Central NYS in August. I will be in Allentown. 

The Academy schooling us on a proper drum corps show.

June 25, 2022 – 8:00am Enroute

All aboard! I am on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner in transit to Los Angeles. The train is winding its way north through from San Diego, making deliberate progress north with an occasional slow crawl through some tight bends in the canyons. The high walls are thick with dry brush. Everything is tan and brown. Greenery exists only in developed areas. 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 view of the ocean is obscured by low clouds and fog. 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. When I arrive at 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. Then on to the Rose Bowl for some more DCI. Planes, trains, and automobiles. 

Bones and Buicks.

The train is a great place for me to catch up with you between frequent looks out my window. 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. The judges who are again present for the first time since the finals in 2019. The World Class corps in competition finished in this order: Santa Clara Vanguard, Mandarins, 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. 

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

Once again, I enjoyed taking in the show with my seat neighbors. To my right was 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. 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 sections, in a formation two-by-two, off to some secluded area on campus. Their steely concentration and focus are 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 competitive run. There were a few thousand drum corps-starved people in assembling in the stands to give them a lot of love back.

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

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 if 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. And what a vocalist in the live! A 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. It was a great first taste of the DCI season. My friend and I had an excellent time reconnecting and finding way more common ground than not. Music unites.

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 is now 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 and driving the California freeways again in a brand-new Tesla. Meanwhile, there is too much to look at out my window right now. Peace. 

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