Westward Bound for DCI

BAC in standstill encore at Infocision Stadium.

August 10, 2021

“It’s raining outside, and that’s not unusual. But the way that I’m feeling is becoming usual.” – Uriah Heep 1972.

That tune is going through my head as I am sitting comfortably in the Hilton Gardens in Akron, OH. Time to catch up on my blog. I’m feeling great after another fantastic night of DCI. The Bluecoats’ home show never disappoints. Once again, in the Infocision Stadium, I had an awesome seat ­– first row on the second tier, looking directly down at the right 45-yard line. Now, I’m looking out the window thinking about how I am going to spend my day as it pours buckets. How fortunate we were when yesterday’s thunderstorm cells passed over before the show, the positive effect of evaporation cooling was welcome even though my seat was wet, a discovery that I made after I sat down.

Rock cairns help guide you on the North Country Trail, Clarion, PA.

Yesterday, the morning of the Akron show, I awoke in my hammock at the Highland Shelter on the North Country Trail near Clarion, Pennsylvania. I had arrived at the trailhead the day after attending the Allentown DCI show. It was a night of no drum corps, so a great opportunity to sample the trail in the Allegheny National Forest. It was a quiet night except for two bard owls having a conversation. I decamped from the primitive site and returned to the trailhead and my obedient steed, the Silver Bullet – Volvo XC70.

Repacking the box-topped rig and taking care of business nature-style, I was ready to travel to Akron, destination the BAC rehearsal. Once again, I poked the bubble and sat in on a rehearsal of the entire ensemble in the stadium of this massive high school in the suburbs near Kent State University. Gino was directing the rehearsal from up high as the kids were giving their best in the 90+ degree heat. Each take was an improvement on the previous as they worked through the book in segments, standing still, then on the move, first with the metronome and then on and off with the met. Finally, as they reached the closer and giving it one more dedicated go, Gino let the kids go to lunch ten minutes early. 

The master craftsman up high coaching from the box, Gino Cipriani, BAC brass head.

I had the privilege of joining some of the brass staff for lunch at Jersey Mikes. We talked about music education and the future of DCI. Everyone was very positive and hopeful. It is hard to describe the bond between the instruction staff and the members. I get my share of coachable moments as a substitute teacher and have bonded with the kids in the local elementary school, middle and high school. They love having Mr. Russell because I make it fun, especially when I teach music class where I always show a DCI clip on YouTube. A favorite is the closer from the Bluecoats’ Tilt with that amazing trust-leap at the end. Every corps is blessed to have many amazingly dedicated instructors who give up their entire summer devoted to the kids’ success. I have really enjoyed my relationship with the BAC team of teachers and inspirers, as they inspire me when it is my turn to teach and coach. But now, I am on a lark, enjoying the fruits of these laborers of music learning while on my summer vacation. This was a rare opportunity to finally connect with them in almost two years, and it was good. Now it was time to check in to my waiting hotel and shower off the hot August day before heading to the another great outdoor show.

A hot afternoon run-through. Proud parents in attendance.

My wet butt did not deter me from enjoying my perch in the front row of the second tier, and the entertainment on the field below at the Infocision Stadium last night. This is another great stadium that is high and early, meaning we are up high but still close. My seat neighbors were once again quite cordial as I apologized in advance for my sometimes over-enthusiasm. Next to me was a nice lady who once marched with The Cadets. They are everywhere! She and her drum corps savvy family dominated the 40-yard line to my right and really enjoyed the creativity of each of the shows, especially when The Cadets performed. Their positive spirit was infectious to me and everyone around us. To my left at the 50, I met another music teacher, Kevin. We congratulated each other our a great name and interest in drum corps. We then stuck up a conversation and commiserated about the need to promote youth music education. We agreed that the dreaded Covid-19 has had a serious negative impact. The director of music at the local high school where I substitute has expressed his concern that kids are not as interested. He cited many other attractions (distractions). We agreed that every kid should have the opportunity to be inspired by music and that all barriers should be removed such as the cost of instruments. Kevin said that he has fixed up and donated many instruments for deserving kids during his long career. These are my peeps at the 50-yard line in the stands.

The drum set that I never got as a kid. Thank you, System Blue for this Purdue Jazz Festival 2019 commemorative 5-piece combo.

Rhythm in Blue, the Bluecoats alumni band, played some favorites to the local crowd that we all enjoyed, followed by the open class Columbus Saints. This small corps’ strength was its diversity of age, gender, and race. The young guard member on the far left was the hit of their show. I expect that in the future she will be auditioning for one of the corps that followed. The line-up that followed has been the same for four previous nights with a slight shuffle ­– Music City, Spirit of Atlanta, The Cadets, Boston Crusaders, and the Bluecoats. Though I had seen these shows three times previously, I enjoyed them even more. It is amazing how fast things improve, a testament to the work ethic of DCI, that even though there is no adjudication this year, the kids and instructors are working just as hard to be the best they can be. The moody arrangement of Music City is really growing on me and the corps has really polished their delivery both musically and visually. Spirit of Atlanta launched us into another layer of the stratosphere with their strong performance and full brass sound. Georgia is on my mind this morning as I write.

The Cadets with the classic Z-pull in Rocky Point Holiday.

The battle of the brass ensued with The Cadets setting the marker. It is impossible for me to explain the link between my ears and my eyes that triggers the tears at the opening fanfare of Rocky Point Holiday. Goose bumps just popped up again writing about it. What a joy to watch the drum major lead the corps enthusiastically during their classic piece from Van Morrison – Moondance. It was indeed a marvelous night. Now that glove was thrown, and it was BAC’s turn to turn up the volume and intensity with Zoom. The well-oiled machine took the field, erecting the video screens and setting up the massive pit in record time. Normally there is a time limit, however this year it does not matter and that allows for more stuff to be plugged in. As the bouncing Waldo (the lion) moved across the four side-by-side large video panels when it booted up, the crowd reacted to each time it hit a corner, an unexpected General Effect moment even before the show started. Now it was time for me to concentrate on the fifty-four-member color guard. These kids are spectacular! Coming back into season following a two-year winning streak, this guard is the best in the business. Maybe DCI will allow for increasing the number of marchers as these kids literally paint the field with color and movement to great general effect. Brass-up! How interesting it would be to get at least one caption scored – Brass.

The Bluecoats home show in Akron. The best encore in DCI.

Not to be left in the dust, though last in performing order, the Bluecoats took the field. Talk about painting it with color. The tarps, ramps and other moving psychodelia spread across the 1.32 acres were richly adorned with a Peter Max 70’s style look, fitting for the retro-sequel performance of the Beatles anthology. Who knew back then that this music would be such a gas to hear in the twenty first century performed by seventy-five bell-forward trumpets, mellophones, baritones, euphoniums, and tubas? Far-out man! To top off the evening; the Bluecoats played an extended encore of their favorite traditional pieces as well as the closer of the show in stand-still. This is rated the best encore in DCI by me so far. Thank you Blooooo!The rain has stopped, and it is time for me to check out of this hotel and hit the road for another show tonight in western Ohio. First, I am headed to Zoar, Ohio in search of the North Country Trail for a bike ride or hike before crossing the state to Centerville for a show. I will next head to Indianapolis for the DCI main celebration inside Lucas Oil Stadium for three days, but tonight is the final night for music in motion outside under the stars, a far-better way to experience the sight and sound, and excitement. 

For a taste: BAC 2021 – Akron

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