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Recap of the DCI Tour Premiere with Guest Contributor and Crown Advisory Board Member, Gary Dickelman

It seems like only yesterday that we were at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the conclusion of the 2015 season, and there we were again in that iconic drum corps environment on June 23rd for the season premier. It’s an exciting time for all, but a nervous one for those new to Crown or any of the other five corps that competed. Think about it: It is the stadium where fan expectations are high, where months on the road terminate in perseverance for a medal position, and where your corps may have won gold, as Crown, Cadets, Phantom, and Cavaliers have done in the past.  It is your first show, but in many respects you want it to be your best show, as first impressions set the tone for grueling weeks ahead. “Inferno” burned up the stadium in 2015, with deafening ovations that earned the top General Effect award and the silver medal. “Relentless” is clearly what Crown is all about, which is the 2016 show title, and an adjective, as in “their relentless pursuit of excellence.”

The 2016 opener was packed with outstanding preparation, as the Boston Crusaders, Cavaliers, Phantom Regiment, Cadets, Bluecoats, and Crown opened the season with what was arguably the best first performances witnessed in memory. In past years we often saw unfinished shows, or finales that were hastily assembled to meet first-show deadlines. Not so for 2016. In fact, at least four of the corps had completed first iterations of their shows between a week and ten days earlier. Crown, for example, not only completed the performance structure, but spent days refining elements before arriving at Lucas Oil Stadium. Most of the competitors hosted preview Web-casts in the past week that telegraphed just how serious Spring Training programs had been about starting the season on the most positive note possible.

There was no shortage of either DCI tradition or innovation. On the side of tradition, we saw familiar uniforms with perhaps some variance on Boston and Phantom, and these corps were true to their musical traditions. Boston’s “Quixotic” brought back memories of the 1960s in a few phrases (e.g., Man of La Mancha, 1968) while sporting the familiar, but revamped red and black uniforms introduced in 2015. Phantom contrasted its traditional white look with red and black flourishes while reminding us that they are Phantom with the moving, emotional structure of the ballad.

The Cavaliers were familiar in appearance, although not much green. “Propaganda” introduces a black-and-white motif in a very creative show, where the Guard is initially dressed in what appears to be newspaper. There are very clear Cavalier “green machine” highlights, plus a stretch in the application of Trombones on the field. The Cadets, too, applied marching Trombones in the early movement of “Awakening,” along with a traditional French Horn choir playing the iconic “Pines of Rome.” Visually, the Cadets are very different this year, as the guard assumes important elements of the story while there is perhaps a bit less frenetic motion. The corps has carried on with the new black uniforms, but embellished with a bit more white and silver than last year’s presentation. A violinist and trumpet soloist are featured throughout the show, pedestaled as statues, consistent with the show theme.

The surprise of the evening was Bluecoats, abandoning the familiar blue police motif for what are essentially guard or dance costumes. There are no hats or shakos, just comfy white pants and white compression shirts that include a bit of dark swirl. The guard is similarly adorned, albeit in yellow. The show, “Down Side Up,” incorporates ramps (similar to those used by skateboarders), and frenetic movement that departs somewhat from what we would refer to as a drill, plus many innovative musical features. The show demonstrates high quality and, like most others this evening, very good polish for this time of year. The influence of WGI is clearly evident in this show, which resembles a Guard production, but with instruments. Besides the ramps, perhaps this is what is meant by “Down Side Up.” A strong start in general effect earned Bluecoats the top spot in the opener.

Carolina Crown was once again the crowd favorite. In the stadium and the movie theaters, the wall-of-sound and super-human-articulation were clearly evident. Like “Inferno,” “Relentless” first catches your attention with symphonic quality in a unique prairie setting, then continuously builds excitement to a fever pitch. Within a few bars we hear familiar arpeggios that are typically reserved for strings or keyboard, together with impossible staggered syncopation that is mind-boggling. Commentator Steve Rondinaro said it all with a simple, matter-of-fact note that CrownBRASS is awesome!  

Samuel Barber’s “Madea’s Dance of Vengeance” is introduced as the first wall-of-sound, presenting a persistent theme that is heard throughout from the brass and the percussion. The “Relentless” story punctuated by the music begins with a stagecoach robbery and murder. What follows is a barroom scene as only Crown can perform, based on a segment of Moulin Rouge, featuring “Tango De Roxanne,” replete with background violin, Trombone solo by the amazing Taylor LaPrairie, and an authentic Roxanne, played by the amazing Merrily Lyons. An amazing (drum) break in the Tango introduces a swift increase in tempo, at which time a brawl ensues and other barroom shenanigans take place–some of which are cleverly hidden by the stagecoach.    

The excitement is mitigated by the ballad, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which is passionately performed by trumpet soloist Gilbert Villagrana, who is joined by Savannah Freeze on a concert French Horn in duet. Why is Savannah (at the sideline in a graveyard) so far from Gilbert (who is atop the stagecoach, backfield)? They are having a conversation, Gilbert with the deceased from earlier in the production. “Hallelujah” is the vehicle for pondering vengeance or forgiveness. (We see shortly which is chosen.)  This ballad will bring you to tears and gooseflesh, as it’s haunting chords permeate the stadium as only Crown can project. The show transitions to a “Good, Bad, Ugly” theme, followed by a “Madea” reprise. If the wall-of-sound was remarkable at the onset, the conclusion will uncurl your hair or cause you to lose it. Amazing!

The Guard is once again phenomenal, sporting a wild-west look, consistent with the theme. Rifle and sabre work are dead-on in punctuation the most important articulation of the show. Percussion is very strong this year, with particular quality in the battery. We saw some of that last year in the “Gates of Hell” feature. This year, there is much more at astonishing tempos and irregular meters. And, of course, the familiar Crown body movements by each and every corps member are present. Following three prior years of tradition, a basic, innovative uniform model was tweaked with colors and flourishes to project the Western period military look. “Relentless” is just that in theme, with prairie landscapes, a stagecoach, and a barroom brawl. Crown finished second, just behind Bluecoats, with an extremely strong showing. With Bluecoats and Crown about three points above Cadets, we get the idea that we may have a shootout between these two powerhouses and perhaps another from the West.

All of the corps this evening performed complete and very entertaining shows. All will claw their way to the best performances possible, as we look forward to drum corps excellence ramping up with every show. While other top corps were not in the Indianapolis opener, you can find preview shows of Blue Devils, Madison Scouts, Blue Stars, Blue Knights, Santa Clara Vanguard, Crossmen, and all the rest on social media. In fact, the Troopers gave an exhibition/clinic at Lucas Oil Stadium Thursday night before the competition began, and the performance can be found on social media as well. The programs of these corps are also complete, strong, and quite competitive. Will we see the kind of vying for top six slots that we saw last year? I believe so. By all drum corps wisdom, we are seeing early signs of Carolina Crown, Blue Devils, and Bluecoats going head-to-head. And that is not to say that four or five others will not be in that mix. I hope they surprise us. The competition that is fostered by DCI only serves to drive the corps to outstanding performances that move crowds and make our summers exciting and delightful. After all, lifelong excellence for these outstanding young performers is what it is all about.

Best wishes to all as the weeks stack up. Look for more reporting here at Crown, with best wishes to all of our competitors.

Photos by Roxanna Lynne


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