Cozy’s Corpsdom – Star United and BOA, the stars of Indy
The stars of the Bands of America Grand National Championships held every November in the "RrrCccAaa" Dome are the youth of the approximately 535 bands which are whittled down to 92 of the finest. These regional contenders caravan to Indianapolis to select class winners and 12 finalists that joust in a battle of the bands in a Saturday night finale. At BOA and in Champions Sports Bar, a couple of blocks from the dome and Convention Center, I met more celestial champions, the close-knit family of Star United. SU is an exclusive club made up of past members from Bill Cook’s and Jim Mason’s Star of Indiana and past or current performers of Blast!, Shockwave, etc.
Given a choice of planning strategy to stand in line for a new Sony Playstation 3 or working the BOA gala, I happily opted for the performing arts. The $20 billion video gaming industry does fine without my input.
Steve Vickers, DCWorld publisher, recruited Star United to provide workers at the DCW booth in Indy. That Friday for me was old home week when I hosted the booth along with Scooter Pirtle, Star and Blue Grass Brass mello, and his wife, Nancy Brown, Star pit. I have known both Scooter and Nancy for many years and have done performances with Scooter. As Indy is in Star’s backyard, a parade of Star alumnae came by the booth. Scooter brought an old horn case which revealed a 1964 Getzen one-valve/slip slide soprano bugle.
Pirtle shared, "I bought this from a DCWorld auction (www.drumcorpsworld.com). It was used by the Royal Airs." A drum corps sleuth would surmise that this very bugle was in the hands of a Royal Airs member when RA was the 1965 VFW, AL, & CYO National Champions, proudly marching off-the-line (OTL) with arrangements by Truman Crawford himself. I highly suggest that readers Google and review the history of this unique corps. I need to dust off my ’65 LP (long-playing disc…Never mind!).
Seeing this antique bugle reminded me of Frank Dorritie winning DCAssociates Individual & Ensemble over John "Grass Urspruch last September, where I announced as Dorritie soloed on a 1950 Getzen one-valve/slip slide bugle vs. Urspruch’s B-flat trumpet.
Around 1993, Blue Grass Brass, of Louisville, which included Pirtle, Eric Landis, bass drummer now with CorpsVets, Mike Folz, percussion tech, et al., joined forces with Director Tom Slade’s Cincinnati Tradition, where I participated, to do a joint performance. BGB, influenced by The Cadets, marched right-left. In a compromise, we all agreed to march right-left, not left-right. I stayed in step by repeating the mantra, "I’m wrong, I’m wrong; therefore, I’m right…." I’ve had to do the same thing dancing and singing in musicals.
Pirtle used to crank out a remarkable publication, Middle Horn Leader. It can still be found at middlehornleader.com.
On BOA Saturday, I met more Star alumnae, Sean and Laura Conley, Star of Indiana bari and guard, who worked the DCW booth with me. Laura proudly shared her photo album of their 11-month-old baby, a future drum corps performer. Sean and Laura showed up that BOA finals day with Scooter’s antique bugle, which was a novelty interest once again to the high school performers and others who stopped by the DCW booth.
Drum corps was strongly represented at BOA. Recruiting booths were nearby, representing Blue Devils, Carolina Crown, Cavaliers, Glassmen and Madison Scouts. Both DCInternational and Winter Guard International had large displays. I chatted with Fred Morris, Troopers director at length. I had moments to visit with corps directors like Brian Hickman, Glassmen, Jeff Fiedler, Cavies, and Mark Dunton, Madison Scouts (Jeff Spanos, executive director).
Jeremy Thompson, ring bearer from the ’03 Blue Devils, did not surprise me when he stopped by the booth. As Thompson staffed both the Atlanta CorpsVets and Revolution, I wondered if I might see him at BOA with a band. I’ve predicted that Jeremy Thompson is a name to be remembered later in corpsdom. Thompson is superb in both visuals and brass instruction.
Thompson stated, "I’m here with the Cleveland (TN) band…I’m going to be the visual caption head for Memphis Sound."
DCW’s next door neighbor at BOA was a guard booth run by Ruth Ann Medworth, WGI 2nd vice president, and her husband. It was a delight to get to know Medworth better and discuss the April 2007 WGI championships in Dayton, OH, near my hometown of Miamisburg. Speaking of Miamisburg…
…Name the performing arts manufacturer and supplier, and they were there in force. Fred J. Miller, Inc., was represented by the entire family: Fred, Marlene, and offspring Mike and Mark, and Mary Lynn Dorow. I had numerous visits with the Millers, especially in their hospitality suite. I also ran into the Millers in the pressbox at the DCI Championships in Madison last August.
Some of the dealers were absent as the Percussive Arts Society scheduled their PASIC convention in Austin, TX, for some odd reason, on the same week as BOA’s traditional second week of November. Al Murray and Mark Shaffer of Dynasty, along with many other dealers, were near the low rider Chevy Impalas that cruise Sixth St. in Austin.
Yamaha Corp. graciously supplied us with invitations to their hospitality suite. There, I could unwind with Wayne Downey, Blue Devils and Syracuse Brigadiers legendary arranger. See Xtremebrass.com.
My last extended chat with Downey was during an April trip to Mars and a high school in California and rehearsals by both Blue Devils and the San Francisco Renegades. Mac McEntire, Renegades visual caption head, and Mac’s wife, JoEllen, were my gracious hosts, where I also got to perform with the Renegades at Loud Music Symposium 7.
At the Yamaha suite, I also visited with Greg Orwoll, Colts director, Fred Morris of the Troopers, and other drum corps leaders. Thanks to Yamaha for the hospitality.
On Friday night, visiting with Gail Schultz, Blue Devils souvie guru, at the BD booth, I was impressed by the confidence of Kayla Nelson, standing there with a baritone, awaiting her audition. Later, I ran into her while she warmed up down in the innards of the dome in a large ballroom.
I told Nelson that I had commented to those nearby, "She’s going to make it. Just look at how she carries herself. She radiates confidence."
Nelson said, "I marched in the Colts for four years, then I was with Santa Clara (Vanguard)."
"I didn’t even know if you could play a scale," I replied, "when I made my prediction, but I just feel that you will do well…"
…The next morning, Nelson came by the booth, all excited. "I made it!" she exclaimed.
Jim Wagner, fan supreme, is everywhere. His beaming face I’ve encountered ad nauseum through the years. Yep, he was at BOA. I last saw him at DCA Rochester.
Before BOA finals began, then afterwards, I darted over to Champion Sports Bar to party with Star United. Sean Conley escorted me to the bar to explain a framed football jersey that included many autographs. Conley said the jersey had been hung that week.
Conley revealed, "Jonathan Miller was the head bartender here. A year ago, on this night (364 days before, also on a Saturday night/Sunday morning), we all left here around 1 AM. Ten minutes later, he collapsed behind the bar." It was a shock to the Star Alumni to lose Miller.
Ed Cooning, a trumpet music major at IUPI in Indianapolis, shared his memories, "Jonathan Miller was one of your standard drum corps guys who would do anything for you. He’d give you the shirt off his back. He died a year ago tonight. He was part of our extended family. The reason for the jersey is he was the (bar) staff motivator. There’d be a rush here on game days (Indianapolis Colts NFL football), then they could watch the game. ‘Let’s go!’ Jonathan would say."
Nancy Brown explained that several from the Star alumnae have died at young ages, "especially baritone players," she stressed. "Brad Stansberry, died in an (aircraft) icing crash. He was a charter member of Star. He aged out with me in ’89. He started the original Star alumnae. He played bari. Brad was one of those guys that never met a stranger. At the gala, we had his little brother play with us to represent Brad. Matt played bass drum with the Glassmen.
Sean Conley filled in more data, "Brad was killed on Halloween 1994. It was a small commuter flight."
Mark Schleihi spoke of the BOA week, "I’m intrigued by the show before the show. It’s more of a Broadway event." Speaking of Star, Schleihi continued, "I’m struck by how deep and long-lasting these relationships are. Our brothers and sisters get choked up, for 22 years now."
Schleihi, now residing in Kansas City, is originally from Cincinnati and performed with Pride of Cincinnati. Schleihi is an alumnus of Star. I believe Sean Conley told me Schleihi played bari for Star but won DCI individuals in guard.
Sean Conley asked, "When did you work with the UC band?…So, you know Nick Angelis? Well, turn around."
There stood Nick Angelis. Where do I start? Angelis was a snare for Star. He’s one of the featured performers in the 2001 Blast! DVD. Check out "Battery Battle." Angelis’ resume includes caption head for Spirit and Colts. Now, he heads up the percussion for the UC marching band under the direction of Dr. Terren Frenz, formerly the co-founder/director of the Ohio Brass Factory that competed in DCA around 1979 – 1983.
Angelis beamed while saying, "Not only was Star a great drum corps, but it had great personalities. The Star of Indiana family will be preserved forever."
Angelis continued, "You should join us (UC band) next week at Nippert Stadium for the Rutgers game." Considering that no. 7 Rutgers was upset by Cincinnati, it would have been fantastic to take in. It was exciting to watch it with Bob and Annie Sullivan, recent Friends of DCI, in Atlanta.
Angelis looked relaxed without his UC staff tie.
Julie Gerhardt, mello soloist with the ’06 Star United DCA minicorps champs, had similar passion for Star United. "No matter how infrequently we get together, it’s still like being with family."
Josh Talbott, a leader of Star United minicorps, summed up, "We’re excited about next year, about going back to Rochester. We were overwhelmed and felt very wanted. We want to do it again."
Switching to cap no. 44 of the summer, I was the stage traffic cop at the DCA minicorps. I watched the judges view Star United in awe, SU’s first appearance at DCA ever. One judge dropped his pen onto the table, turned to another judge with a "Do you believe that look?" after Star United’s opening chords.
Star United had shown up unexpectedly to add to the audience of about a dozen the Thursday night preceding Labor Day weekend when the Renegades minicorps, former champions, were conducting a rehearsal after midnight, what I have dubbed "The Burger King Parking Lot Session." Tom Colgan, CorpsVets biz manager, a bunch of Renegades, Star United and I enjoyed the Renegades late night concert along with a local policeman who remained seated in his patrol car. Star United performed for the Renegades corps the next day at a corps rehearsal, according to Talbott.
A "pilot" could have maneuvered an unmanned Global Hawk over DCA Rachacha and had a difficult task of espying the alpha dog in the tight battle between minicorps contenders such as Star United, Renegades, Minne Brass, Erie Thunderbirds et al. It was the most memorable DCA Individual & Ensemble/Minicorps ever!
During the entire SU party in Indianapolis, a wide-screen and a TV were competing vs. football and hockey matches with a video of Star United rehearsals and performances. We all thought it justified that the largest wide-screen was projecting drum corps, not football or a puck.
Watching the Star United video, I noticed Thu Powell, Renegades pit mallet player, on cymbals. How small corpsdom is, entwined in a rhythm all its own. Now, if only we could get more drum corps on television.
Christopher Rutt, Blast! and Star United Minicorps mello, contacted me after we missed each other in Indianapolis, sending, "You were at BOA and I didn’t run into you! Wow! What happened! It seems that I have been running into you a lot lately! I was with (the) Plymouth-Canton Marching Band at BOA! We placed 9th!"
I’ve known Rutt since the ’96 Cadets tour when Rutt was almost my daily quote meister. I spotted Rutt this past summer when he was a mello tech for the Crossmen, under Jimmy Steele, cap head and former Empire Statesmen mello and I&E champ. Rutt and I had a long visit shortly after Star United won minicorps at the Bennigan’s Bar in the Clarion Hotel, where Talbott, Rutt et al. were so pumped that they even discussed entering two minicorps next year.
Talbott had expanded, "Who knows? We might even think about entering Class A." By November, in Indy, Talbott was more cautious. "I think we’ll stay with another minicorps entry."
To any Star United alumnae or fan$, I suggest that if you are in Indy for DCI regionals in July or the BOA Grand Nationals in November, stop by Champions Sports Bar, not to be confused with Champs Sports Lounge at the Hyatt Regency.
Publisher’s Note: Cozy’s Corpsdom features updates from the world of drum corps as only Cozy Baker can deliver ….. in his own unique style and presentation. A featured Drum Corps World reporter and contributing columnist for many years, Cozy travels the country as a competitive marching member, instructor, observer, and commentator on the state-of-the-activity. The opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author.