Company Front – Issue 7
Tour Event Partners: Working to make tour great
Thousands of people have experienced the drum corps activity at one time or another. Some of them are still around and continue to support the activity as directors, instructors, tour managers, board members, sponsors, volunteers or drivers. These people play a key role in helping drum corps make it down the road safely and securely. But, they aren’t the only ones who make a tour successful. All the planning by tour managers and directors is useless without the integral help and tremendous support of the people who organize and host drum corps events – the Tour Event Partners (TEP).
According to www.dci.org, the TEP consists of people associated with band booster organizations, community festival organizers, service organizations and foundations that use the Drum Corps International (DCI) events as fund-raising, entertainment and educational vehicles. DCI works with over 130 organizations that annually host events on the Summer Music Games tour.
Each year, DCI hosts an event that brings the TEP together from across the nation in an exchange of information and ideas to improve their events. This great opportunity helps Tour Managers and TEP sponsors come together to plan, coordinate and organize the summer tour logistics on all levels.
For me, I never fully appreciated the impact the folks involved with running contests and hosting drum corps had on the tour experience until I was in a drum corps management role. As a drum corps director and later as a tour manager, I quickly learned what a huge impact they had.
The two most important things I learned: proper planning and consistent communication are keys to success. These two concepts go hand-in-hand. This is even more critical when the tour routine changes from year to year. For example, the 2007 season was particularly difficult for drum corps managers and the TEP sponsors due to several factors but the biggest one, in my opinion, was the hosting of the DCI World Championships on the west coast. Because of this, the tour had to be re-arranged to accommodate the tour routes to end up in Pasadena instead of the usual championships sites (ie: Madison, Buffalo, etc). Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having the championships on the west coast but it did change the dynamics of tour more than past years. For example, some shows that were normally held on July 4th as a ‘Fourth of July Extravaganza’ had to be re-scheduled for June or early August to accommodate the route changes.
I contacted JW Koester, Tour Manager for the Phantom Regiment, and asked him to share his vast experience on this topic. Koester’s biography is an impressive one. If you don’t already know, he’s a long-time educator, consultant, adjudicator, pageantry professional & percussionist since 1971 – he has many years of management experience. He has also served in the capacity of Corps Director or in management of such well-known pageantry organizations as the 6-time World Champion Santa Clara Vanguard Drum & Bugle Corps (including the 1999 DCI World Championship Corps), the Glassmen Drum and Bugle Corps, the multi DCI Division II Finalist Vanguard Cadets Drum & Bugle Corps, and the 6-time World Champion San Jose Raiders Winter Guards.
GM: JW, last year was a tough one considering the logistical challenges although it turned out to be another great season when it was all said and done. Could you share some of your thoughts on tour planning and what, in your opinion, led to last year being a difficult one logistically?
JW: Sure thing. This last year was the most difficult for me regarding receiving housing information (timely or otherwise) – with fewer than 50% of the sponsors sending me any type of housing packet. Many e-mailed the address of the school and the local contact person’s name and number. That is fine but I personally like to receive a little more such as the local grocery store, fuel station, hospital and hardware store information. It doesn’t need to be a hard copy – I’ll make the copies for my binders. Conversely, Tour Managers need to do a better job of communicating their plans to the Housing Coordinator. If they are considering a change of housing locations because they have an alumni who just got a job locally and wants to host the drum corps, let the TEP sponsor know what’s going on. They typically won’t be disappointed and will usually be happy that they have one less housing site to secure.
GM: So, what can be done to maximize logistical efficiency?
JW: Well, the Housing Coordinator should let the Tour Manager know who is going to meet the drum corps at the school. Often times it won’t be the Housing Coordinator so, we need that person’s name and contact information as well. Regardless of whether it is a contest volunteer or the custodian, we need the person’s information so we can contact them directly to confirm the arrival time. It is also nice to be able to say ‘hi’ to that person. It starts the relationship off on a good foot, especially if we’ve never met.
GM: Is there anything else the Tour Manager and the Housing Coordinator should do during the planning stages?
JW: Yes, if the Housing Coordinator is not going to be on site with the drum corps that person needs to make sure the custodian (or other school representative) knows what arrangements have been made with the school administration. Otherwise, the corps may try to use some part of the facility and are told ‘no, you can’t use this’ and tempers tend to rise accordingly on both sides.
GM: You’re right on. Not only is this a challenge for the Tour Manager, but for the drum corps instructors, as well. The instructors usually have an idea of what daily teaching goals they want to accomplish the morning they pull in to a school. Unfortunately, there are times when facilities are being upgraded, renovated, repaired, or are in use by someone else and the stadium may not be available. This is typically out of the Housing Coordinator’s control. However, if it is available and okay with the Host, I believe every effort should be made to maximize a great opportunity to help the drum corps and the students of the Host school. This is where talking about it early (before tour) helps make it a reality if it’s a possibility.
JW: Exactly. The Tour Manager needs to know what he can expect from the facility ahead of time. If the stadium isn’t available, he or she shouldn’t wait until the corps has arrived to tell them. The same goes for how many fields are really available. If it is only one grass field (and no stadium) then tell the Tour Manager up front. Yes, they will be upset but, at least they can let the instructional staff know ahead of time and they then plan accordingly. Perhaps the drum corps may change what they want to do that day rehearsal-wise. Whatever the situation is, the key is to let the drum corps know ahead of time what rehearsal facilities they really have available sooner than later.
GM: I know the Housing Coordinator just wants to ensure the drum corps’ needs are met. If the Tour Manager doesn’t communicate the needs in advance, it may be difficult (and stressful) to the Housing Coordinator to handle late requests. It may also put the Housing Coordinator in a difficult position to try and meet those needs and requirements. The Tour Manager should provide periodic updates while on tour to keep the Housing Coordinator’s expectations real.
JW: Also, if I know in advance that the TEP sponsor is having problems with housing my drum corps, I can explore my options which will save both the TEP sponsor and the drum corps lots of headaches. Two-way communication is good for both sides.
GM: Right. The Housing Coordinator should not be afraid to communicate difficulty in setting up the housing location. They must set clear parameters and guidelines to each drum corps’ Tour Manager (or Director) prior to the drum corps’ arrival to the housing site.
JW: I would like to add that the TEP folks really do a good job overall when you consider all of the things that they have to do to actually operate a successful event. You know things like taking care of the stadium logistics; contracting, concessions, security, parking, ticket sales, programs, and advertising. You can’t forget about the volunteer activities; signing them up to work the event, assigning jobs, managing them in their jobs, training, post show wrap-up. They also take care of the drum corps housing; finding schools, dealing with contracts/rental fees, on site volunteers, working with sports teams schedules, and working around facilities maintenance work. These and 1,001 other tasks must all be accomplished at the right time for the paying customer (ie: "the fan") to have a great experience.
While it was sometimes a trying year for many of the drum corps tour management teams, I’m sure it was challenging for the TEP Housing Coordinators as well. The cool thing was that the events themselves were always successful, the drum corps were able to get down the road to their next event and the fans walked away with a great memory. We have a lot of great people doing great things out there for the drum corps activity.
GM: Thanks, JW for your insight and suggestions. It’s definitely a team effort and I agree that last season, although challenging in some ways, was a huge success overall. It’s an amazing effort by many, many people.
This month, there will be a panel of Tour Managers and Housing Contacts meeting at the annual DCI meeting in Orlando, FL. This is a great opportunity for both sides to meet, discuss, and come together during the pre-season to work the kinks out of tour logistics.
Take it from me, it’s a lot more fun when things are well coordinated and planned before tour starts!
For my next article, I’m looking for anyone who is involved with Tour Event Partners to give to give their take on drum corps tour experience. Email me at GMKuzma [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com?subject=Info%20from%20Company%20Front%20on%20DCP.
Company Front is a regular series of articles and essays, written by a group of young authors that have published books related to the marching arts. You’ll find all of the issues of Company Front by clicking here.
Originally from Boca Raton, Florida, Gregory M. Kuzma (who goes by "GM") has performed with several drum & bugle corps (junior and senior level) as well as spent time as a director and tour manager. He is a freelance writer and author of "On the field from Denver, Colorado…The Blue Knights!" One member’s experience of the 1994 summer national tour." which is available from www.gregorymkuzma.com. The opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author, who may be reached by writing to GMKuzma [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com?subject=Question%20from%20DCP%20Company%20Front.