DCW On-Line: Clifton Review

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Bucs sail to victory at "Grand Prix"

July 12, 2008 – Clifton, NJ . . . The Reading Buccaneers swept all major captions this evening as they stayed on course for a fourth consecutive DCA title at the 44th annual “Grand Prix” sponsored by the Hawthorne Caballeros. Fran Haring, the “Voice of DCA”, served as the emcee for the evening and was accompanied by his lovely wife Barbara.

All of the drum corps members and fans were extremely happy to see Barbara back with us after she suffered a stroke one year ago this week. We all wish her continued success on her road to a full recovery.

The New York Skyliners Alumni Chorus performed our National Anthem under the leadership of Tom "Bucky" Swan. I will report first on the competition first, due to the size of the show, as there is much to report on this event.

Liked a well-oiled machine, the Reading Buccaneers continued their voyage to potentially another world title by topping a very strong field with their "Pursuit of Joy" program. The front percussion ensemble is very large and talented as they begin the musical charts with the color guard dancing. The brass line builds in volume as the concert arc form develops with a wall of sound that vibrates the stands.

The opening number has so much detail in it as there is a great deal to watch and see while the drill patterns and visual content explode along with the musical book. The color guard continues to climb in scoring and will be in the mix for their caption award in Rochester. Their weapons and silk work is well-written and is well-placed within the show content.

The percussion section is another show in itself, with a cymbal line that moves in and out of the drill forms with ease and the nine snares blow you away with their technique. The closing number begins with a low brass ensemble at midfield as the rest of the brass line joins in a company front push to the stands. The drill then expands and spreads between the 20 yard lines as the Reading Buccaneers continue their unbeaten streak with a convincing victory tonight.

The host corps, the Hawthorne Caballeros, had the hometown fans behind them as they finished a strong second with their "Sketches of Spain" program that has shifted into high gear. The opener of "El Camino Real" features a very strong trumpet section, with some minor low brass issues heard, but will be easily cleaned.

The new color guard uniforms look great as they compliment the corps’ colors well and blend in easily to the visual content. The one-two punch of "Spanish Fantasy" and " My Spanish Heart" features many brass visuals by the brass line as the volume builds, then lowers. The drill pattern then goes to a full field spread and the Cabs’ patented wheel move continues to impress the fans.

The color guard is younger this year, but is right into the battle for top honors as their tosses and silk work is well-designed. The percussion section of Gary Gil features the largest front ensemble section of the evening, while the marching section is still at the top of its game with their drill patterns that weave in and out of the drill forms at a fast pace.

The closer of "Malaguena" may seem stale to many fans as the Cabs have done this number before. However this year’s version has many changes to it and many visual additions created by their staff.

The contra line kneels as a strong baritone soloist performs his assignment with ease, while the rifle line weaves in and out of the drill patterns. The brass line performs a prance step company front to the stands with a big push finish to conclude a strong performance. This can be a dangerous program to deal with as the cleaning process develops to keep the Cabs in contention.

The Connecticut Hurricanes kept the wagons rolling again tonight with the lovely Kate Socha returning to the drum major’s podium this season. The Hurcs enter the field from the right end zone with the color guard leading the way westward as the brass line develops into files before they turn to the front at the first big musical hit.

Connecticut Hurricanes – Derby, CT
DCW On-Line Photo by David Rice

Trumpet soloist Thomas Greenhalgh does a nice job in the opening set and is featured many times in the corps’ performance. The "Billy the Kid" opener features strong weapons work by the color guard as they are decked out in their buckskin and dark blue uniforms. This section won high honors in their caption tonight. Phillip Traini, Jim Zulick and Karen Prince have done a fantastic job with this unit as the fans will connect easily with this section.

The ballad of "Shenendoah / Mariah" was softly performed, then changed to the upbeat and fun feature of "Hoedown". Fans of the Hurricanes will totally enjoy this year’s version of "Mag 7". The contra line starts with a deep and slow downbeat, then switches to a mellophone solo by Pete Prophe and a trumpet solo by Doug Oravez that will have the fans on their feet by show’s end.

Low scoring numbers in field brass and field percussion can easily be corrected with hard work and cleaning. The surprise corps of 2008 so far is much more developed and with an upgrade in quality of the staff and program, the future looks bright for the Hurricanes. It is now up to the corps members as to how high they want to bring this program up to stay among the best in DCA.

The Empire Statesmen displayed a great deal of emotion tonight with their "Our Way" program and in true Statesmen style they delivered it to the fans. David Bruni remains the most entertaining and energetic drum major in DCA as the corps celebrates their 25th anniversary. They open with a moving start as trumpet soloist Joe Pero remains at the top of his game. I enjoyed watching the front percussion ensemble as they are talented and put on an excellent display of showmanship in their playing.

The color guard had some minor timing issues with their weapons work, but regardless, they are still fun to watch. A panel displayed the "City of Angels" title appeared as the brass line moved in a company front end in "My Way", complete with vocalization. The trumpet section is solid and may be one of DCA’s best as they bring out many super soloists to accompany Mr. Pero.

"Maria" from “West Side Story” featured high rifle tosses and a suicide, head-chopping presentation by the cymbal line. The salute to Vince Bruni, complete with a large panel displayed at the back midfield sideline was a tribute to the corps founder. A salute to America and a big final push to the stands had the fans up as the Empire Statesmen have a very fan-friendly and enjoyable show to watch this season.

Disappointing fifth-place finishes in color guard and visual effect are a little puzzling to me as the corps has always presented programs that are loaded with visual moments. They trooped the stands with the percussion section marching sideways and the fans clapping in time. This program is too loaded with talent and determination to let tonight’s placing keep them down.

Another corps that may not be kept down too much longer may be the Bushwackers. Even though the corps is hurting in marching numbers, their program, "Gypsodic", may be a sleeping giant. The corps opens in a full field spread with various body poses displayed by the brass line and unbelievable poses displayed by the guard. The trumpet line is strong and teams with a mellophone soloist as the guard displays large orange silks with high weapon tosses.

I have stated before that no color guard in DCA tosses higher than the Bushwackers and this year is no exception as they go for a third straight title. The percussion is small, with five snares, but is well-bolstered by a very talented front ensemble. There are many drill visual moments as the written package continues to strengthen, but lacks due to many new members be added into the drill patterns.

Even though their individual numbers are small, the Bushwackers at times produced a sound larger than the actual numbers on the field. One big final push to the stands concluded a fine showing from the corps. I cannot wait until all the holes are filled and the show is cleaned, so by no means count out this corps from sneaking up when you least expect it.

A serious threat for the Class A title could very well be Fusion Corps that enters their second season in DCA competition. The purple tuxedo tops are classy and parallel somewhat the Empire Statesmen. The corps is much improved from last year and definitely more balanced. The drill is well-written for a small corps and even though the drill is contained to much of the center of the field, it helped with the brass sounds that the line sent out.

The percussion section is very small and took a large hit in scoring numbers, but still they performed with desire and determination to overcome their size. The brass line produces a quality sound that had them ahead of the Bushwackers in ensemble brass. The color guard is also small, but displayed a great deal of potential to develop. The fans really enjoyed the performance of the snare line as they joined the front percussion to form one wild percussion feature. Fusion Core is gaining much momentum as they march toward Rochester in hopes of a Class A title.

This concludes the competition part of the Grand Prix and we are only half way through this report. With the economy as it is today, everyone is searching to get the most for their money. From rising gas, food and medical expenses, where else can you watch 12 outstanding drum corps perform for you at a very reasonable price and still have money left in your wallet?

The answer is the 44th annual “Grand Prix”. Clifton Stadium was filled with drum corps fans who are to be commended for their applause to every corps as they trooped the stands. The competing corps gave it their all tonight. Keep an eye on the battle between the Cabs, Hurricanes and Empire over the next few weeks because it is going to be a war.

First up in exhibition was the DCI Open Class Raiders with their "Deep Blue" program. The drill is mainly contained to midfield, but is well-suited for this small corps. It appears that the percussion section, under the leadership of Bob Villenuava, is more developed than the brass line at this time, Many times during the performance the percussion line overplayed the horn line. The Raiders put on a very fine display of potential talent that, when fully developed, can move up the ladder in DCI Open Class.

A show all by itself has to be the Park City Pride that had many fans talking about their show at the end of the night. Hall of Fame Drum Major Bob Findley conducted a very strong and balanced horn line that showcased Bob Bradley and Mike Marella on trumpet solos. Fans are going to love the cymbal line / rifle line that Park City has this year as these eight ladies really put on a show with their talents on each.

The percussion was tight and extremely strong in their feature. The color presentation that salutes America displayed the talents of trumpet soloists Art Hylwa and Roger Perez as the field was covered with red, white and blue. A huge standing ovation from the fans concluded a great showing from the Park City Pride.

I have to admit that I was wired up for the next exhibition corps as the Bayonne Bridgemen entered the field. I was a huge fan of the corps back in the mid-1970s and early-1980s (yes, I’m that old !) and finally got to see them for the first time in Kingston last year. Drum majors Jim Jordan and John Richard were assisted by a future younger Bridgemen drum major, led the corps in the opener of "Shaft".

"Big Noise from Winneteka", complete with dancing girls and a trumpet quartet, gave way to the theme from “The Gong Show”. All that was missing was Gene, Gene, the "Dancing Machine". The contra line got the fans involved as they took off their coats and revealed a lady in a corset on their shirts, complete with a dance routine to "One".

Bridgemen – Bayonne, NJ
DCW On-Line Photo by David Rice

The Bridgemen brought back memories from the historic drum line as the snares moved to a rack of drums set across the front sideline and nailed their percussion feature. An encore of "William Tell Overture" ended an outstanding performance from the Bayonne Bridgemen.

Dedicating their show tonight to former Skyliner Ray "Konga" Richardson, the New York Skyliners Alumni took the field with their medley of classic tunes. This unit also features many different outstanding soloists. A pair of belly dancers joined a trumpet trio in "Hava Nagela" which was warmly accepted by the fans. The percussion feature was well-done with a very talented cymbal line to match. The big ending to "New York, New York" had the fans up as the always-popular "Elks Parade" was presented as an encore number.

A serious contender for the DCI Open Class title has to be Jersey Surf. Believe me when I say that they are not far below any DCI World Class unit. These young people put on a judged exhibition that was outstanding as they have the total package show in all sections. The opening set is impressive as the horn line is lined down the left goal line while the wall of brass increases in volume.

The color guard is extremely talented and the percussion line is bolstered by a large front ensemble. I cannot find a part of their show that may be a weakness as the Jersey Surf continues to be a front-runner and may strike gold in Indy.

The show that many were waiting for did not disappoint for one minute as Jim Russo led the Hawthorne Caballero Alumni Corps onto the field. Frank Ponzo called the bulls and they came out charging to "Pictures of Spain" which Hawthorne Muchacho Jeff Kievet made famous. The color guard wore gaucho pants and black boots to rekindle memories of what color guard used to be like.

The percussion feature is exciting and was rewarded with a standing ovation from the fans. I’ll take the soloists in this group and match them with anyone else’s as Frank Ponzo, Curt Hawkins, Duke Terrari and company never fail to win over the crowd. The color presentation of "Flamenca Cha Cha" had the fans up and clapping in time as the Hawthorne Caballero Alumni Corps was definitely the fan’s favorite tonight.

As is tradition each year, the combined Hawthorne corps formed together for a reprise of "Flamenca Cha Cha". Larry Kerchner directed a version of "Taps" to honor those lost in protecting our freedom.

A drum majors-only retreat followed and the scores were announced. The only caption award tonight was given to the honor guard of the Connecticut Hurricanes as they continue on target for a five-peat at DCA in 2008. I was a little concerned how to prepare this column due to the size of the show and did not want to exclude the alumni and DCI units from the recognition they deserved.

Tonight was really two shows in one and the real winners were the fans who were treated to an all-out excellent performance by every unit in the show. And much credit is to be given to the alumni corps who do this for fun and the love of the activity and all they ask for is your recognition and applause.

Thanks to DCA officials Gil Silva, Red Corso, Glen Johnson and Dick Eshenmann for their valuable assistance and to Al Katz and the staff of the Hawthorne Caballeros for their hospitality.

You may discuss this review on the DCP Forums. We’d love to hear your feedback.

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Posted by on Wednesday, July 16th, 2008. Filed under DCW On-Line.