DCW On-Line: Port Huron Review

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Energetic lineup brings triumphant close to ‘Blue Water Brass’

June 23, 2008 — Port Huron, MI . . . Rarely, when the curtain comes down on a 30-year serenade, do the final notes sound as sweet as they did in the opening. But six corps gave the audience something to remember along the banks of the St. Clair River and helped “Blue Water Brass” go out with a resounding fanfare.

The cool evening brought a mix of celebration and remembrance as the city put on its 30th — and last — DCI contest. The Cavaliers grabbed the prize in World Class competition, but it was the manner in which the show honored decades of volunteers that earned the night’s longest ovation.

The program book featured two full pages listing Blue Water Brass supporters through the years — some 200 names — from Adams through Wuellner. At halftime, longtime announcer David Teeple beckoned them to the north end zone, where show founder and former Port Huron High School band director Eric Payton led the contingent onto the field for a final bow.

Payton waved to the crowd and smiled, wearing his Big Red Marching Machine blazer for the first time in 25 years. “I had some really mixed emotions,” he said. “It was bittersweet and it was such a thrill to be on that field again. So many memories just came flooding back.”

Payton spent 10 years as director of the junior high school band before taking the baton of the Big Reds, a unit he named, from 1967 to 1983. His tenure included a trip with the band to the 1972 Munich Olympics and, in 1979, the first “Blue Water Brass” show.

“I went up to the Troopers at their concession stand (on Monday),” Payton said, “put money in their gas fund and told them, ‘You know, you were in the very, very first show we ever had here and it’s so appropriate that you’re here for the final one. And you’ve still got the sunburst in your show!”

Troopers – Casper, WY
DCW On-Line Photo by Dan Scafidi

Contest Chairman Dan Griffith, current band director at Port Huron High School, said it was a difficult decision to have the sun set on “Blue Water Brass”, but the show, a fundraiser for the band, has lost money the last three years and takes about 11 months of work to prepare. With no new blood stepping up to take over and corps burning ever more costly fuel to make the trip north to the Canadian border, the committee faced the inevitable this year.

Paying homage to Payton and other guiding lights, including Andy Pochodylo, Bill Martin and Ron Strobbe, seemed the proper way to go out, Griffith said. “There’s a lot of people in this town that grew up in the Big Red Band that we have here. The Big Red Marching Machine has been a big staple of a small town and Eric was a huge influence on that. So we thought it was important to kind of honor the past.”

Town crier George Sims helped the present contest get underway, assisted by the patriotic strains of the Mocha Shriners Trumpet Band, with color guard provided by the local Knights Templar. Dutch Boy took the field first as the sole performer in Open Class, presenting its first show of the season. The music and visuals of “Boxed” challenged the audience to “strive to create, drive to innovate and refuse to be boxed.”

The Troopers made the first great strides of their 50th summer, beginning with a resounding brass chord before accelerating into their characteristically flowing show. Their marks were a more-than-five-point leap over their season-opening score in Toledo.

Pioneer also jumped up in score tonight. Roman Blenski’s lads and lassies were an early crowd favorite, with a Celtic program that kept the crowd clapping. Mirrored props and behind-the-back baton tosses were the order of the day and the corps took advantage of the stadium’s unique dimensions for a march-off salute to the stands. With no surrounding track, pit instruments were pulled practically to the grandstand wall and drum majors conducted from a few rows up in the seats.

Bluecoats took the field after intermission with a boxing-themed show that proved every bit as entertaining as last year’s “Criminal”. The color guard danced and dipped to the rock drums of Rocky and Bernstein’s On the Waterfront, while donning oversized trunks fit for the ring. Concussive drum beats and brass volleys captivated the crowd after a soft opening, giving way to a stunning brass-only chorale that transitioned to Bluecoats songbirds rendering, in gorgeous harmony, a bit of Paul Simon’s The Boxer..

Boston Crusaders – Boston, MA
DCW On-Line Photo by David Rice

Boston Crusaders continued their 2008 campaign with steady improvement over scores in Toledo and Dublin, OH, on their third straight night performing. Screams sounded from the corps about halfway through, leading to a similar outburst from the audience, before quiet descended like smoke in their program. Liquid movement to diverse selections including Moondance and Also Sprach Zarathustra made the crowd sit up and take notice.

The Cavaliers closed out the competition, wowing with their interpretation of “Samurai” lore. Their color guard, dressed in Japanese warrior garb, bloody scarves and all, presented its usual athletic routine, while the corps steadily revved up to the close. There was no death or dishonor tonight for the Green Machine, which scored a 4.5-poin jump from their season debut.

Monday may have been the finale for “Blue Water Brass”, but an extended encore and full retreat helped the night’s magic linger a bit longer for fans.

“It’s been a great run,” Griffith said. “I’ve loved every minute that I’ve been involved in it. My hat goes off to all the kids who go out and perform in the corps, who go through that lifestyle of performing and traveling in the summer. It’s such a brutal lifestyle and they do a great job. I’m going to miss having that interaction.”

Blue Water Brass rocked the shores of Port Huron, MI, for 30 years, drawing many top corps. Here is a roundup of all the corps to take the top spot in the Home of the Big Reds since July 12, 1979. In 1984, the weather won, the show suffered its only rainout.

6 show titles – Madison Scouts
6 show titles – Santa Clara Vanguard
4 show titles – The Cavaliers
3 show titles – Blue Devils
3 show titles – Garfield Cadets / Cadets of Bergen County
2 show titles – Glassmen
2 show titles – Phantom Regiment
1 show title – 27th Lancers
1 show title – Boston Crusaders
1 show title – Schaumburg Guardsmen

Chicago journalist Colt Foutz has earned multiple awards for his newspaper writing. His book, “Building the Green Machine: Don Warren and Sixty Years with the World Champion Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps”, is available in stores everywhere this summer. Learn more at www.cavaliersbook.com. He began writing for Drum Corps World during the summer of 2008.

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Posted by on Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008. Filed under DCW On-Line.