2011 DCW On-Line: Oswego, Illinois

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by Andrew Wheeler, Drum Corps World staff (wheelerand [at] sbcglobal [dot] net)

Author’s note: I’m reviewing three shows on successive nights — Whitewater, WI, Oswego, IL, and Michigan City, IN. These three shows had largely the same corps each night, so I’m covering primarily different aspects in each report. For Oswego, the focus is primarily on visual.

July 1, 2011 –Oswego, IL . . . Another perfect drum corps weather evening set the stage for the 23rd annual “Festival of Brass.” The show got off to a slow start, as the opening corps, Blue Saints, did not make it. Once the event got rolling, however, the enthusiastic fans were quickly engaged.

The Bluecoats took their second top prize of the season with their show titled “Brave New World.” They opened with one of the most effective formations of the season, the corps ringing the field, with the pit on the front sideline staged in from the goal lines. The guard was positioned directly behind the (vacant) ensemble, completing the rectangle. Instruments (brass and percussion) and helmets were strewn across the field.

As the show began, brass and percussion members took individual routes to find their helmets and instruments, and the pit members moved into their area. The looks on their faces were a perfect reflection of the sub-caption of the corps’ tour shirts: “What the hell am I doing here?” The opening effectively projected the uncertainty and confusion that can accompany the beginning of a marching season and pictured well the molding of 150 or so individuals into one unit.

The opening flag drill was very well done and added significant visual impact. A cartwheeling baritone provided a little “individualism” in the midst of the corps’ unity. Percussion and brass both performed extremely well; a particular highlight was the staging of the 14 tubas up front.

Drill was consistently the best of the evening, with readable formations and tight design. This show was as interesting to watch as it was to hear, a nicely complimentary visual and audio package.

Blue Stars, La Crosse, WI, 2011. (Drum Corps World photo by Jeff Hiott)

The Blue Stars‘ “ReBourne” production took second in all captions except for Visual Effect, where they bested the Bluecoats to take top honors. Much of the visual effect was related to the guard, easily the most athletic of the evening, and the use of ramps to the right of the 50 and about 2/3 of the way back, to highlight various sections of the corps at different points.

Opening with the corps running under the ramps onto the field, to the sound of sirens a la “The Bourne Identity,” one of the guard members was dressed in “Bourne” attire, while the rest had different costumes.

In a show with much to like drill-wise, the highlight occurred in the second number, Burly Brawl, where the brass and guard were staged in a sideways and elongated “S” formation; the corps “spun” down to the ground as the guard sequentially tossed their rifles down the line. The high toss and catch at the end drew excited applause from fans.

Drill throughout was more effective when staged to the left of the 50-yard line; some really nice formations and drill were sprinkled throughout. When staged in front of the ramps, it occasionally felt a bit cramped and limited in design. The ramps were used effectively — not overdone to the point of distraction. Rumor has it that they will eventually be painted with cityscapes, which will add further to the visual impact.

Glassmen brought six purple front sideline blinds painted with black thorns, staging three to each side of the pit. The meaning of the thorns wasn’t obvious, but the blinds added nice color to the show while also reducing clutter by hiding much of the guard equipment. The purple flags used in the opening guard statement further enhanced the color effect, which would be carried through the show by one of the guard soloists.

Overall, formations were not as readable as some of the other corps — a common occurrence when a show is focused on a storyline, as this one was (more on the actual storyline to come in the Michigan City review). Typical of a storyline-based show, the viewer had to choose between focusing attention on the development of the story (carried out primarily by the guard and especially by two guard soloists) and watching the rest of the corps.

A jam session, followed by a company front in the closer, added significant visual and musical punch, and the closing heart formation brought the show together well. Visually, this show has much to offer. Musically, electronics were overused a bit and detracted somewhat from the overall effect, but in general, the music was appealing and reached out to the fans.

The Colts‘ show, “Deception: the Jagged Edge,” featured some of the most consistently enjoyable visual elements of the evening. Readable formations and well-designed drill contributed to a cohesive effect visually. The “white swan” and “black swan” guard soloists carried out a storyline somewhat similar to the guard soloists in the Glassmen’s show.

The use of flags was particularly effective. The show opened with all silver and white flags, a very nice visual highlight. Over the course of the show, half of these were replaced by black flags, while the storyline between the white swan and black swan developed. The staging of the white and black flags, each to its own side and then intermingled, added nice visual effects. The all-white flags in the finale reflected the concluding development of the white swan/black swan storyline.

Excellent field usage, readable formations, solid drill design and high-impact flag work highlighted the visuals for this show. “Deception” was visually one of the best of the evening and fans expressed their appreciation enthusiastically.

Teal Sound’s “Sinvitation 7” production, another “good/evil” theme, opened with a very nice flag visual and a screaming trumpet that brought applause from fans. Flags supported the show well throughout; the opener featured flags with “7”s on them, representing the seven deadly sins. Similar flags appeared in the closer, a nice recap of the show.

Overall, the corps used the field well, but the formations were not generally as readable as the Colts and some other corps. The guard added significantly to the visual effect, both with flags and with white poles at one point. The closer, 160 BPM, featured the best drill and formations of the corps’ show. All in all, the visual and musical clues to the transitions between “sins” were not obvious; nonetheless, the show was enjoyable, both to watch and to hear.

Pioneer’s “Celebrate” show, a tribute to their 50th anniversary, continues to bring up the rear in scores, though appealing to audiences. They make very effective use of 17 blinds in a shallow semicircle across the backfield, both to reduce clutter and to cut off the field and provide a reasonably-sized “stage.’ Marching only 20 brass and 20 percussion (in addition to about 10 guard), the corps looks and sounds much larger.

Guard drill in this show didn’t add much visual impact most of the time, but it’s still early. The opening dance drill, meant to create a celebratory atmosphere, would have been much more impactful had it been a well-designed flag drill with bright colors. The guard uniforms, dark green outfits with black tights, fade into the field, causing the dance segments to lose impact.

The show is limited visually by the size of the corps and the guard drill, but is improving consistently and reaching audiences with its bright brass sound and accessible music.

Legends took first place in Open Class in their first show of the season, sweeping all captions and sub-captions. “Skyscapes” opened with a picture of gray skies during Cloudburst, illustrated by dark gray flags. The small guard (three members) wasn’t able to add much visual impact, but communicated the theme development well with their different-colored flags.

Formations were somewhat nondescript — not among the more readable of the evening. What the show lacked visually, however, it made up for musically, with a smooth brass sound and consistently effective percussion.

Colt Cadets, Dubuque, IA, 2011. (Drum Corps World photo by Ron Walloch)

Colt Cadets presented a nice visual package with their show, called “Notorious.” The opening scarlet and gold flags complemented the guard costumes very well, creating a cohesive visual effect. Flag drill was not completed, but the drill that was performed added significant visual.

The “Godfather” numbers were a highlight of the show; the flag entry in The Immigrant was a particular visual treat. The Shostakovich closer, in addition to featuring some of the best music of the entire show, ended with a very strong final attack and formation that added significantly to the visual impact. The closing flags, like the opening flags, complemented the guard uniforms for a pleasing, cohesive visual statement.

Show experience

The “Festival of Brass” annually draws an enthusiastic and informed drum corps crowd. Overall, the show experience is what you’d expect for a local show. The bleachers are 30 rows high, providing a decent angle if you’re near the top for viewing the formations. Traffic flow is a bit problematic, with long bleacher rows between the aisles. Concessions were average, but priced well ($1.00 for a water bottle is better than you would see at most shows). Placement of the restrooms is a bit problematic with the traffic for the concessions and the restrooms are too small for a crowd this size. The loudspeakers were consistently problematic and distracting.

The “Festival of Brass” contributes proceeds each year to the Susan M. Kiley Memorial Scholarship Fund. Over the years, the committee has provided 55 scholarships for students to attend local Waubonsee Community College. The event provides a great example of a community (individuals and businesses) that really gets behind a drum corps show and an event that in turn gives back significantly to the community.

Posted by on Friday, July 8th, 2011. Filed under DCW On-Line, FrontPage Feature.