2011 DCW On-Line: Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania

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by Rich Conti, Drum Corps World staff (richburgher [at] yahoo [dot] com)

August 4, 2011 – Johnsonburg, PA . . . An absolutely gorgeous evening and a large and ravenous drum corps crowd set the stage for the second “Blast in the Burg” DCI Open Class competition, with a line-up that boasted eight corps, including three of the top four corps coming into the final week before crowning a champion. In the end, Blue Devils B was able to hold off the Oregon Crusaders by 0.15 to take home the victory.

Opening the competition was Quebec’s Les Stentors and their production called “Music From Home,” a collection of music composed by French-Canadian artists. Le Rendez-vous begins with a very nice baritone and soprano duet before the first big hit and the color guard tossing fleur-dis-li flags of blue, purple, green and gold. After easing into a ballad, the corps picks up the tempo with dancing and singing by the corps proper. A strong finish with very clean marching and a return of the fleur-dis-li flags with a new color pattern brought Les Stentors’ production to a rousing finish.

Les Stentors, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, Drum Corps World photo by Robb Quinn

Blue Saints take a big step forward in visuals and storytelling with “Stranded,” beginning with the regular hustle and bustle of the airport to John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane. Passengers say good-bye to loved ones with their carry-on luggage and make their way through security checkpoints and boarding procedures, while tarmac workers guide the jet into position for takeoff on one of the four runways that end in the backfield. Once airborne, the jet is caught in a storm and struck down by Lightning, crashing on a remote island.

Overcome plays to the chaos that ensues as the survivors try absorbing what has happened to them and Truman Sleeps is a well-done ballad as the first night after the disaster is spent on palm leaves. Dies Irae closes the show as the guard tosses flags of black with gray patches and metallic red stripes, bringing an unexpectedly-dark ending to a successful narrative by the Ontario corps.

The unlikely pairing of Dave Brubeck and Radiohead is featured in 7th Regiment’s “(un) Square” show, with successfully striking results. Everything in its Right Place begins with a red square that explodes into red and orange flags with the corps’ big opening hit, while Take Five ushers in visuals that lack even a single hint of squareness. The show’s theme is visible throughout, with formations and flag designs that run the gamut of squares, geometric shapes that aren’t squares, to oozing blobs.

Paranoid Android stands out with the color guard’s use of spandex wraps to trap a guard member in a blue square. As she tries to escape, she tests the sides by stretching them and causing the shape to no longer be a square, while a side of the square turns yellow, then becomes four squares, each with a yellow side, then expanding into one enormous blue square with a yellow side.

Unsquare Dance in 7/4 Time features a pink-shakoed tap dancer and Creep makes two appearances: first as a short ballad with an excellent trio feature and then reprised for the powerful closer with a wheeling 7th Reg logo. This show brought the crowd to its feet and is another great production from the New London, CT, corps.

Genesis brought us “Big Top After Dark,” the story of a girl in an ivory dress whose trip to the circus inspires her to become a circus performer. The pre-show sets the tone with circus calliope music and an announcer whose disturbing delivery teases the beginning of the circus’ final act with a countdown to the big opening statement from the brass and guard using yellow flags, circus balls and hoops. But the circus isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for the girl, as Scenes From a Psychotic Circus reveals intimidating circus performers with wild hair and make-up, and whirling, scary brass that push the girl to the brink running away.

Before all is lost, a clown comes to her aid with a red nose and mentors her while the corps plays a fantastic rendition of Send in the Clowns. Re-energized, the girl looks to find her performing niche, finally joining the color guard in her new sparkly red costume as the drum line throws down a great feature and the brass belts out an inter-woven closer of Psychotic Circus and Clowns with touches of Thunder and Blazes. This was a great mix of storytelling and performance with Genesis as a worthy ringmaster of it all.

Music City’s “Let’s Dance!” is an enormous drum corps jukebox stacked with drum corps standards and popular music all associated with dancing that quickly became the belle of the “Blast in the Burg.” A pre-show of I Could Have Danced All Night introduces the color guard decked out in a myriad of dancing outfits, each representing a dancing style. Two stages sit past midfield center and from them emerge a featured dancer who performs to the music as each piece has its own color palette with a dancing figure on the flags.

Bandstand Boogie opens the show with enormous sound and a poodle-skirted sockhopper while a Native American performs a Rain Dance surrounded by rings upon rings of visuals as the thunderous drum feature threatens to break the clouds wide open. The dancing comes fast and furious, as a performer doing his best Gene Kelly meets a belly dancer and a Tennessee Waltz at the cotillion becomes home of the Dance Machine.

The closer is a medley of dance-related music ending in a booming reprise of I Could Have Danced All Night as the stages came together and all of the featured dancers came out to take a bow as the field is filled with giant dancer flags of every color. “Let’s Dance” is a toe-tapping tour de force that will make Music City a fan favorite in Michigan City and Indianapolis.

Spartans work the graveyard shift for their 2011 production titled “Midnight,” which includes Key Poulan’s Midnight and Bella’s Lullaby from the “Twilight” film score. Pre-show begins with the color guard face down and spread-eagle across the field. While eerie and ethereal sounds rise from the pit, individual guard members emerge from the ground in masks and begin to stalk the corps proper, entering the field in very cautious and unorganized fashion. The guard removes their masks and reveals their monstrous selves as they grunt and growl at each other and the corps, leading up the brass line’s opening statement.

Midnight has all the hallmarks of a texbook Spartans performance: control and execution. The brass has a super clean sound and individuals really sparkle during the mellophone-soprano duet and several solos throughout, while marching is pristine going in and out of forms and fleeing from creatures of the night. The star of the program is the color guard, which was as hot as the red and frilly pink stripes of their costumes, which were offset by a muddied gray and black pattern over the rest of the outfits.

The mohawked leader of the gruesome group is clad in the same dirty pattern, but in all silvery-gray and guides them as they stalk, swipe and snarl at the corps proper while carrying out spins and a domino sabre toss with immaculate precision. Flags keep time as they begin with the dusky pinks and purples of sunset to starry evening blues and various moon phases through the full moon finale.

As light approaches, the guard re-masks and shuffles off to again lying face down while the corps moves to the rear right corner of the field where they surround the leader with arms raised in reverence as she ascends a ladder and poses in a final act of defiance of the dawn. Midnight is a classic Spartans performance that brought a standing ovation from the Johnsonburg crowd.

The Oregon Crusaders introduce us to “The Blue Hour,” a show that, simply put, is eleven minutes of the “it” factor that has been the buzz of Open Class circles for several weeks. The pre-show introduction has the corps in a circle at about the 30 yard line to the left, surrounded by brass instruments situated to mark the minutes on a clock (the giant moon they would be standing on was prohibited by DCI rules pertaining to the use of field coverings on grass surfaces) while crickets chirp and a deep-voiced narrator defines the show’s subject.

The corps and guard begin to dance in the circle and eventually break away while the pit plays a rendition of Moonlight Sonata that is so melodic and soothing it almost lulls you to sleep, just as the brass explodes in a sound that nearly knocks you out of your seat and the field becomes a wash of black, blue and silver flags. The sonic barrage continues in Blue Shades, as the corps forms a giant square with the color guard filling in with flags of blue and dark blue slashes. The guard shines literally and figuratively, especially during A Hymn to a Blue Hour, as they use navy spandex wraps to hide themselves from sight as the narration briefly conveys the blue hour as the time when the first star of the night sky can be seen and a single guard member releases her material.

As it snaps down, it reveals the guard’s costume of a blue and white top and white capris, the first star of the evening against the dark celestial background. Soon after, the rest of the guard releases their wraps simultaneously and the sudden burst of a star-filled sky brought oohs from the Johnsonburg crowd. Hymn also features an excellent mellophone solo and ends with a quote from the popular children’s book “Goodnight Moon.”

Variciones Concertantes, Op. 23 is an adrenaline-filled closer with yellow sabre tosses and whirlwind drill that peaks in a company front of deep, rich sound and crescent moon flags, then ending as the guard groups together to usher in the blue hour of the morning and the corps proper scatters to catch a glimpse. “The Blue Hour” has the total package of marching, music, visuals and emotion and makes the Oregon Crusaders a legitimate contender for the Open Class title.

Blue Devils B, Concord, CA, Drum Corps World photo by Shaun Owens

The two-time defending Open Class Champion Blue Devils B pins their hope for a third straight title on “Synchronicity,” which includes three songs by classic rockers The Police from the album of the same name. And based on their performance tonight, BDB will not be giving up the crown without a fight. The pre-show has the corps proper enter the field from the left in three rows that each march off into its own direction, but eventually merges together in one block at the center of the field.

Synchronicity I opens with a take-charge snare line feature before the brass lets it fly with that signature Blue Devils sound. The color guard is exactly that, wearing sleeveless hoodies of yellow, red, orange and purple with navy pants that change shades when legs are bent or angled and accompanied by flags that are right out of a Piet Mondrain art exhibit: white with a black-lined grid and random blocks colored blue, yellow and red (the primary colors are the only ones used on the album cover art of “Synchronicity,” one of several Police references during the show).

Synchronization and timing is central to this production and achieved in about every way imaginable. A twin domino rifle toss is executed to perfection, as is the dancing and sabre tosses during Kaleidoscope Heart. Not to be outdone, soprano, mellophone and baritone soloists take turns before melting into a trio feature in a super-sultry rendition of Murder by Numbers that ends in a brassy blast from the blob at the 50 yard line. Synchronicity speeds on to the end by way of a throw down percussion feature that leads into Krump, an all-out closer with non-stop movement, ending in a rotating wedge and delivering the final roar from the corps and a responding roar from the crowd.

Blue Devils B has reached an extremely high level of performing balance and “Synchronicity” is an excellent program that showcases its collective talents and perhaps earning another title in the process.

A “Blast in the Burg” ended with Blue Devils B performing the encore with true Blue Devils bravado, right down to the kneeling contra line and beginning with Ditty, the traditional BD warm-up. The pit gets time to shine with a feature titled Imperceptible Truths by Katie Ellen Hurst and the brass lays down the groove tones with Trombone Shorty’s Where Y’at? The encore concludes with the percussion feature and Krump from Synchronicity, driving the crowd to its feet and leaving them wanting more for the perfect ending to an amazing night of drum corps in Johnsonburg.

Posted by on Monday, August 22nd, 2011. Filed under DCW On-Line, FrontPage Feature.