Writing from work after the show. Seats were right below the press box. I was standing and stretching my legs during intermission; as Troopers were setting up I was asked by a judge if I would be sitting during the shows or else she would have not been able to see.
Summer Youth Guard - Always good to see kids getting indoctrinated to the joys of drum corps/color guard at such a young age. Loved the flag which was like the Academy "A" symbol but with a lower case "a."
Arsenal - Sound Sport group from Albuquerque. Had instrumentation like a drum corps. Had a balanced membership of about 50 split between brass, percussion, and guard. Some nerves at first but seemed to grow into their performance. I think they have a lot of potential and hope to see them competing in Open Class in the near future.
Phenom - Sound Sport group from Tempe. No color guard, but close to full brass and percussion lines with about a dozen woodwind players. I am absolutely blown away by their improvement over the last couple of years. I believe the group will stay Sound Sport since so many high schools in Phoenix start late July/early August which does not allow students to march a full drum corps season and this is the perfect experience for them. If they did make a move up (and they get a guard on level with their brass and percussion) they would very quickly contend for Open Class finals.
Watchmen - Open Class from Riverside, CA. Did not count but would estimate 75 or so members. I can not believe how good Open Class is getting, especially their percussion section which I thought was stellar. Front ensemble was a little over amped in the beginning which hurt the impact of the first brass hit. Good program that I expect them to grow into through the season and think they could make some Open Class noise in coming seasons if they keep things up.
Troopers - I absolutely loved the first half of the show. They had me hooked from the beginning, but felt it started to fade as the show went on a bit. Could be the programming of the show, could also be the fact that it was probably around 105° when they stepped off and they were wearing multiple tops leading to performance stamina issues that won't be present at pretty much any other show. Hoping they make top 15 so I can watch them again in the theaters.
Mandarins - Almost the opposite of Troopers where it took me a while to get into the show, but I was totally digging it by the end. I understand that they have a stage they did not use tonight and it was noticably absent to the detriment of the show. Such a mature sound and visual program from this group. The show was too weird/dark for some in my group, but I was sold on it. If DCI had an award for Most Improved Corps, they would get my vote easily.
Blue Devils - I really liked their show this year. Unfortunately for them, in the past when I have really liked a Blue Devil show it ends up not doing as well with the judges. I may be the only one, but one of my favorites is the 2005 Dance Derby of the Century show (Yowza!). My biggest complaint on the show is the synth bass was too loud in moments. Although even that wasn't too overpowering like some of the thunderous goo of the past. They were dirtier than I remember them being at this time in years past, but hopefully that means room for growth as I was thoroughly entertained by the show.
Academy - I am biased as I marched here for four years. After reading some of the comments on this show the last week and a half I was nervous for the show, but I was blown away by the quality of it. They seem to have made positive changes and the members are really selling the show. I thought they were closer to the Mandarins tonight than the judges did, but I am biased and it was their home show. Not sure it has the legs to make finals, but if they keep layering and cleaning they can make it a fight to the end.