There's an afternoon occurance in Arkansas where on a hot summer's day, sometimes the clouds will decide to explode and dump eleventy billion metric tons of water. A perfect set-up for a drum corps show, no? God would not have any of it, as He took His mighty hand and shoved that mess aside just in time for the 8pm delayed start.
I wish He would have thrown in a big divine blow-dryer as well. We could have seen full-on versions of these great shows with no short-cuts or boo-boos.
That being said, a great evening was enjoyed by all, including my two teens and their tag-along friend. I will be sharing their perspectives with you as well. The field, as expected, was treacherous and we in Arkansas thank all the participants for risking your health and well-being to give us fantastic entertainment. There were about three to four thousand in attendance at the horrid, unaccomodating War Memorial Stadium in downtown Little Rock.
Despite sad, poor conditions, nine corps persevered and all represented themselves well.
Cascades "Turn" - Small. That is the first impression you get with this corps. Small. And tiny. And small. I do not know why some administrators and staff of these corps misstrategize how these groups should compete, because I would rather see Cascades win Open Class than for them to finish next to last in World Class. The program was well designed, but elementary in its difficulty, rightfully appropriate for its membership. You didn't see them overly struggling like some small corps tend to be subject to by an overzealous staff. Good foresight and judgement on the part of the show designers. I thought the kids did an admirable job with the arrangements, especially "Turn, Turn, Turn". They finished a distant 9th in all captions. In a open class environment, this corps would easily challenge for a Top 5 spot. Respectable.
Stephen - "Not bad" Abbie - "Meh" Alex - "I wanna talk to that boy again"
My rank - 9th Actual rank - 9th
The Academy "Vanity Fair" - Slick, sharp and very clean for a corps at their tier level. This wonderful, elegant show features some amazing silks, and they are used to great effect by a very capable color guard. Visual is such a strong point for the corps in this very classy program featuring some good musical selections. Marching technique and execution was fantastic. I feel the brass, although good in quality, need a bit more difficulty for this show to challenge those ahead of them, and also - not hold back!!! Wonderful visual performance I think was also hampered with some design over-simplicity. Unlike Cascades, there is Top-12 talent in this corps, especially in guard and percussion. They would hang if they had the vehicle. They lost brass and music rep to Oregon. The show just feels safe and restrained and they need to just let it loose. Percussion were impressive with a nice feature. Striking uniforms with flowing capes added to the formalty of the show. The color guard was splendid, and performed with confidence. With some musical rewrites and another dynamic level of brass performance, this corps could get really interesting....
Stephen - "Wow, beautiful!" Abbie - "I want a lemonade" Alex - "I really think he likes me"
My rank - 7th Actual Rank - 8th
Oregon Crusaders "nevermore" - I appreciate the innovative idea of attaching a poetic narrative to a show, which the Blue Knights would also do later in the evening. The hornline and program concept is carrying the corps, plain and simple. "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, was the DNA for the show, and the corps ably incorporated their selections into the theme. The guard did an impressive job of selling the visual. The hornline was powerful and loud, with good dynamic contrast but some obvious dirt. I have one main criticism - the overuse of sound bites!!! Now don't get me wrong, James Earl Jones narrating is something to be revered, but having him drop "nevermore" a dozen times, sometimes over brass hits is distracting, unnecessary and incohesive. That is no fault of the kids. The designers need to reduce the electronic clutter in the show. In other ways, the atmosphere set up electronically is quite nice and effective, but some refinement is necessary. The percussion slightly lags behind the other two captions who are holding their own. To improve, the narration needs to be honed better, the hornline a little cleaner and the percussion to bring some snap and aggression to their roles. It will be tough. Academy was better, over all in my opinion.
Stephen - "Really interesting" Abbie - "Wow - I like dark and creepy - cool!" Alex - "I like the raven, it's really cool!"
My rank - 8th Actual Rank - 7th
Crossmen "Alma Gitana" - As much as you can in Arkansas, this was the hometown corps....a lot of Arkansan kids marching with Bones this year. They were getting serious and you felt it in this awesome, powerful show. Even though the only recognizable tune in this was their closer, I felt so comfortable with their selections, they were performed like I knew all the tunes already. They actually beat Boston in General Effect 1 (should have won the whole caption) and should have beaten them in Percussion. This gypsy-themed show was the turning point in the night, where the "ish" got real. There was a good amount of footwork and choreography in this show, and excellent use of accessories by the guard. Hornline was monstrously powerful, with only a small amount of noticeable anomalies. These guys and gals will solidly be in finals, no question.
Stephen - "Whoa" Abbie - "Is this like from Aladdin, daddy?" Alex - "Hey that's a cross - neato!"
My rank - 5th Actual Rank - 6th
Boston Crusaders "Animal Farm" - For a show called "Animal Farm" there were a whole lot of macabric elements present. This was a dark and brooding show, understated and ominous. They topped Crossmen tonight on the judges sheet because they marched their shoes off, even defeating Blue Knights in visual proficiency, and rightfully so. They need to enjoy that while it lasts, because I do not see a lot of potential improvement with this program design. The hornline of Crossmen are slightly brighter and more impressionable than Boston's, but the apparently judges saw more in Boston's show, likely the complexity of its composition and integration. I liked the intensity the performers provided, and keeping the feel of it consistent. Good push at the end for a strong finish.
Stephen - "The dark thing really gets me." Abbie - (Missed it - talking to boys) Alex - (Missed it - talking to boys)
My rank - 6th Actual Rank - 5th
Blue Knights "That One Second" - I absolutely loved the poignancy and emotional punch this show has. This was such a wonderful improvement from the corps' more esoteric previous efforts. To me, the program seems to be about recollecting memories that one second before you die, with its female narrator sending a strong message to appreciate all facets of life. The show also incorporated oceanic elements into the visual. I can get behind this program. CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN!! So crisply performed, much cleaner than The Cadets later (who, in fairness, had more difficult drill)!! The kids looked like machines programmed to march. BK had my favorite uniforms of the night, and their percussion was downright sicko. Crown's percussion better keep improving, or they will fall behind these guys. Excellent staging in the drill with very effective use of props and the poetic narrative. You can tell this program was put together by some of the best in the idiom.
Stephen - "That's just cool." Abbie - "Can I get a lemonade yet" Alex - "I like the blue - pretty!"
My rank - 4th Actual Rank - 4th
Bluecoats "Tilt" - The best show of the night - but the Cadets were cleaner. Even with the Bluecoats playing it safe on the calisthenics and tarp usage because of the rain, they sold the bejesus out of this program. They won colorguard performance and percussion, and should have placed second in brass, and also should have won MA and GE. They will on finals week. Their cutting-edge repertoire selections were the most accessible of the night, and Doug Thrower's arrangements prove to be the best in the activity. The percussion put on a clinic and blew everyone else out of the stadium. They have the goods, people!! Well-balanced captions with a championship vehicle. There is just a slight bit of refinement needed in the hornline, and some transitionary issues to address in the program. I'll go ahead and say it, "Hymn of Axciom" is amazeballs. The transition into the next tune kills enthusiasm for the ballad. END IT COLD AND LET US RESPOND!!! Same thing goes for the final 30 seconds of the show after a perfectly executed pitch bend!! Even though the staff added a cold cutoff and a hearty "blue" (i think it's because they realized it was a problem) - staff....the last 30 seconds of the program needs work and improvement, it is anti-climatic!!! If these areas can be fixed, the Bluecoats will catch and pass Cadets on the judges sheets after they peak too soon. Get it done! This show is amazing and these performers are champions!!!!
Stephen - "OH MY FREAKING GOD!" Abbie - "They're slanted all the time!" Alex - "That was awesome!"
My rank - 1st Actual Rank - 2nd
The Cadets "Promise: An American Portait" - To verify, this corps, with a couple of slight exceptions, is way clean and will peak before finals week. Short of pulling out a gigantic American Flag and releasing 13 bald eagles, there is simply nothing more the Cadets can add to this show. In fact, they should reduce the narration slightly. The hornline was impeccable, loud and proficient, but I can see how Crown beat them in this subcaption. I was very surprised and shocked to see the phasing in the hornline!!! Did I just watch two people out of step? The only other corps I saw do that were the Cascades. So how in the hell can Cole give them a win in Visual Proficiency? Ridiculous!!! Percussion - always reliable - held up their end nicely. The color guard was neck and neck with Bluecoats, but should not be. They did a great job of selling this show and not being overshadowed by the 150 large props on the field. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if the staff has them parking a bus on the field during finals week. Classic, wheelhouse Cadets show.
Stephen - "History book - the drum corps." Abbie - "I hate school." Alex - "I want to talk to that boy again"
My rank - 2nd Actual Rank - 1st
Carolina Crown "Out Of This World" - The mics for Crown's singers fritzed out and they had to do the opening unamplified, just like in the olden days. The hornline put on the clinic this time. The all high-brass moment during the percussion feature was just insane - very entertaining! Percussion, while improved from last year, has only one flaw - they are not victory-quality. Some I talked to felt the excessive prominent featuring of the caption hurt the corps. I agree. They need a serious non-percussive brass chorale moment to improve GE a bit. Also, between the hoops, frisbees-to-nowhere and trampolines, there is a bit of design clutter on the field. A better purpose needs to be forged for these interesting props. The program design is interesting, but not smooth and cohesive enough to compete with the top 3.
Stephen - "Dad, did they just bounce on trampolines and play?" Abbie - "I want a frisbee - yay!!" Alex - "I liked how they ran around the trampolines!"
My rank - 3rd Actual Rank - 3rd
Welp, there you have it, Drum Corps Community! I always like to be of service when there are goings-on in my state! A GREAT job by Robert Hesse and workers at the show who handled the elements and delayed schedule very well!!! How they can polish a turd like War Memorial Stadium and turn it into a useable venue is beyond amazing. It made the show - amazing - great memories for me and my attention-deficit-disorder-riddled teenagers, who were of no critical help.