WHAT A SEASON. A photo finish at the top, new voices rising, and incredible shows from 1st to 36th, this year is one for the record books in my eyes. For my 10th season as a fan, could not have asked for anything better. I finished this very late last night so I'm sure there are some errors, but here's my thoughts on the corps of 2019. Shoutout to the regional touring corps like The Battalion, Columbians, Vessel, Vanguard Cadets, Blue Devils B, etc. who did an amazing job as well. Hope to see them all at championships soon!
Heat Wave - Nature Boy (36th Place, 60.05)
Some nice storytelling from them, nice drill to draw your eye where it needs to be. Some nice musical moments in there, I thought their treatments of Nature Boy and Fix You were particularly nice. Solid musically, thought the drums again were a standout section.
Raiders - Gateway to the Unknown (35th Place, 62.45)
What stuck out to me was the visual design of this show, I really appreciate when a visual designer is able to do a lot with not a lot of bodies on the field and I thought they did a great job with that. Clear staging, cool sequences, great use of body, and well integrated props (some WC groups could honestly learn from them in that regard). All original music worked well for them, thought the drumline was particularly strong.
Les Stentors - Passion in Red (34th Place, 63.15)
Welcome back! Love seeing a Canadian corps competing again. Really cute and fun show that’s a mix of Latin and some of their French roots. Loved the French vocal duet at the beginning of the show. Danzon No. 2 is always fun as well. I thought their guard was the strongpoint, great utilization and staging. Nice job!
Colt Cadets - Of a Feather (33rd Place, 64.425)
I love getting to see some really young kids performing like that, such a cool opportunity for them. Nothing young about the way they’re performing though, some really nice moments in this very fun show. Queen, The Beatles, etc. are so great for a group like this all the way up to who is a contending drum corps. Really well rounded overall performance wise, though I thought the percussion was the strong point for this corps. Also, love the uniforms.
Shadow - Sonnets to Orpheus (32nd Place, 66.3)
I really enjoy how creative Shadow is every year since they started competing, I think it’s really cool that I could identify an Open Class corps based on the way their show looks and sounds. Really ambitious show musically and visually in all sections, but as has been the case the last few years, the percussion is really strong for this tier. Loved how "Dancer in the Dark" was used as a connecting thought throughout the show. Another OC corps using props very effectively and with a lot of variety. Great job Shadow! What a great addition to DCI they’ve been.
Golden Empire - Icarus (31st Place, 68.475)
Really strong across the board from these guys, I don’t know what is in the water in California percussion wise, but wow, their drumline really threw down. Really well designed show all around, great pacing musically and I loved their treatment of "Fly to Paradise". Great field coverage and yet another OC corps who uses their props to great effect. This group just seems to be getting stronger every year.
7th Regiment - Poetic (30th Place, 70.475)
7th Regiment really knows how to do shows that are really touching, and in an effective way. Really clear visual program paired with incredibly rich and beautiful music. The "Pure Imagination" closer was especially great. I thought they did a nice job integrating the poetry references into the show, and performed with a lot of heart once again this year. Great job!
Guardians - Unpeeled (29th Place, 70,975)
Really fun theme deconstructing Son of Man, great representation of the various parts of that painting with the various sections of the show. That said, chewing sounds gross me out so I’m not so hot on that, but fun show nonetheless. Great across all sections, and I thought they were particularly strong for their range in ensemble visual and percussion Nice job! Good to see this corps still going strong.
River City Rhythm - Breaking the News (28th Place, 71.075)
I really liked this show design wise, the journey through the various stages of news all the way up to fake news (not for everyone but I got a good laugh there) was really well done and aided by some good voiceovers. The newspaper opening was really fun, and the ballad was great. Strong across all sections, and yet another strong percussion section in Open Class. Their brass has really improved recently as well, and the guard is solid. I’ve really enjoyed these guys back to their first appearance with the river show, and I think this is their best yet.
Southwind - Caged (27th Place, 72.3625)
Really nice ensemble sound from these guys, I’ve been so impressed with their resurrection and improvement every year. Really well constructed show top to bottom and they’re performing very well. When it hits “Ordinary World” to the end especially, it just cooks. I hope they keep improving like they have, I love some of their early 2000s shows and they’re starting to climb to that level again.
Louisiana Stars - Break (26th Place, 73.6)
What a fun show! Tons of really fun and recognizable music paired with a great visual program. Lots of great moments, though the guard member on tenors deserves a shoutout for sure and the drum major “breaking” their baton gave a great laugh from the get go. A clever show that doesn’t take itself too seriously is always fun. Nice job!
Seattle Cascades - The Grid (25th Place, 73.275)
“The Grid” was a fun show, lots of really nice musical moments throughout, particularly “Asphalt Cocktail” and “Never Gonna Give You Up”. That hornline had some punch, really surprised me in San Antonio with their opening impact. Visually, I do think they need to change some things up. Props were cool, but the overall staging and colorguard integration are what need some revamping to me. Congratulations on advancing to semifinals again this year, I hope they're able to build on this success!
Jersey Surf - FantaSea (24th Place, 75.9)
Wow, what a surprise “FantaSea” was this summer. They really struggled to find a balance between the fun and wild shows of 2012/2013 and the more serious shows of the last few years. This year was a PERFECT balance of all of that. The show just flowed really well and made sense, from the lush and beautiful above the sea portion of “La Mer” to the fun and deeper “Aurora Awake”, it just worked. The color scheme was great, the design was really well balanced, and they performed it really well. They were small, but the intonation and clarity of the brass really made them sound big. I hope they keep heading in this direction, because I really enjoyed what they had to offer this season. Congratulations on returning to semifinals!
Music City - Of Mice and Music (23rd Place, 76.65)
“Of Mice and Music” did cross the line of cheesy for me, but that’s honestly not a big deal personally, I’m glad that they’ve found a niche in really easy to get and fun shows. I’m not sure why this show didn’t place higher, they sounded great, nice visual package, etc. As a show though, it didn’t quite click like Casey Jones did. However, with their leadership and moments like “Imagine” in there, I like the direction they’ve headed. I hope they keep it up!
Gold - The Pursuit of Happiness (22nd Place, 77.1)
Wow, here’s where things in Open Class really started going from very good to great. This show on paper is okay, but they designed it about as well as they could have. I’ve seen kinda similar shows in the HS world in terms of the daily grind/finding your way through life but this is by far the best version of that I have seen. Loved how they looked in white, and their visual clarity only shown through even more because of them. Really catchy show for being what I believe is all original music again. Great ensemble sound from the brass and the first of the night to REALLY nail some smaller section features. Good guard and drums too. It’s been fun seeing these guys grow from a pretty solid regional corps to a contending open class corps. Probably my most improved over the past three or so years.
Legends - Song of the Siren (21st Place, 78.4)
Even though it’s not as creative as some of my favorite shows from them, this show is still really well constructed and performed. From the really lush and pretty “La Mer” and “The Abyss” to the angry “Shostakovich 10” they perform a wide array of musical styles very well. Brass and percussion sounded great again this year and the colorguard continues to improve. They really kicked it into high gear in the final week, looking forward to see what these guys do next year!
Genesis - From the Ground Up (20th Place, 78.725)
“From the Ground Up” was an incredibly ambitious show for them this year, it grew a TON from day one. A really solid show in all regards, with some great prop moments in the ballad and closer. What they lost a little bit of in performance clarity and cleanliness I think they made up in show design after a little bit of a rough season in 2018. Not much else to say than I’m glad to see them staying strong and consistent, I hope they keep growing.
Spartans - Experiment X (19th Place, 80.35)
I’ve liked Spartans shows in the past, but have never fallen head over heels for them. That changed when I saw this online Monday night. WOW! This is Bluecoats 2016 meets Madison Scouts 10 years from now. Incredibly exciting music program with FANTASTIC soloists, amazing colorguard integrated with great props and drill/staging, and performers that bring it all to life ten fold. The front half of the show is great, “Shallow” makes a great ballad, but when it hits “Shofukan”, it just burns the freaking house down and turns up to eleven. II don’t care who was in attendance, they were the clear champions and have one of my favorite Open Class shows since I started following the activity ten plus years ago. I hope whatever changed this year stays in place, because wow. Easily a 2019 favorite for me.
Troopers - Beyond Boundaries (18th Place, 81.663)
“Beyond Boundaries” was interesting this summer. I do feel they lost a little of themselves trying to push outside of their western cowboy comfort zone, but this show still had some really nice moments. In particular, I thought the Persichetti trumpet solo to start the show was just nails every time, in a year with A LOT of corps trying to do screamers all over the place to varying levels of success, this was a very nice change in tone. Bravo to that soloist. I also really enjoyed the “To the Stars” ballad, I love the film score that came from and it was really lovely. I thought the overall color scheme of the show was nice as well, and the drums were great. I applaud the risk of changing things up, but hope they can find a way to stay true to the Troopers next year.
Madison Scouts - Majestic (17th Place, 82.137)
“Majestic” is a love letter to this chapter of their history to me. And even if the performance levels are not quite what they were a few years ago, this was still a wildly fun show that audiences loved all summer, which is what Madison is all about. The hauling *** end to “Afterburners”, the jazzy rendition of “Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra”, a straight up company front ending in “One Voice”, and so on were just awesome moments in a show that is from an era gone by. That semifianls performance left me emotional the rest of the day. There are shows every year that have reinvented Madison Scouts written all over them to me. Bluecoats “Downside Up” and “Jagged Line” at the top, and even down to Spartans wildly energetic “Experiment X” this season that placed right below them. I don’t think they have to lose the identity this show had to make what they do modern. Nonetheless, I wish them the best in the new era dawning in the coming months, and am really excited to see what they decide to do.
Colts - When Hell Freezes Over (16th Place, 84.225)
“When Hell Freezes Over” was another really tightly designed and performed show from the Colts this summer. I thought the juxtaposition of fire and ice was done really well, especially when that flyover came out and the uniform change happened (SO GLAD that went in around Atlanta!). In particular I find their guard to stand out every summer, just really nice integration and clean work from them. Drums held their own this summer as well. Not much else to say, just a really nice show. They seem like a corps on the verge of a finals appearance every year, I hope they find their way in soon!
The Academy - The Bridge Between (15th Place, 84.3)
I’ll be honest that this show didn’t do a lot for me thematically and in terms of the programming. London Bridges and synth patches wore me a little weary. That said, some really great moments in there. I loved the visual aesthetic of this show, and the visual package was very solid. TONS of energy musically, and that flugel soloist was just nails every time. I hope I fall back in love again next year, but nice job this summer Academy.
Pacific Crest - Everglow (14th Place, 85.35)
There are a few shows recently that signaled something special was coming down the pipes. The Academy in 2014 with “Vanity Fair” was one. Mandarins in 2016 with “Forbidden Forest” is another. “Everglow” feels like one of those shows. This show was just so well designed in every way. The music had a ton of variety, energy, and flow. The visual program flowed well and staged everything effectively. And wow those kids performed the crap out of it! There was not a down moment in this show for me, the “Chinatown” portion to the end ESPECIALLY cooked. This is a corps that was always really nice, but didn’t quite have enough there to move up with how competitive the activity is going. For the first time since 2013, it feels like they are on the verge of finals. PLEASE keep doing what you are doing, I love shows like this that seem like the beginning of a climb. These guys seem poised to be our next new finalist.
Spirit of Atlanta - Neon Underground (13th Place, 85.587)
While I don’t think “Neon Underground” was quite as tight of a design as “Knock”, I still really enjoyed a lot of moments in this show, both musically and visually. Musically the ballad and “Color Wheel” closer were really fun and out there musical programming choices that I had never heard of before and loved. Visually, I thought the three looks were really cool and gave the show a ton of visual depth. All sections were strong, and I had fun watching them perform. Another corps on the cusp, I think just keep doing what you’re doing. With another year these guys could potentially be kicking down the door of finals.
Phantom Regiment - I am Joan (12th Place, 87.238)
If a corps deserves a most improved award, Phantom Regiment is in the running for it. And that’s all because of the members. Man, they took this show, and cleaned and developed the absolute crap out of it. Some great moments in there, the “O Fortuna” opening, the exchanging instrument licks, the climax of “Fire of Eternal Glory” portion, the energy of the closer, etc. They performed the snot out of it. And that drumline, wow. Fantastic stuff. All that said, it’s time to find what they want to do. Their concepts to me since 2016 have really bounced around without a clear direction year to year. A corps that made me fall in love with the activity, it hurts to see them given shows that have landed them right at the finals cut off. It’s time to stop retreading old classics and start creating new ones. They need something new, fresh, and exciting that is still true to them at its core. A 2005 type show. But great job to the members, this show really came together because of you.
Crossmen - Valkyrie (11th Place, 87.55)
From the get go, this show was enthralling. Drum major was a bad ### this year. All sections were great this year, I thought percussion was the most improved over the season for them. This show was a rock concert on the field from the high energy music, to the electric guitars, to the performance quality of the members. I loved the very primal take on Led Zeppelin and integrating “Flight of the Valkyries” throughout. Visual program was very solidly put together and cleanly performed. Every year these guys seem better to me, but keep landing in the same area placement wise. I think that’s just a testament to how good the top 12 is getting, because it blew me away that this placed where it did. Fantastic job again, can’t wait for next year.
Mandarins - SubTerra (10th Place, 89.3)
Finally, we have a new repeat finalist for the first time since the 1999 to 2000 Boston Crusaders. The Mandarins have forged a VERY distinct identity as of late. It’s incredibly dark but quirky and HUGELY entertaining. These shows would rub me the wrong way if they were not so incredibly conveyed and performed by the members, they make you buy what they’re selling as soon as they enter the field all the way to when they exit. “SubTerra” was unrelentingly intense and exciting. Brass keeps on improving and the colorguard…...oh man. Incredible work, and no shock with the Diamante connection. Percussion is the only area that’s lagging behind the rest a little bit, but I’m confident they’ll keep growing. This show, like the last two, was just so incredibly constructed visually and musically. “Truman” sleeps especially was great as a ballad, and as an amazing reprise at the end. Every show doesn’t need to be happy and full of butterflies, so I hope they keep doing what they’ve been doing.
The Cadets - Behold (9th Place, 89.838)
Did the show have issues? Yes. I think they got tripped up in programming a show that said they were moved on from what occurred in the year or so prior and it just tried too hard. The flow of it was weird, and the visual design was lacking. Nothing that hasn’t been said. The members performed the absolute #### out of it though, I didn’t like the show overall but they almost made me buy what they were selling on performance. Brass performance got a little ragged at times as an ensemble but there were still some great moments like the opener and some of “Estancia”. Colorguard REALLY grew over the season, I thought they had their best run on finals night. And percussion…..whew. They are worth the price of admission alone, Tom Aungst at his best. I hope he stays around for a long time. Going forward, I think it’s time to stop tackling such heavy show concepts and do something Cadets at its core……..maybe venture into some American composers again, but something they haven't used on the field yet. A simple theme they can execute flawlessly. Best of luck going forward.
Blue Stars - Call of the Wild (8th Place, 91.225)
My first competitive event was Denton in 2010, and the Blue Stars blew me away with “Houdini” that year. Every year since, even through missing finals once, I have found a lot to love every year. This year is no different. “Call of the Wild” was an incredibly beautiful show. From the isolated flurries of “Dance Panels” to the incredibly bare and raw “Sora” to that baritone entrance in the closer they portrayed a theme musically just about as well as anyone to me. And they did it while hauling ### for twelve minutes. The end of Copland is one of my highlight moments of the year. You sound like that while moving like that? Good lord. Brass continues to develop an incredibly distinct and warm sound and the percussion grew a ton over the season. And once again that guard is leading the way. The tricks, energy, difficulty just blow me away every year. I am so happy to see they chained together two single digit placements again, I’m really excited about where that sets them up going into next year. Thanks for another fun one Blue Stars.
Blue Knights - I Remember Everything (7th Place, 92.05)
This show clicked for me in finals week. That feeling of reminiscing about something gone by is so Blue Knights. They portray real human emotion and feelings like no one else, and it feels so authentic. Once again they did narration better than just about anyone, it’s so professionally done and implemented. Visually this show was solid, especially the much improved guard this year, but musically…….oh man. Lindsey Vento used a perfect descriptor for their musical approach Thursday night. It’s patient. They let things evolve and grow naturally, and “Hurt” was about as modern Blue Knights as it gets. Mike Jacksons percussion writing, Jay Bocook at his best, the environmental demands and isolated attacks spread across one hundred yards. Sublime. Last year felt like Blue Knights, but the theme didn’t do a lot for me. This year was back to how 2014 and 2015 felt. Keep doing you Blue Knights.
Boston Crusaders - Goliath (6th Place, High Colorguard, 94.488)
I don’t think this show came together QUITE as well as the last two as a whole package, but what an amazing corps this was. Their power was incredible this year, Gino knows how to make a brassline knock your lights out. Percussion took on one of the densest and most difficult books of the year, and really came together in the end. And that colorguard…whew. Breathtaking. They command every single bit of your attention like no one else. That featured performer especially was just………..wow. Their opening this year was one of my favorites, and the closer was just a gas. They tweaked that thing to work way better than it did in June. Going forward, hoping for a little less my CHOT, but I really enjoyed it again this year. With your staff and talent, it’s only a matter of time before you’re competing or a medal.
The Cavaliers - The Wrong Side of the Tracks (5th Place, 95.4)
I heard this ballad preseason in a recording, and knew from day one it was going to be pretty great. Not only was it pretty great, it was my favorite moment of the season. The two “Road to Perdition” portions of this show were easily some of the best programming choices this year, I don’t know who picked those out, but PLEASE keep that stuff up. Colorguard was incredibly athletic and aggressive again this year and the percussion REALLY grew into a beast of a section, especially in the “Bums Rush” portion of the show. But that brassline. Wow. Their best in a really long while. The clarity in technical passages, tone at all ranges, and the PHRASING. Some of those decrescendos in technical passages were downright nuts. This show was incredibly dynamic in all regards, and my favorite from them in a really long time. The stockyard drum corps thing was so entertaining, and I hope they use a similar approach next year. If there is a corps I’m most excited about going into 2020, it’s these guys. There is a medal on the horizon if they grow this much again.
Carolina Crown - Beneath the Surface (4th Place, High Brass, 96.563)
While the whole spiritual geometry and looking under the surface thing didn’t do a lot for me, their musical ability and drill demand did. Once again, no one sounds as good as they do. That brassline is incredible, and their drumline was a huge asset again. That opening hit was……...wow. I’d pay just to hear that live again. And then they shift totally and do “Gabriel's Oboe” about as delicately and beautifully as I’ve heard it. This show grew a lot over the season in performance quality, and they were performing like a top two corps by finals night. If they can figure out the guard integration and thematic presentation, they’ll be winning another championship because they are an incredible drum corps.
Santa Clara Vanguard - Vox Eversio (3rd Place, High Percussion, 96.6)
“Vox Eversio” pushed me really hard as an audience member. The visual design and approach was so well done, but so different from what I am used to seeing. I might look back on this show ten years from now and see that they foreshadowed where the activity was headed, but it was very out there for me while it happened. That said, they executed an immense amount of choreo at a championship level. If that visual design had a little more clarity, they might have won again because WOW that was a talented drum corps. Their musical prowess was jaw dropping at times, that whole second number of the show was incredible. One of the best things on the field this summer. The individual performers on display were incredible again this year, and that drumline. Wow. Blue Devils won finals night, but in terms of dominating a caption, four years in a row is no small feat. I’m really excited to see what they do next year, if their show design clicks like it did in 2018 they’ll have another championship.
Bluecoats - The Bluecoats (2nd Place, High General Effect, 98.238)
When I heard about a Beatles show, I raised an eyebrow. When I saw a video for the first time, I was still a little hmm. And then the tour premier happened. And then they kept tweaking it and performing it at a higher and higher level. And maybe with one more night, they coulda won. But that’s beside the point. The joy and energy they perform with is what makes me fall in love with them. If Blue Devils are cool, composed, and professional Bluecoats are the inverse of that in the best of ways. And putting that energy through the Beatles? Genius. From that opening cacophony through “Elanor Rigy” and “Blackbird” all the way through “She’s So Heavy” and “Hey Jude” this show was a seamlessly designed and communicated Beatles concert that never was. The way they entertain the crowd is just…...mesmerizing. That creative team is reaching a level of consistency and quality year to year that is only matched by the Blue Devils right now. In their seventh year together, they put together what I think is the most polished and clear vision of a show for them yet. Thank you again for creating a show and experience that drew us in like no one else. I can’t wait to see what 2020 holds.
Blue Devils - Ghostlight (1st Place, High Visual Performance, 98.325)
I knew in June this show was gonna grow into something special. And boy it did. What they VERY slightly lacked in musical performance they more than made up for in one of their best visual constructions ever. And a huge part of that is due to those INCREDIBLE props. Those might be the best implemented props I’ve seen outside of maybe Bluecoats 2016 for myself. That moment when they cascade down them and make them go from straight up to an angle was jaw dropping. Thematically I thought this show was AMAZING as a concept. Pairing their evolution with the evolution of theater was an incredible choice that they communicated so well. And it’s so fitting because the way they perform belongs on a stage. From that slight about face to the audience at the beginning from the guard, they communicate so professionally. That ballad is what made this show though. The saber guard work, the incredibly rich music, and that rotating clock-esque drill were just a perfect portrayal of theme and music. They continue to show why they are the best every year. If there was a show to VERY slightly edge out what came before it, I’m glad it was this one.