DCI West Championship 2008

Santa Clara Vanguard. Phantom Regiment. Blue Devils. Easily one of the best shows of my life.

As important as marching band was to me in high school, I rarely think it it now. These rare flashes, however, come with large bouts of nostalgia. On one of those a few weeks ago, I fired up footage of my high school shows, then took a detour to the DCI website. The summer before my senior year, I had gone to “THE exSIGHTment of SOUND” in Houston, where I saw the Cavaliers and Santa Clara Vanguard perform. Looking through this year’s schedule, I saw several performances in the Bay Area. A couple looked convenient, but one was incredibly convenient: The DCI West Championship at the Stanford Stadium. I excitedly mentioned it to several of my non-initiated (read: newbie) friends and ended up nabbing 2 tickets for George (my roommate) and me.

We met up with Ben around some batteries warming up after a wonderful shrimp scampi dinner (read here), then went to the stadium. The seats, on the upper deck, were just at the 40 yard line on the left; great to watch, great to hear.

The open class (division 2 and 3) bands went first, and while not perfect, they were very enjoyable. The first was the San Francisco Renegades, a corps without age restrictions. Members were mostly middle-aged, but it was a spirited performance.

They, however, fit with most of the audience. I had anticipated seeing mostly high school and college students, but that was probably the largest gap. Many middle school students showed up, and a surprising number of middle-aged and seniors came as well. In retrospect, this likely isn’t so surprising. The just-younger students are likely those who will be shooting for a corps soon, and the older group likely aged out and are coming back for more. That last group reminded me of the older crowd from my trip to the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. The attitude felt different, but it does lend legitimacy to drum & bugle corps as a performing art.

The group as a whole, however, were also not what I was expecting. I seem to have developed a Stanford-centric attitude, where events like this come to Stanford for Stanford. This event proved me wrong. Almost everyone came from the surrounding area for a show that happened to be at Stanford. It’s not Stanford; it’s a thing. Ben commented how he enjoyed finding “sub-cultures” like these. In my own life, marching doesn’t feel like a sub-culture, but it absolutely is. Within the group that cares, it’s a big deal, and it has its separate population, as the attendance reflected. Everyone has their sub-culture.

But back to the show, we saw several other surprising shows. Mystikal came onto the field with complete battery, pit, and guard. And seven brass players. That takes bravery. And the Blue Devils C, with members from age 7 to 13, put on a show I never imagined them capable of. Though I don’t know how I feel about the fact that they’ll be doing drum corps for the next eight years of their lives.

After the intermission, the world class (division 1) corps performed, and the Mandarins left a huge gap from the open class corps. The Pacific Crest and the Academy also gave great shows, and the Santa Clara Vanguard performed the show “3hree” and made another gap from the preceding world class acts. As a local group and past champion, they generated a lot of excitement and performed as well as they should have.

I, however, would say that the Phantom Regiment and Blue Devils cleared delimited themselves from the competition, including the Vanguard. The Phantom Regiment’s show, “Spartacus,” reminded me of the Blue Devil’s 2006 show, “Godfather,” also with a weapon-like formation. Beyond that, it was a complete performance. The drill was both difficult and well-performed, and their playing was a usual best. The general effect and guard, however, added so much to the show. Audiences often are shocked by the quality and skill of the performers, but it’s not often they’re also shocked by the drama, too. It’s a must-see. That performance got me out of my seat.

And I was ready to do it again if the Blue Devils were better, as the scores would indicate from San Diego two days ago. Their show, “Constantly Risking Absurdity,” made me question a lot of choices, including an intro with more running than marching (and a member who slipped quite brutally; don’t know if that was planned) and some bizarre battery work. But it’s the Blue Devils, and it absolutely worked. The marching and playing were brilliant, and while their showmanship was far different from that of Phantom Regiment, I thought it was just as cool.

I came away loving it, and so did George. Given my nostalgia and the general effect of the show recognized by George, I couldn’t have had more fun tonight. Granted, no one was perfect. Every performance had its form problems and questionable moments, but the touring season has just started. And I would rationalize that my pickiness makes me enjoy it that much more, because I saw performances where I just didn’t care about the details; they were that good.

One of these days, I’m going to have to go to the DCI World Championships because that’s just insane. This show was great. Take the best of those in better form with a crazy crowd, and it does not get better. Someone want to come with me some year in the future?

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