From explorations into the ocean deep to an artistic celebration of bold, empowered women, the five drum corps performing for Drum Corps International’s 41st annual Drums Along the Mohawk show brought an array of musical styles and fanfare Thursday evening.
Sunny skies and a cool mid-summer breeze would prove to be a pleasant treat for fans filling the bleachers at Rome Free Academy Stadium on Turin Street, as well as the corps members who commanded the field.
“Awes” filled the crowd with the news after an announcement of a show delay, that due to illness, Rome’s known favorite drum corps, The Troopers of Casper, Wyo., would not be performing for the evening.
But it didn’t damper the audience’s anticipation as Music City, of Nashille, Tenn., took the field. It would be the corps’ first appearance at Drums Along the Mohawk. Their 2019 repertoire, “Of Mice and Music,” including Robert W. Smith’s “Tails on the Town,” Paul Hart’s “Plymouth Hoedown,” and John Lennon’s famed “Imagine,” brought the fable of “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse” to life. Colorguard members dressed as velvety mice would receive a slight fright from a loud cat’s meow, which garnered a few laughs from the crowd, along with their flags featuring mice and cheese.
Jersey Surf, of Camden County, N.J., immediately caught drum corps fans’ attention with their sea of ocean blue uniforms and plumed hats. Their program, “Fantasea,” featured “Oceans,” by Goff Richards, “Aurora Awakes,” by John Mackey and “He Commands the Sea (from Aquaman),” by Rupert Gregson-Williams.
“I love the blue!,” shouted several members of the audience as they took the field.
Colorguard members’ skirts resembled waves and currents that flowed as they danced their routine. A silky blue tarp would act as a giant tidal wave, sweeping the crowd deep into their sea world. Echoes of “Blurp, blurp, blurp...” would signify an even deeper descend as clown fish, jellyfish and other water creatures made their swim and the drum line exemplified their prominence at center field.
Some science fiction and fantasy would mix for Pacific Crest’s rendition of their repertoire, “Everglow,” which featured large triangular glowing lights throughout the field. The performance featured “Awakening,” by Bradley Kerr Green, Jonathan Zuniga and Ezekiel Lanser, “Adventure” from Ready Player One, by Alan Silvestri, and “Departure,” from Edward Scissorhands by Danny Elfman.
A blaring brass section at the introduction had everyone’s attention, with every throw of rifle and flag by the colorguard precise and clean. Some expressive formations and choreography would complete the telling of their story.
During intermission, conversations among fans would indicate that Pacific Crest, of Diamond Bar, Calif., had so far been the crowd favorite.
“The corps just keep getting better as they go along,” said Peter Freedman, of Canastota. The former baritone player was in a drum corps downstate during his youth and said he has enjoyed coming to Drums Along the Mohawk for many years.
Then the Spirit of Atlanta’s long, hooded black capes would begin to set the stage of curiosity for their dark program. “Neon Underground” included “Intro,” by Matt Filosa, John Cypert and Chris Moore, with “You and Me,” by Eliza Doolittle and “Color Wheel,” by Arch Echo.
Their performance had brass players and colorguard members racing down platforms as black capes mysteriously turned inside-out to white, creating a city of angels within its yin and yang-theme. Unique was the corps’ featured trumpet solos and two drummers on drum sets that literally lit the field in neon blue. Some may think that psychedelic meets drum corps wouldn’t exactly make a good mix, but Spirit of Atlanta made it work.
The show’s finale performance would feature the Phantom Regiment from Rockford, Ill. Their repertoire, “I Am Joan,” was designed to celebrate “bold, empowered women and the spirit of revolution through the lens of Joan of Arc, one of the world’s most prolific, independent women,” according to the corps’ website. It featured the musical pieces, “Carmina Burana,” by Carl Orff, “Fire of Eternal Glory,” by Dmitri Shostakovich and “Unleashed,” by Two Steps from Hell.
A two-time DCI World Champion (1996 and 2008), they were the only performance of the night to incorporate vocals at the introduction of their program. A powerful explosion of drums and sound would awaken the crowd, with quick footing orchestrated by the xylophone section. “Wows” were gasped as a brass member caught a flag as he embraced one of the colorguard members. Momentum would continue to build through some very interesting formations provided by the brass and drum lines.
“That’s how you do it!,” yelled one audience member as drum majors impressed with a snapping salute as they exited the field.
“This is awesome. I really enjoy it,” said Janice Pahls, of Cobleskill, who was at Drums Along the Mohawk with her husband and members of his jazz band.
“This was probably our third time here and the sound is just so full,” she said, adding that she was in marching band during her high school days and that Pacific Crest remained her favorite corp performance of the evening.
The 41st annual show was capped off with an encore performance by the Spirit of Atlanta, that had drum majors conducting their peers from the bleachers below the grandstand. Top prize would eventually be rewarded to Drums’ closing corps, Phantom Regiment, which was to no surprise judging by fans’ cheers.
The following are the scores awarded to the 2019 Drums Along the Mohawk participants:
Fifth place: Jersey Surf of Camden County, N.J.: 75.50
Fourth place: Music City of Nashville, Tenn.: 75.85
Third place: Pacific Crest of Diamond Bar, Calif.: 81.75
Second place: Spirit of Atlanta of Atlanta, Ga.: 84.95
First place: Phantom Regiment of Rockford, Ill.: 86.20