Monday, September 04, 2006

Corps Values

I spent the weekend watching halftime shows.

Fourteen-plus hours of halftime shows. OK, so it wasn't halftime shows. But it was Drum Corps. Close enough to halftime shows that they both share the same fields. I was hired to work an international Drum Corps competition, held here in Smugtown. It was supposed to be a big feather in the cap (or, perhaps more appropriately, the shako) of our new stadium. A way to show how versatile it really is. A chance to show off the big high-def screen, and prove that we can cover anything. My job was just to roll tape and burn DVD's. A real cushy job.

Yeah, right.

I spent most of the weekend running around fixing problems. I'm not an engineer, but I've been around video and multi-camera productions enough that I've learned quite a few tricks.

They're all quick and dirty, and they usually make maintenance engineers cringe, but a maintenance engineer would fix a camera's backfocus problem by taking it into the shop and setting it up to a registration chart. They certainly would never attempt to do such a thing while standing on a ledge thirty feet in the air while the camera's attatched to a jib arm.* In a storm.

I did.


Needless to say, I didn't actually watch much Drum and Bugle Competition this weekend. But I did spend a lot of time running around the stadium. So, what I missed in pageantry was made up by watching the watchers: The hard-core Drum and Bugle corps fans. And I came to the following conclusion:

Drum Corps fans are conservative Deadheads.

I'm serious. The stadium was packed, completely sold out, and I'd guess that the vast majority of the people in the stadium were from out of town. From St. Catherines, Ontario, to San Diego, California, from Houston, Texas, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and everywhere in between they came, following the bands. Instead of tie dye and 'Steal your face' they wore satin jackets emblazoned with the logos of their favorite Corps. And there were drugs. Beer and cigarettes replaced dope and...well, more dope.** And they had the same respect for the law. The stadium--in fact the entire county--has very strict anti-smoking laws. Not that you'd know it this weekend. And there were side industries that traveled along with the competition. Photographers, vendors, instrument repairmen--hell, even the folks that hired me.***

You get the idea.

And then it occurred to me that, really, there was very little difference between these Drum Corps fans and fans of just about any other event.

Take football, for instance. There's thousands of fans who will travel to see their teams all over the country. They wear their team colors, they know the players, and they have arcane knowledge of the minutiae of the game so much that they will cheer wildly over things that someone who's not as committed would never understand.

I know that feeling. At the end of the competition, the winning Corps got to do an encore (encorp?), and I sat in the stands and watched. It was beautiful. They marched in intricate patterns, while simultaneously playing some challenging music near-flawlessly. At the same time, dancers, flag- rifle- and saber-twirlers snaked around them, moving to the music. Down at the sideline (the pit), a phalanx of percussionists ran around playing xylophones, marimbas, bells and cymbals, all coordinated by a drum-major and two captains, who kept time and directed traffic.

It was incredible, and incredibly difficult. I was, for a very brief time, a lead soprano bugler in a drum corps. I left because of the commitment, both financial and time, and also because I thought I could get more chicks playing in a fusion (jazz-funk-rock) band****

So, I knew a little bit about what was going on. But not enough. It was evident to all the people in the stands when something extraordinary happened. To me, it was just one really neat thing after another. I tried asking a person next to me what had just happened.

She looked at me like I was from another planet. She said something that sounded like "A syncopated ten-by-four reverse cross," but I wasn't sure. I knew that if I asked her to explain it, I'd be there all evening.

I considered telling her about setting a backfocus on a camera on a thirty-foot jib, but I realized we didn't speak the same language.

*Actually, it was thirty feet above the jib-arm base, which itself was on the second landing of the stadium, about forty feet above the ground.
**There was pot there, too. But mostly it stayed in the trumpet section. That, at least has never changed. The horn section always has the best dope. Stay in school, kids!
***The guy had a bunch of DVD burners and duplicators set up. He directed a multi cam production and burned it directly to DVD's, which were then put into duplicators, and burned onto pre-labeled DVD's. The bands could get multiple broadcast-quality copies of their performances 45 minutes after they were off the field.
****I was wrong.


Blogger mal said...

Drum Corps groupies? who da thunk?

Gee, I always thought the drummers had the best stash. No wonder I had a hard time getting stoned *L*

8:59 AM  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

Drummers have the most dope. The horns have the best. It's a question of quantity over quality. That was your problem. You'd have to smoke half a lid of the drummer's shit to get the same buzz you'd get just rolling a joint of the horn section's stuff.

Why do you think bands are always hiring horn sections for their tour?


9:39 AM  
Blogger Heidi the Hick said...

Ha ha! That explains where you've been! Nice death defying stunt in mid air!

Part of this story reminds me of all the reasons that Jethro got out of the live sound business before the age of 21.

Also, you want to know about rabid fans and roaming nomadic subcultures...check out a rodeo some day!!!!

10:21 AM  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

It's not something I'd want to spend my life doing, that's for sure, but it's still nice to know that I can do it.

There was this, plus meetings, plus getting the kids ready for a new school year, plus just being exhausted from the weekend*...all contributed to my disappearance from blogistan.

Rodeo? Yeah, I can see it. Actually, there's tons of them. The one that I also identified with is figure skating (I've done my share of those competitions as well). If you think about it, the only real difference between any of them--including NASCAR and football (both American and 'soccer') is the percentage of people who are involved. At some point it passes from subculture to 'pastime.' I'm not sure where on the percentage of population that this happens.

*part of the exhaustion is just my getting old, but a big part of it is just that I don't have the luxury of taking a day off and just relaxing anymore. Not if I want to spend any time at all with my kids. Which, I guess, is another part of getting old.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Dark Lady said...

I think a big differance between Drum Corps fans and Deadheads is that most of the Drum Corps fans in the stands were some how related to the people on the field.

Deadheads just think they're related to the dead.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Notsocranky Yankee said...

Not much of a drum corps fan. I agree with dark lady. The fans must be related to the participants. Who else would be into that?

Did you bring your kids to it?

9:50 PM  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

The stadium was sold out. More than ten thousand people showed up to watch this thing. That would mean that each member of each corps brought fifteen or twenty of their relatives apiece.

It's more than just families.

And no, I didn't bring the kids. First, there were no tickets available. Secondly, I wouldn't have been able to be with them anyhow.


12:32 AM  
Blogger Madame X said...


People in Smugtown must have a lot of time on their hands.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Was it a super giant jib arm?

10:38 AM  
Blogger cadbury_vw said...


loved your footnotes


i've never understood marching bands or the interest in them


tech support for an onsite production is a hell of a job. you must have less hair than before.

i did it for a few big agro shows - cameras, recording hard-drives, and streaming feed

we had other people doing it too - doing it by yourself must have been a nightmare

12:56 PM  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

X: yeah, they do. But most of these folks were out of towners.

Ica--super giant's a 45 footer. This one was merely 30.' Besides, the size of your jib arm's not important. It's what you do with it that counts.

Cadbury. Yes indeedy. It's especially difficult when you're hired merely to record and log tape. My entire toolkit was a mini maglite, a leatherman, and an eyeglass repair kit that I happened to have in my pocket.

The shows really are fascinating and entertaining. If you ever have a chance to actually watch a top-level corps, I would recommend it.


2:56 PM  
Blogger Åsa said...

So this is once again an educational post for a non-US citizen! I had never heard of Drum Corps, but as the encyclopaedia said: it’s not so common in Europe. And Balloon Pirate, I wouldn’t have understood you if you tried to tell me about the backfocus either…

But I love the way Americans get so into being a fan! I go to baseball and football to watch the crowd – not the game.

Keep rocking!

Ps. I’m thinking you made a wise choose (chick concerning) with the fusion band there. Even if it was only a short term solution!

2:29 PM  

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