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Part 9: My Kingsmen journey

by Jeff Davis, DCW staff and member of the Anaheim
jdavis57@sbcglobal.net

This article originally appeared in the November 2007 issue of Drum Corps World (Volume 36, Number 14).

There was no intent on my part to write only nine in this series of articles, it just turned out that way, and the title could not be more appropriate. Before going too far, I think this would be the appropriate time to reflect back on just how this whole project got started and the progress that led up to August 10, 2007.

From what I’ve been able to ascertain, the genesis of the KAC took place in June 2005 during a beach house gathering to watch the 1994 27th Lancers. A “what if” discussion ensued and the tribute Web site (xKingsmen.com) now included this challenge from Joe Rybus on June 27 (kind of appropriate — “I can only imagine how we would all react if that was 250 Kingsmen Alumni out there (referring to 1994 2-7). “Any takers on trying to accomplish that in 2007 at the 35th Anniversary of DCI and our DCI Championship?”

That one challenge, like drum corps itself, began the journey of the Kingsmen Alumni Corps. It is important to remember that a 21-year absence from the corps scene was an obstacle the other alumni corps appearing at DCI did not have to contend with. Thus, the success of this project is that much more historic in nature.

Following is the chronology of the Kingsmen Alumni Corps and pertinent milestones . . .

• August 05 — DCI was contacted regarding an appearing at the championships in ’07
• September 05 — 100 members signed up
• October 05 — 70 more members signed up
• November 05 — Dynasty USA agrees to provide percussion equipment under a
sponsorship/endorsement arrangement
• December 05 and January 06 — DCI gives the “go” for DCI Semifinals 07
• January 06 — first weekend camp, 1/21-22
• February 06 — potential membership (wish list) reaches 300
• June 06 — Kamp Kingsmen #1 and first public performance of the Kingsmen since 1986 at
Walnut, CA
• July 06 — standstill performance at the Bellflower show sponsored by Impulse
• July 06 — standstill performance at the “Loud Music Symposium” in Torrance, CA
• September 06 — first order for cadet-style uniforms submitted (250)
• October 06 — Kingsmen appear at the Anaheim Halloween parade
• December 06 — full corps has learned the entire drill to the opener
• January 07 — Kingsmen appear at the NAMM Convention in Anaheim, CA
• January 07 — full corps learned drill to the first drum solo
• February 07 — cadet uniform fitting and pictures
• February 07 — full corps learned the drill for the color presentation
• March 07 — second drum solo and first concert move finished visually
• April 07 — completed all but nine sets of the closer
• May 07 — entire visual program completed
• June 07 — 300 alumni corps members attend Kamp Kingsmen 2007
• July 07 — the first field performance for the Kingsmen in over two decades
• August 07 — the Kingsmen take the field at Long Beach, CA, and Pasadena, CA, for DCI

In addition, we would also like to recognize additional KAC supporters . . .

Tom Day who, along with Don Porter Sr., founded the Kingsmen, and current Bugles Across America President, provided all the flags that were used and sponsored a number of KAC members.

Cal Baptist University Riverside was the primary practice site and provided use of their facilities. Western High School in Anaheim was the second practice location and the site of sectional rehearsals on Tuesday evenings throughout the journey.

Lastly, we’d like to recognize our corporate partners: Sabian, Evans Drumheads, Dinkles Shoes, Pro-Mark and Premier Moving.

No adequate words can describe what has transpired since I last wrote. Two weekend kamps in July, the Impulse performance, kamp in August for 8 days, the show at semifinals. So much activity, now it’s over. This venture, someone’s “crazy thought,” for one night the Kingsmen rose as the proverbial Firebird, to again stake a claim in drum corps lore.

I have lamented the impending end of my involvement in the KAC and knew that there must be others having similar feelings. I just didn’t expect it from my fellow mallenhone brethren Ray Mallen. Here were Ray’s thoughts about August 11:

“For 38 years I didn’t go to a drum corps show. I tried to forget how abruptly my drum corps career was over at 22 years old. What was the rest of my life going to be like without drum corps? Not a day has gone by in those 38 years when I haven’t thought about my years on the field competing against the nation’s best and being one of them.

“I’d remember a song we played or someone else played, remembered the victories and the defeats, the friendships and the loves, the crowds, the buses and the rehearsals, and my entire youth. Now I’m starting to think about August 11 and I’m dreading that very same feeling of emptiness we all felt at the end of a season or worse yet, the end of our career.

“I’ll miss the Tuesday nights and the weekend rehearsals and, most of all, all the new friends I’ve made. The very feeling I missed for 38 years will be again coming to an end and I dread it. I love being a Kingsmen and will miss it dearly, and will spend the rest of my life thinking about this journey I’ve been on with all of them.

“I’ll miss Kelly, my wife, Murray, Charlie Groh breaking my horns about being so “old school.
I’ll miss all the monthly get-togethers, the mellophone section, trying to impress Gary with my improvement (which drove me to improve). I’ll miss Joe Rybus calling me to talk about USC. I’ll miss all the new friends I’ve made; it won’t be the same starting the week knowing there won’t be any Kingsmen in it. I can’t wait for the next four weeks and yet I want them to take forever. I’ll have to savor these weeks because I’ll never have it again.”

Ray did such a good job, I decided to ask him to recap the “return of the Kingsmen,” on July 14.

“If you weren’t here, well, you missed it! We worked the rough spots most of the day ’til 4:30, then relaxed, ate and got dressed into everything except the cadets. Some people were fortunate enough to find showers. Then it was time to head to Long Beach.

“After warming up, we marched to the entrance of the field. The anticipation of the crowd was evident by the clapping and stomping, and then the doors swung open and the National section led us to the field. The crowd roared as the sheer mass of the corps just kept coming and coming like Caesar’s Army. We set on the starting line and turned backfield to play Kingsmen Warm-up Chorale which sent a wave of anticipation through the crowd.

“The Kingsmen Alumni Corps was announced and set to take the field, for the first time, in uniform, in two decades. We started the opener and the crowd was silent, wanting to hear every note until we got to the end when they went berserk! Everything we worked on during the day clicked this evening. The color presentation selections were all a set up for what was about to happen. When that company front materialized and we hit the stands like Patton’s tank corps, the place jumped to its feet!

“The concert was a real crowd-pleaser and stayed together pretty well. The closer, as with most of the show, pretty much belonged to the guard. They were marvelous. The finale was probably the best we had ever done and the show ended to the adoring and exhausted crowd up on their feet throwing babies and hotel keys. A good time was had by all!”

I start typing this on July 31, 2007, 10 days before we take the field in Pasadena. There is a feeling of finality for some of us, but before that, we have the final Kamp Kingsmen to relish what we have accomplished and reminisce on all that had to happen for us to even get to this point. It truly boggles the mind. I can’t name all the people who made this adventure more than worthwhile. Needless to say, the administrative and instructional staff had a clear vision and for that, we all benefited.

The final kamp was at Cal State Long Beach, and for that, the entire corps was grateful. The weather was quite nice, topping out at 80 on Friday. We spent Sunday cleaning the second half of the opener, drum solo and color presentation.

It really seems to be coming together quite nicely. After our final run-through, we got together in the parking lot to work ensemble with the percussion section. It’s all about getting the tempo locked, which also is coming along. After one final run-through, it was time for the REAL work.

The rifle section was going to teach anyone that wanted to learn the rifle work for the closer. So I, of course, volunteered. There were probably about a half dozen guys learning it and I must say, I’ll stick to mellophone. It was a blast, though, and to top it all off, all the guys had to do a final run-through.   Of course, it wasn’t quite as good as the real rifle line, but for 20 minutes of learning, I’d give us a C. I’m looking forward to tomorrow. Well, it’s almost midnight, so I best be off to bed. Ciao.

Monday I’m usually at “work” and in reality, this Monday was exactly the same, except for the sleepless night, the blistering sun and the fact the day ended at 10:00 PM. Other than that, it’s exactly the same as any other work day.

Today was more cleaning of the color presentation, closing holes, the second drum solo and concert. It was nice using a “real” stadium during our evening rehearsal. After working the show section by section, it was time to do a final run-through. Well, two final run-throughs actually. We may be old, but we also know there are not that many “final run-throughs’” left in this adventure.

Personally, I thought they went well considering the long day of rehearsing. Tomorrow we’ll probably spend a good deal of time on the closer, continuing to close holes and clarify sets. That leaves us three days to clean the changes. We should be smoking come Friday. As they say in Istanbul, time to sleep.

Tuesday’s cleaning went VERY well. It certainly helps to have everyone in attendance. The pedometer topped out at 16,123 and we really only had to work the Firebird section of the show, about six sets. Wednesday we started backing off a little so that no one was burned out come Friday. We also prepared for our second performance in Long Beach. Form cleaning was evident, as they took on a more defined shape. People were really starting to pick up the intensity level. I do believe this was a result of reality — the reality of our season quickly coming to an end.

We arrived at the show early, did some uniform checks, warm-ups and then it was time to move toward the gate. First off, I want to recognize the other organizations that participated in the show — the Nicholson Pipe Band, Impulse and Pioneer. Thank you. Without your involvement, a one-corps show would have been pretty hard to pull off.

We had a little wait while Pioneer did their performance and encores. As I stood there watching the other corps members, it was as if I had been transported back to the ’70s. I wasn’t watching 49-year-olds trying to relive a past glory, but rather, I was witnessing a group of people doing something they truly love.

I made a point of searching out Mark Porter, the kontra player I mentioned in the previous article, for a good luck hug and, while he thanked me, as I thought about it later, it is really to Mark and all the alumni corps members that traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to do this, that we “locals” owe a great deal of gratitude, so, thank you.

For a “special” treat, the entire brass section lined up on the track directly in front of the crowd to warm up. It was AWESOME! The performance itself went by quickly. I was surprised at how many people were in the stands. Many of the things we worked on the past three days turned out quite well and with Thursday and Friday to continue cleaning, whatever rough spots remain should be fixed.

Afterward, the corps adjourned to a local eatery for pizza, salad and chicken, not to mention being treated to various video recordings of our performance. I must admit, seeing the show from the high camera was quite impressive. Clarity of form was good and the hard work of the past few days certainly showed.

So, it’s Thursday morning and we don’t have to report until 1:00, so I’m taking advantage of the time to type this, review drill and music, and ice my left knee that, for some reason, is hurting (might be an age thing). The week has been great, there have been several moments when an instructor or two would remind us of how short our time together really is and it is at those moments when I realize how much I am going to miss this, again.

Yeah, I kid around saying, “I can’t wait for Saturday,” but in my heart of hearts, I secretly dread the arrival of Saturday morning.

At dinner break they gave out new member shirts which are VERY nice. It was also “wear your colors” day. For this, you were to wear a t-shirt from the corps you marched with previously.

At the end of practice, a couple of my fellow mellos decided to stay a little longer to work on the Firebird section because we didn’t like how it felt. So we ran it a few times to ensure turns and step size were appropriate. Step size seemed to be our biggest bugaboo because we’re doing a blind set off the front sideline and too big a step would put us in the third row of the stadium, too small would crunch the people behind us. After about 30-45 minutes of work, I think we got it pretty well.

After dinner, we went back to Veterans Stadium for our final rehearsal and to continue working tempo and set points. We also had the opportunity to watch the guard do their show to taped music. After that, the guard watched the horns and drums perform. Unfortunately, we had to provide our own music. After the show, the guard was literally and figuratively throwing babies. It was classic.

The season has really moved much faster than I would like. I’d love to have another day or two, but that’s just me not wanting it to end. I’ve made a lot of friends that I will most likely never see again and that saddens me a great deal.

The final run-through of the night went really well and some of the changes implemented today worked like a charm. We discussed how quickly it’s all going to happen Friday, and again I felt a sadness come over me. I know the corps wants so badly to put on the show of their lives and I also believe our performance will raise the bar set by other alumni corps such as 2-7 and Madison.

Friday, August 10, 2007, THE day this whole odyssey is all about. For some this has been over a two-year journey. All the hours of hard work, sweat and sometimes even tears have all come to this point in time. 286 people from a variety of locations and experiences will share in a brief moment of glory that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on our hearts.

This was a light rehearsal day as the staff had specific goals to achieve and then, after lunch, our final full run-through. As a “yute” ($1 to “My Cousin Vinny”), I believe we were so focused on the competitive aspect at this juncture that there was really no opportunity to come to grips with the feeling of no tomorrow. That feeling has been around kamp for the last few days and today it was more evident. There really is nothing anyone can say that will provide a sense of comfort. I believe that will come after the show when we realize that we did the best performance possible, no regrets, no feeling that we could have done a certain part better.

Having marched at the highest levels of DCI, I am curious as to how those who didn’t will react to the crowd. First off, you’ve got the fact that it’s the Kingsmen, they won the first DCI, we’re in California and we’re doing a heck of a show. I expect crowd reaction to be unparalleled, but as performers, we have to block all that out. It’s going to be interesting.

The corps held its final 50/50 raffle ($1,800) which was won by Tori Pendell (Kingsmen rifle 77-78). A quick story about Tori.

Three years ago, she was on her way to her third cancer-related surgery. She kept waking up to bad news in the previous surgeries, but finally when this one was done the news was better — this time they thought they got it all. Now she could look forward to chemo-therapy — six sessions of very aggressive, carefully mapped poisonings in six months. Very depressed and frightened, she did as she was told and voluntarily showed up for her appointments.

Once chemo was all said and done, she heard about the rifle reunion in Newport Beach. The rest, as they say, is history. She has been through an awful lot in the last three years, so when she steps on the field at DCI, she will be thanking GOD for choosing this Kingsmen experience as her earthly reward. Highs and lows, pride and heartbreak, new friends and old, Tori wants to thank the entire KAC for being a part of her reward.

Tori is just one of several alumni corps members who overcame physical challenges in order to march. A baritone player, who used a scooter to get around, was a new man with no scooter in sight. A fellow mello lost close to 100 pounds in order to march. There are others to be sure. These came to mind immediately.

So, here are some alumni corps “records” as offered by the KAC: largest horn line – 146; largest Kontra line – 22; largest quint line – 10.

Well, it’s 4:45 and I’ve got to get ready, so the next time I type will be after we have performed and our season is over (boo hoo).

I am not sure if there are words to describe the experience. In a way, I almost wish I was viewing our performance. Of course, no season is complete without some “hiccups.” For us, that would be the mysterious disappearance of bus #6; by that I mean, it never got to Cal State Long Beach. Some had to drive, others crammed onto the remaining busses.

The ride to Pasadena, at least to me, seemed to take forever. It could be I was just a little anxious to get out there again. We arrived at the warm-up site, saw Cadets and Cavaliers warm up a little. I have to believe they knew who we were, but they couldn’t hang around to watch. Guess they had a show to go do as well. Loaded up and headed to the Rose Bowl.

Once we marched to the tunnel, it really began to hit me that this was finally happening. We were going to play for a DCI crowd, again. I don’t know exactly how long we waited in the tunnel, but it seemed like forever. One of our drum majors came by saying, “There are no five yard lines.” What this meant to more than one of us was, the field only had the 10, 20, 30 yard lines marked. What he meant was, there were no sideline markers for the 5, 15, 25. When the time came to enter, it was apparent the field was marked properly. I may have even seen a hash mark or two ($1 to The Cadets)!

The crowd response to our entry was great. I still don’t think people knew exactly what to expect. How could they? The corps had been away from the competitive scene for two decades. After setting the starting position and the warm-up, it was show time. They warned us not to look at the crowd. Well, I just had to peek. I was looking into the far end zone and could see The Cadet age-outs.

The opener clicked pretty well, as did the color-pre, I do believe that was the best we had ever done that particular number. In fact, I thought the whole performance pretty much rocked. I know the corps appreciated the “MAMBO” yell in concert. Hope it makes the DVD. In the closer, I found myself looking into the end zone again where I could see the corps on the jumbo-tron.

Quickly, I realized I better stop looking. When we started Firebird, I noted that the Regiment      age-outs just happened to be front and center and were certainly appreciating our performance. While I didn’t make this public to anyone, I was really hoping that at the end of the show, we’d just get to stand there a while and soak it all in. We did. I tried to find the fam, but at 63 rows back, that wasn’t going to happen.

Marching back through the parking lot, there were the usual yells of appreciation. Once the huddle-up was over, I was hoping they’d track me down and sure enough the first one I spotted was my daughter, Kayla. It was also great to have my niece Marissa and nephew Brandon see the performance, as well as my friends Oscar and Terri who flew all the way from Pennsylvania mainly because of the Kingsmen, as well as to see Jackie Gallagher who marched with me in the Regiment.

My younger brother, who hadn’t been to a corps show in over a decade, had this to say: “To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I just sat through 17 extremely exciting corps and was abuzz from that. But when the Kingsmen came out of the tunnel, I got a chill that would just not go away. Those uniforms took me back to 1972, the first time I ever saw the Kingsmen. The excitement that one felt from the days when guys with long hair had to wear a hair-net, shoes were spotless, not a button was missing, and when the corps stopped, you stopped! You didn’t pump your fist or nod your head for further approval from the crowd.
“The Kingsmen were great for me because it was also the night my wife and two children attended their first show and saw what the activity was like when I marched.”

My older brother, who last marched in the ’60s, hadn’t seen a show since that time, was completely blown away not only by the Kingsmen, but all the corps. For decades he avoided the activity, but after that night, we convinced him to go to finals (his first) and again he had the time of his life.

Then it was time to head back to the school, again, a long ride. At the after-party we got to see the streaming video broadcast of our performance. I thought we looked pretty good. But at 1:30, it was time for this Cinderella to be heading home. The part I dreaded the most was here. There was no way I could track down everyone, but I made sure to find Ray Mallen, our cheerleader. He is a great guy who never lost his East Coast roots.

Eric Ferdman was pretty much my field partner from Berlioz through the rest of the show. He was always positive and even when I was having a tough time, he was there with encouraging words.

Finally, I had to track down Dave Weinberg. Dave wrote the drill and, for whatever reason, this was the hardest goodbye of the night. As much as I wanted to hold it together, that just didn’t happen (WUSS!). A shout-out to my Pennsylvania brethren Martie and Garry Gourley, David Lightowler and especially Chief Warrant Officer Mark Porter, I’m going to miss you, man.

There are so many to thank, I guess the first would be the one that “insisted” I do this, Lancerfi, Nancy (Scopa) Vetrano. She marched 2-7, 77-80, and 94. Next would be my family who, for the most part, supported my two-year trek. I hope what they saw on Friday helped them to feel it was not in vain.

To all of you that have spent time reading these installments, and to those who were there Friday, thanks. To all the Kingsmen, too numerous to mention, of course, all my mellophone buds, Wendy Tran on keyboard, Paul Olivo, my DCI bus seat partner and likely friend for life, Bill Martinez, my new “best friend” in Tahoe (for obvious reasons), my editor, Keith Wilbur, Steve Vickers, my publisher.

Finally, there really is only one way to end this article. To my Kingsmen family in general, (paraphrasing), “I feel so bad, I feel so Blue, only wish I didn’t have to love you so, makes it so, so very hard to go.”

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Drum Corps World is published as an on-line electronic magazine by Sights & Sounds, Inc., Madison, WI. It is supported by advertising from manufacturers, service providers, corps, circuits and show sponsors. The publication began in October 1971 at the same time Drum Corps International was formed and has been produced continuously as a tabloid newspaper until April 2011 and on the Internet since May 2011. It is released monthly, as well as six additional e-mail blasts, one in late June, three during July and two in August.

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