by Mike Ferlazzo, DCW staff
Publisher’s note: This article was originally published in the June 1, 2007 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 36, Number 3).
There have been two constants at Drum Corps International World Championship finals over the first 35 years — the Santa Clara Vanguard has been among the top 12 and Brandt Crocker has been on the microphone as the public address announcer.
But upon further review, maybe it’s more accurate to say Crocker was “by the microphone” for all those championship contests. There was a bit of an international incident in Montreal back in 1981.
“When we were reading scores the first year , my [French] interpreter’s mic cord got broken because we had pandemonium on the sidelines,” said Crocker. “We were both standing on chairs about 10 or 12 feet apart and someone just broke his [microphone] cord. They [championship officials] told me to keep going ‘because we got to get the scores.’
“We were putting those scores on the end zone projection screens in French and English, so I thought we were good to go. There was no way he [the interpreter] could get to me — there were just too many people. Front sideline security has always been a problem.”
Apparently, Quebec Parliament also had a problem with the scores only being read in English because Crocker was told by perennial DCI Contest Coordinator Bob Briske that he would be allowed to go back to the DCI World Championships the following year in Montreal, but officials there would not allow him on the microphone.
“I never touched it,” said Crocker. “My interpreter from the previous year did finals by himself. I just sat next to him.”
Crocker “On the Starting Line” in 1972
But that’s the only time Crocker’s enthusiastic, no-nonsense voice hasn’t been an integral part of division I/open class finals. It was the first sound heard at 8:00 AM on Friday, August 17, 1972, when the DCI World Championships were born in Warhawk Stadium at Wisconsin State University-Whitewater.
Thirty-five years later, the whole announcing process has now become routine. But it was anything but that on that fateful morning in 1972.
“I was really nervous,” Crocker said. “I knew no one. I recognized two people, although I couldn’t have told you their names. Other than that, I did not know a soul. Nobody spoke to me for 35 minutes. I just leaned against the rail and watched. Finally, Briske came over to me at 7:35 or thereabout and said, ‘You the cowboy from Wyoming?’ And I said ‘Yep.’ He said ‘Well, you start announcing in 15 minutes or so.”
Crocker became the cowboy from Wyoming after serving as business manager for the Casper Troopers and their legendary founder, Jim Jones, starting in 1969. When Jones joined with the other founding fathers to create DCI in 1972, he recommended Crocker to be the announcer of the first championship event. But he wasn’t alone.
“Briske told me on the phone there were supposed to be four of us,” Crocker said. “I asked ‘Where are the other three?’ and he said, ‘Don’t worry about them’.”
His voice broke the silence of that first championship morning. “There wasn’t much,” said Crocker, “no National Anthem, or no nothing. I said ‘What do you want me to say?’ He said, ‘Say whatever you’ve been saying.’
I sat down at the microphone at five or 10 minutes to 8:00, and my mind went absolutely blank. I looked across the field and said, ‘On the starting line’ — and that phrase was born. It was the Hawthorne Muchachos and I thought, ‘Oh my God, what have I gotten myself in for? Whew, I need a seatbelt for my chair.’ ”
Crocker was serious about the seatbelt
“There was a timing and penalty judge that first year who has since died. He was rubbing my shoulders to keep me calmed down because I was so nervous that I was jumping out of my chair,” he said. “He’s just rubbing my shoulders from behind and he kept me in that chair in front of that microphone because I was nervous. That’s because this was a big event — it was huge!”
According to Crocker, a new corps would be on that starting line every 18 minutes or so — starting at 8:00 AM and going until 5:00 PM that day. Officials returned on Saturday and went from 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM again. They then cleared the stadium and opened the gates for top 12 finals, which started at 6:00 PM.
It was an intense couple of days for those who worked it — so busy that they had little chance to reflect on the history they were making.
“No,” he said, “I just knew I was getting to do my favorite thing and that’s not announcing, but watching drum corps and being involved. Holy cow!
“We weren’t thinking about the future,” he continued. “We were just concerned about being able to pay the bills.”
And we went home, not knowing what the future would be. And it was difficult to define. Some corps still had obligations to the VFW and/or the American Legion, and honored those obligations. They did that for a couple of years — some, but not all — until DCI really got itself established.”
For that reason, DCI organizers were thrilled that the initial championship event was so successful that they’d get the chance to do it again the following year.
“While everyone had hoped it [DCI] would be something, we were just tickled to death to have year two and pretty soon we got three and then four. And then we were on a roll,” said Crocker. “Our audience was growing and we had money in the bank and then the founding fathers hired Don Pesceone as director. He came on board after the first finals, because there was not an office that existed during the first championship week and the time leading up to that 1972 date.”
The voice becomes a DCI institution
The rest, as they say, is history. Thirty-five years later, DCI has become the self-professed “marching music’s major league.” And this year’s world championship anniversary celebration will take place in arguably the nation’s most storied sports venue, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. Crocker will be there as Master of Ceremonies, like he is each and every year.
Now 66, he sees no end in sight
“I’m still thrilled to be doing it after what has been 35 years,” said Crocker. “My health is still good and that’s even better. It’s amazing to think back when we started that I was 31 years old and I was the pup of the bunch [among officials running the first world championship event].”
He’s now outlasted them all and many corps over those 35 years, too. He’s seen a lot during that time, both at the announcer’s table and while touring with the Santa Clara Vanguard in 1999 and as tour manager of the Phantom Regiment last year. One of those two touring experiences figured into his favorite DCI World Championship events, which both took place in Madison’s Camp Randall Stadium — 1992 when the Cavaliers won their first title and 1999 when the Vanguard claimed its last.
“1992 because the Cavaliers came back after 20 years in the dark,” he said. “That was an exciting moment — an exciting night.
“And 1999 was the high point because I had gone back on the road after 26 years and spent seven or eight or nine days on the road with Santa Clara,” he said. “When J.W. [Koester] asked me if I’d make a few comments at the end of my time there, I told them that I thought they had the material and the concept to go all the way and win. Then I got the scores and, my God, they had! I said ‘Holy cow, this is unreal!’ ”
He nearly repeated the feat last year with Phantom, when the corps finished second to The Cavaliers by a mere .35. Of course, that meant Crocker had the unenviable task of breaking the news to his corps that it had come up just short when he read the final scores.
“I pretty much knew before we got the scores that we weren’t going to win,” he said. “The Cavaliers were just too damn clean and they had been for a while. Although I do think we kept [Jeff] Fielder awake a couple of nights, but I was pleased that we finished second.”
So how difficult was it for him to read those scores?
“It’s a tough question because I’m not supposed to be partial behind the microphone. I did my job,” he said. “Would it have been nice to win? Sure.”
Crocker’s position has gotten him “up close and personal” with all the corps throughout the history of DCI and he’s in awe of the talent that he’s seen and introduced during those 35 years. At the same time, many of those performers report being thrilled to hear Crocker’s voice as they prepare to enter championship competition. But the pleasure’s all his.
“It makes me feel honored, I guess [to know that corps members value being announced by Crocker]. The first time I heard that I kind of just shrugged it off because I always just viewed myself as a guy who talks on a microphone,” he said. “That’s the part that I play [public address] and I’m honored to do it.”
Change all around a voice of reason
While Crocker and his celebrated voice have remained the same, his eyes and ears have witnessed much change over DCI’s history. Like most long-time drum corps fans, Crocker sees those changes producing mixed results.
“Talent level, both musically and physically, is the greatest improvement,” he said. “I cannot believe some of the things these kids do on the field. I can’t believe that they can march that fast backwards.
“Now, having said that, I’m concerned about orthopedic injuries,” he continued. “I was amazed last year with Phantom Regiment how many knee braces we had.”
He’s in awe of what corps produce on the field today and believes the instruction and demands on the performer have pushed the activity to new artistic heights.
But that, too, has come at a cost, in terms of annual budgets that fewer corps can afford, therefore limiting access to young people.
“I don’t know how you’re going to control the escalating costs,” said Crocker. “You can’t start a corps and jump into this. You need to go slow, slower and slowest. You’ve got to dot the i’s, cross the t’s and pay the bills as you go or there is no future.
“We have to realize that drum corps aren’t home grown anymore,” he said. “And for that, I’m sorry.”
Crocker became a drum corps fan when the corps were more locally-based and bugles were in the traditional key of G. Lke others from that era, he’s not quite in tune with the changes to today’s contemporary brassy sound.
“I’m not a fan of the B-flat instrument on the field,” he said. “I don’t care what anybody wants to argue until hell freezes over, I don’t think a B-flat instrument projects. I can’t prove it, but my guess is that that’s why we’re going to 150 members — to increase the sound of the horn line. They’ve got to add more people because we’re playing B-Flat instruments.
“I think it’s telling, in my opinion, when you get someone like the Madison Alumni , playing G-bugles, which project sound, rip the heart out of the audience last year, kids included,” he said. “The kids were going, ‘So that’s what drum corps is.’ ”
But it’s not just the brass instruments that have Crocker reminiscing about the way we were.
“The sound of the snare drum has changed 180 degrees, too,” he said. “The pit has certainly been a big change percussively. It used to be that if you can’t carry it, you can’t play it.”
And, of course, in today’s amplified era, Crocker’s voice is no longer the only one heard through speakers. But it’s still the most recognizable and the only one that has transcended DCI World Championship recordings through the history of the event.