Drum corps grab spring spotlight in Baltimore

Fran Haring, DCW staff

May 15, 2004 — Baltimore, MD . . . Warm weather; the Preakness horse race; colorful azaleas blooming — all of these are signs that spring has arrived in Baltimore. And since the early 1990s, the “Dixie Stinger” stage concert, sponsored by the Yankee Rebels senior/alumni corps, has become another springtime tradition south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Winter is over, so bring on the drum corps!

As they have for several years, the Audubon Bon-Bons Alumni Chorus got things started with a nice vocal rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. The lovely ladies from New Jersey then launched into a medley of theme songs from the various branches of the U.S. armed services.

Another medley, this one of tunes from “The Sound of Music,” closed out the Bon-Bons’ show. I’ve said it before: the Bon-Bons chorus is a breath of fresh air at an indoor drum corps concert.

The Archer-Epler Musketeers, America’s original alumni corps, are very much alive and well in 2004. “Archie” treated the “Dixie Stinger” fans to a lively program of classic drum corps tunes, including the Archer-Epler signature songs Stars and Stripes Forever and Musketeer March.

The Musketeers tonight basically put on a clinic as to how a smaller corps should play, with a balanced, controlled brass sound and a strong percussion section adding support. This is the best corps Archer-Epler has put on stage in several years.

The American Originals have become a welcome fixture at the “Dixie Stinger.” The fife and drum corps from Washington, D.C., never fails to give the fans their money’s worth, with the booming sound of rope-tension percussion blending with the lighter sound of fifes to make for a very unique and entertaining program.

The percussion section really nailed its extended feature tonight, bringing fans to their feet in a roaring standing ovation. The fifes had their moment in the spotlight during a medley of signature tunes played by various drum and bugle corps throughout the years.

The host Yankee Rebels ended the first half of tonight’s show in fine style, sounding much more energized than my first viewing of them this year in early April. The horn line really shone in a beautiful arrangement of Just a Closer Walk with Thee and the percussion section took its turn pounding out old-style rudiments during a long solo.

The Rebels wrapped things up with their stirring “Requiem for an Era” fanfare, arguably one of the most famous closing statements in the history of drum corps.

Someone told me the Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights were missing a few horn players tonight, but you’d never know it from the wall of sound this senior/alumni corps from New Jersey produced. To use a sports term, these guys can bring some serious heat!

A re-tooled arrangement of El Cid packed plenty of punch and Blessed Sacrament had the audience on its feet roaring for more after the corps’ thunderous version of National Emblem March.

What a treat it is to see St. Kevin’s Emerald Knights back in action! The legendary junior corps from Massachusetts has re-formed as a senior parade and exhibition corps. Tonight, they rolled out some time-honored drum corps songs, including a toe-tapping version of South Rampart Street Parade. And was that New England drum corps legend John “Cupcakes” Curran in St. Kevin’s ranks as a lead soprano at this show?

The Reilly Raiders once again are reaching out and taking the audience on an enjoyable musical ride. Their 2004 stage show features several Irish tunes, bringing back memories of the glory years for this senior/alumni corps from the Philadelphia area.

One major highlight is a great treatment of Danny Boy, with Reilly’s horn line really selling this beautiful ballad. Another nice touch: a stirring patriotic salute to America’s armed forces that brought the “Dixie Stinger” fans to their feet for a long standing ovation.

Talk about saving the best for last. The United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps closed out tonight1s show with an absolutely overwhelming performance. This corps is a drum corps fan’s dream come true, with a world-class brass line and excellent percussion section combining for a show that is truly worth the price of admission at any event.

Tonight’s program featured the most amazing arrangement of America the Beautiful I’ve ever heard, a sultry version of Caravan and great brass articulation in the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.

As the corps’ director, Chief Warrant Officer Brian Dix, told the audience, “not bad for two-valve bugles!” Not bad, indeed. This was a wonderful way to end another great spring evening of drum corps in Baltimore.