Drum Corona Spotlight: California Nostalgia

July 10, 2020
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Earlier this week, I wrote my first post featuring the competitors of Drum Corona International, focusing on the Canadian corps. All three of the Canadian corps have since folded, and the same is true of this post, focusing on old corps from the West coast. Today, we shine a spotlight on the Velvet Knights, the Freelancers, and the Oregon Crusaders.

Velvet Knights

Location: Anaheim, California

Show: 1993: Kartoon Klassics

First, a mea culpa. In the original voting, I listed their 1993 show as Magical Mystery Tour - Part III. However, that was actually their 1992 program and should have been ineligible to compete. I would like to defer to the second-place vote winner and replace 1993, but unfortunately the season has already started and we’re past the point of no return. That makes their representative show Kartoon Klassics, but at least we can still enjoy Magical Mystery Tour - Part III on YouTube!

The Velvet Knights may be the most popular inactive corps competing in Drum Corona International besides Star of Indiana. They played a very important role in DCI while they were active: making sure the activity didn’t take itself too seriously. I think this is sorely missed in 2020. It’s often forgotten how good they were as well - they made DCI Finals in 8 of 10 years from 1984 to 1993, placing as high as 7th in 1987.

I grew up on the Velvet Knights of the 1980s, with their trademark look, outrageously goofy show design, and straight-up classic performances. To this day, I know Magical Mystery Tour as a Velvet Knights tune first and Beatles tune second.

Velvet Knights tried to make a comeback in the late 2000s, performing in Division III in 2007 and then in Open Class until 2010. They never matched the old Velvet Knights, but they still had the sneakers, baseball caps, and fun shows. I marched in Open Class with Legends at the time, and they embraced the VK persona off the field as well - they were hilarious to run into after shows and even more so during warmups.

They narrowly missed Finals in 1993, placing 13th, with Kartoon Klassics. The show is available in its entirety on YouTube, and their 1993 tour video is available as well, if you wanted to do a really deep dive.

I loved the opener - they use the color difference between the back and front of their uniforms very well. The rest of the show is pretty slapstick, as one would expect, and is surprisingly similar to Academy’s 2017 show By a Hare. I actually think the most impressive thing about the show is how well they hid the various mascots during the show!

Velvet Knights failed to make finals with Kartoon Klassics in 1993 and their fate will be the same in Drum Corona International. Their season has been up and down - they started poorly and for a while it looked like they had a very decent chance of missing Semifinals. But they had a great show on June 29th and haven’t looked back, increasing their chances of making Semifinals from just 58% to 76%.


Location: Sacramento, California

Show: 1994: The Music of Matrix

In their day, the Freelancers filled the same niche in DCI that is now occupied by the Mandarins, as the premier second-tier corps from the West coast, following the Blue Devils and Santa Clara Vanguard. They folded in 1996, but were a consistent corps from 1975 to 1995, generally hovering between 8th and 16th place. They made DCI Finals 9 times.

They are best known for their success in the 1980s - as a kid growing up in a drum corps household, I especially loved their John Williams shows in 1988 and 1989. I know them as a corps that played modern, accessible music, but I don’t know if that’s what they were known for at the time. It’s unfortunate that I can only use scores from 1993 and later in Drum Corona International, because they were most popular in the 1980s.

Their 1994 show, The Music of Matrix isn’t based on the movie Matrix (it came out 5 years later), but the jazz fusion band from the 1970s. Their music is niche but still pretty well liked today. I would expect it to be more popular today, because you’d be forgiven for confusing them with Snarky Puppy. This made their 1994 show lots of fun - you can find most of it on YouTube!

I think this show is very much “of its time” in DCI. It was mostly mid-tempo, getting its effect from catchy music and lots of fun moments. It doesn’t feature the up-tempo “judge cutter” drill or the amount of body movement that we’ve become accustomed to in DCI, but it’s got the classic park and bark section where the hornline stands still, moves to the music, and wails. Modern shows are generally so focused on pace and movement that the park and bark section feels uncomfortably long to me.

It’s clear why Freelancers didn’t make Finals in 1994. They struggled a lot visually (more on this later), and it seems to me a lot of their problems stem from the feet being out of time. There were several moments with clear phasing issues, and while these issues don’t indicate a problem with feet being out of time by themselves, it’s impossible to fix them unless everyone’s feet are in time. Having feet out of time can also lead to fuzzy forms, as each individual doesn’t hit each set at the exact same time - and this is also apparent at several points in the show, especially from the high camera.

In terms of scores, the Freelancers struggled a bit in 1994 and are therefore struggling in Drum Corona International. The gap between their visual and music scores is remarkable - it’s actually wide enough that I originally thought I had some data quality issues. At their current pace, their visual scores at the end of the season will be a full 10 points worse than their music. They will almost certainly score in the top 15 in music, but their poor visual scores mean they have a low ceiling. They are currently in the final spot to make Semifinals, though they only have a 50-50 shot of holding on against Academie Musicale, Music City, Jersey Surf, and Genesis.

Oregon Crusaders

Location: Portland, Oregon

Show: 2014: nevermore

Oregon Crusaders don’t quite fit the theme of California Nostalgia, having operated out of Oregon, but they were always on the same tour as the California corps so I’ve included them here. They were stable as a mid-tier DCI World Class corps until their poor hiring decisions and tolerance for sexual misconduct came to light. I don’t know if they’ve technically folded, but their most recent season in DCI was 2018 and it seems unlikely that they’ll make a comeback.

Oregon Crusaders made waves with their 2011 and 2012 programs in Open Class (they won in 2012), moving up to World Class in 2013 with a lot of excitement and expectations. My Choice, My Battle, My Soul was a very good show, but they went very dark with nevermore in 2014, paying tribute to Edgar Allen Poe. Someone managed to post their entire show on YouTube, but it may not be up for very long.

What I remember most about their show was the use of electric violin, which was on the bleeding edge of electronics in drum corps at the time. What I didn’t remember was they used Hymn of Acxiom for their ballad in the same season that the the Bluecoats did with Tilt. Given the theme of the show, and what Vienna Teng was going for with Hymn of Acxiom, it’s a perfect choice for the ballad - although I don’t understand the decision to end on a major chord.

I think it’s interesting to look at shows like this one from 2014 because it makes it very clear how much the activity has changed in the last several years. The electric violin and extensive use of voiceovers made it a very progressive show at the time, but looking at it through the lens of 2020 makes it feel incredibly traditional. I find myself quite nostalgic for a time when more drum corps shows were like this, but that’s just personal preference.

2014 wasn’t the best year competitively for the Oregon Crusaders, as they placed in 19th. In Drum Corona International they are on pace to make Semifinals, but they are by no means a lock. They were in precarious position to make Semifinals, but a strong first show has propelled them to a much stronger place - where they hope they’ll stay.

That’s all I have for the California corps! I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, make sure to check out my post about the Canadian corps as well, and remember to check out drumcoronaintl.org throughout the course of the season. You can follow me on twitter to get nightly updates for scores as the season progresses as well!

I’ll be posting my second week in review this weekend, and do a couple more feature posts next week. See you then!


I hope you are enjoying Drum Corona International! People who do open-source projects like this often ask for donations to help cover expenses (like server costs) but luckily I’ve got that covered. Instead, if you’re enjoying any of my projects, please consider donating to the Michigan Drum Corps Scholarship Fund.

The Michigan Drum Corps Scholarship Fund is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that I cofounded to help support members of the Michigan band community who are interested in DCI. The organization offers scholarships to Michigan students marching or auditioning with any DCI drum corps. The economic implications of COVID-19 are broad, and I think scholarships programs like this are especially important for keeping drum corps accessible to everyone. Every dollar helps!

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