Drum Corona Spotlight: California Nostalgia


Part 9

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