Each weekday before the DCI 2005 Classic Countdown, we'll be running first-person accounts of the seasons and the shows that will be featured in that event. Here's the first installment: By Joe Miller As a preface, I should say that some of this could be true, but you should believe all of it anyways. It started with the shoes.
Velvet Knights baritone player, 1990-1995
We had a vet meeting in October, where the mission statement, and the seven-year plan was laid out. The new staff was introduced: Eric Kitcheman, Mike Mercandante, Greg Clarke, Charlie Groh, Roxanne Narachi and Tom Float. Bobby Hoffman was the spiritual advisor. When we were asked what WE wanted, a snare drummer named Chris said, "I want my Converse back." And the staff said, "Done." Every year since '87, at the first rehearsal we always played "Magical Mystery Tour" to get the new members into the swing of things, but this time we kept it in the folder. Something different was going to happen. It really was a magical year. Of course, things were a little weird. It was hard to convince my parents that the Rodney King riots weren't happening deep in the OC. They weren't. The rehearsals were fun again, the ideas innovative, and the members were united. '91 wasn't the banner experience for VK, and we needed retribution, validation for our style of drum corps. It slowly came together. I'm sure the pictures are out there somewhere, the first time we put on the red and whites, and strapped on our shoes. Photos of the entire corps, standing in a company front, taking the first step together for promotional shots for Converse, because there's nothing like 90-plus pairs of red Converse Chuck Taylor high tops moving in precision. We had done the bottle dance in '90, because we knew SCV was going to play it for their 25th anniversary. So when we played it again in '92, we were all worried about the SCV home show, thousanss of SCV vets enraged with our sacrilege. But an instructor from SCV said that show was a big drunken party, and if we sold it, all would be well. We played, and they gave another standing ovation. The Velvet Knights were back. We were on the road by July 4, which was early for a California corps. And the reaction was incredible. People couldn't get enough of us. Once the show concept got out, show sponsors were clamoring to get us to their show. We played Bayonne, N.J., for the first time in years, we didn't get booed as bad as usual, and nobody threw anything or lit anything on fire, so things were looking good. And we came 7/10ths from beating the Cadets (it was early in the season). It wasn't about the numbers, though. It was all about leaving it out on the field, and getting the most standing ovations we possibly could. Going into Preview, we were getting beaten by the Glassmen. It was Ohio, what could you do? At Preview prelims, we jumped 10 points, (due to my lucky flying pig boxer shorts, which, laundry constraints aside, I didn't wear again until Finals.) It was the first time the audience clapped along to the accelerando in "Hungarian Rhapsody," and it nearly threw us off, so loud, and they were so into it. The Velvet Knights were back, we were in 10th place, and it was all OK. At our housing site, we found a large shark. Gears started turning, and when asked if we could borrow it, the director said he'd drive it up to finals for us, if we could get in into finals. And the staff said, "Done." A memory from the Midwest: A local with his kids, a small show, we just rocked the house, a barbed wire fence and dried weeds. "You all with the Velvet Knights Drum and Bugle Band? I laik y'alls, y'alls funny." And then to Beaver Dam H.S., Beaver Dam, Wis., home of the Golden Beavers. Mosquitoes the size of Boeings, and rehearsing with two shirts, sweats, pants, sweatshirt, jacket, hat, and a bandanna tied over our faces, and still getting bit. Finals week was truly amazing. Every day something new was added. A dress, some horns, and two LARGE balloons, and a Fat Lady was born. The story goes that the staff went into then-DCI executive director Don Pesceone's office with a large box, and asked, "Can we do this?" and blew up a 20-foot Godzilla in front of his desk. When he finally stopped laughing, he said, "Sure, we'll change the rules next year." We were in finals again. The last rehearsal was only a few hours. Enough time to put in a last gag. "Hornline, play these four notes 'Dah-Duh, Dah-Duh." Wild cheering and chaos while the shark got wheeled out. When it was over, I remember not wanting to stop, but to keep playing this show with these people, maybe not forever, but at least for the next few years. For the finals, I remember little if anything. I eventually remembered the warmup a few years later, but of the actual performance itself, I only have glimpses and recollections. I remember trying to remember the change we put in that day. The audience clapping louder and longer than they ever did before during the accellerando. And finally the halt. The bugle call, and we play our new four notes. I saw something I'll never forget, and still telling the story makes the hair on my arms stand up. The audience became a living, breathing thing. It started in the middle, behind the microphones. They stood up in a wave, getting louder as each person joined in, until all 35,000 people in Camp Randall Stadium were on their feet. It was so loud! Then the shark came out, and it got louder. Then the shark ate the Fat Lady. And it got louder. I nearly missed the stepoff, it was that cool to see. And they didn't sit down. We played the last note, did the hat move, and I yelled at the top of my lungs. And then the top came off, and it was the most amazing sound I've ever heard. They went crazy. We used to say after a good show they were "throwing babies" and "room keys." That really doesn't do it justice. It was better than the Beatles at Shea Stadium. I had the idea that it was important to get off the field first, so I sprinted for the end zone. There I saw the look of horror on the faces of the Blue Knights color guard as 132 red and white screaming maniacs came rushing at them. I doubt they knew what hit them. We were standing in the staging area, going nuts, thrilled with what had just happened, not really comprehending what we'd just done, and still the audience was cheering, as loud as before. I remember the official in charge of moving us to the staging area for retreat, trying to get control, and finally throwing up his hands, enjoying the moment. The crowning glory of that year. For a corps who played to the crowd, this call sums it up: "Hi, this is DCI, and we're putting together the final mix for the CDs. Look, could we change the balance for your performance? The audience is so loud, you actually can't hear the corps for the last minute or so. They were so loud it actually blew out the side-one audience microphone and we couldn't use it for the rest of the evening. Would you mind?" 2 Cool VK Joe "SPAM" Miller
The 1992 Velvet Knights
Velvet Knights baritone player, 1990-1995