The Blue Devils vaulted into first place on the first day of competition at the DCI Eastern Classic in Allentown, Pennsylvania on Friday night. The corps won every caption on the score sheets, positioning itself well for the final week of the 2015 DCI Tour.
The Eastern Classic is one of the last major competitions of the season, and sees all 22 of DCI’s World Class corps perform over two days at the venerable J. Birney Crum Stadium. Friday saw the Blue Devils (1st, 93.725) alone at the top of a field of 10 of those corps.
“We had a wonderful run tonight,” Blue Devils drum major Alana Stevenson said. “It’s one of the most focused runs I’ve seen on the field, and I’m excited to see what happens in the next week.”
The Blue Devils’ closest competition—Carolina Crown, the Cadets and the Bluecoats, who were all less than a point behind the California corps on Thursday—do not perform until Saturday. But the Devils are already turning their attention to the final week of competition.
“I really enjoy the bonding that we see during Finals Week,” Stevenson said. “Really, finally, we started seeing that this past week. People are now on the same wavelength and we’re working as a cohesive unit.”
And, in addition to the bonding, of course, the corps will be hard at work all week.
“There are a lot of new things that are going to be added daily,” Stevenson said about the corps’ 2015 production, “Ink.” “It’s really fun to see how much the show can change in a short amount of time.”
In second place, Santa Clara Vanguard (90.575) remains one of just five corps to have surpassed 90 points in 2015.
While the Santa Clara corps has slipped behind the leaders of the pack in recent competitions, they remain just over three points behind the Blue Devils. It’s not yet time to count the Vanguard out of the race for the Championship. In a race as close as this year’s, anything can happen.
The Blue Knights (3rd, 87.875) were unable to break 90 points, but are primed to be the next corps to do so. The corps even swiped second place in the brass caption away from the Santa Clara Vanguard.
The Denver corps remains on pace to equal its best finish on record, tracking for sixth place when all corps are considered. After barely slipping to eighth on the final night of competition in 2014, the Blue Knights appear primed to hold on to their position this year.
In fourth on day one, the Cavaliers (85.250) continued to regain ground after losing time due to illness over the past weekend.
Unable to perform at the DCI Southeastern Championship last Saturday, and forced to perform in exhibition at the Tour of Champions series event the following evening, the Cavaliers are returning to full strength just in time for the DCI World Championships.
“It’s definitely been an interesting last week that’s had plenty of ups and downs,” Cavaliers drum major Austin Baker said. “I’m proud to say that we had 150 members marching tonight. We’re pushing very strongly, and we’re excited.”
Now that the corps is healthy, Baker wants to make sure the Cavaliers perform to the best of their abilities.
“Most important to us is making sure we stay true to our brotherhood and making sure we focus in within ourselves,” Baker said. “Never giving up; always staying positive.”
In fifth with a score of 83.600, the Blue Stars continued to stake their claim for a spot among the top 12 corps that advance to the DCI World Championship Finals.
Like the Blue Devils, the Blue Stars won’t truly know where they stand until after Saturday’s performances are complete. The La Crosse, Wisconsin corps has been locked in tight competition with the Madison Scouts, Boston Crusaders and Crossmen. All three of those corps will perform tomorrow.
The Academy posted a score of 80.275, placing them in sixth. The corps will keep a close eye on scores from the Colts and Troopers tomorrow as it continues to cling to an outside shot at making a finalist spot next Saturday in Indianapolis.
Spirit of Atlanta took seventh, with a score of 77.900, as it continues to climb “Out of the Ashes.” Spirit’s 2.85-point lead on the Mandarins is the largest it has enjoyed over the California corps this season in seven head-to-head matchups.
The Mandarins (8th, 75.050) looked to gain the upper hand on their nearest West Coast rivals, the Oregon Crusaders and Pacific Crest, both of whom perform on Saturday. How? By treating one of the most well-known events on the DCI Tour like any other stop on the map.
“Honestly, if you think about it, it’s not different from any other show. It’s just bigger,” said Mandarins drum major Kelley Ho. “When we come into a big show like this, we don’t say or do anything different than usual. We don’t want to psych people out.“
Locked in a tight battle on the scoreboard, Ho is proud of how the Mandarins have performed this year.
“Our corps is made up of really, really young but really talented people,” she said. “I’ve seen a huge growth in maturity.”
In ninth, the Cascades (70.900) continue a season that has seen the corps transform both in appearance and in composition.
“This season is a huge transformation for us,” Cascades drum major Devante Kuzmaak said. “Doubling our numbers, coming out with a whole entire new look, and just the way we rehearse—it’s completely different from years past.
Kuzmaak suggested that the corps’ production itself is not finished transforming, with more changes on the way during the last week of the season. For tonight, he’s thrilled with his corps’ performance in Allentown.
“There were a lot of great things that happened on the field that I haven’t seen ever happen before,” Kuzmaak said. “The overall performance level was much higher than we’ve had in recent years and even compared to yesterday.”
Pioneer (10th, 65.425) rounded out the World Class corps. After a slow start to the season, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin corps has been gaining steam over the past several weeks and will look to challenge for a World Championship Semifinals appearance.
Following the competition, two encore performances took center stage.
FREE Players, a corps of special-needs musicians from Old Bethpage, New York, had the experience of a lifetime, performing directly after the Blue Devils. One member of the FREE Players even had the opportunity to perform the national anthem at the start of today’s event.
“It’s honestly a lifelong dream for them,” said FREE Players director Brian Calhoun. “So many of our members are really big fans of DCI and big fans of all the DCI corps.”
The corps has grown exponentially since its founding in 2010. The group continues to add sections and travel to larger and larger events, including the WGI World Championships in 2014.
“Each and every year they’ve grown so much,” Calhoun said. “Today, we’re a 65-member drum corps with a drum line, color guard and front ensemble. After this year, we want to continue to make history. We want to come here and show that these guys are just as passionate about drum corps as all of the performing DCI corps.”
The longest ovation of the night was reserved not for the Blue Devils, nor any of their fellow competing World Class corps; instead, the crowd stored its energy to give the FREE Players a night to remember.
Cadets 2 followed the FREE Players and wrapped up the first day of performances in Allentown. Less than 20 hours later, the stands at J. Birney Crum stadium will once again be filled.
With unusually pleasant temperatures for the end of July and the quaint, intimate atmosphere of a legendary stadium frozen in time, the DCI Eastern Classic may provide the best viewing experience on the 2015 DCI Tour.
One day remains—if you can’t make it to Allentown, be sure to catch Saturday’s action online via DCI Live!