An interview with Jeff Fiedler about the “Tour of Champions”

by Steve Vickers, Drum Corps World publisher

Almost a year ago, the top seven DCI drum and bugle corps [at the time called the G7] put forth a new idea to the DCI Board of Directors at the annual spring meeting in Indianapolis. At that time the concept was quite controversial and resulted in impassioned and significant responses on the various drum corps forums for several months after the release of the proposal was apparently “leaked” through Drum Corps Planet.

Now, nearly a year later, almost everything has been worked out between the groups [now joined by the Blue Stars, making it the Top 8] and the management of DCI. They will present a number of special events scattered among the regular DCI tour shows this summer.
Jeff Fiedler, executive director of the Santa Clara Vanguard, is the spokesperson for the group and he is now able to reveal details of the upcoming “experiment” this summer.

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Steve Vickers: Was the concept a collective decision or was it primarily one or two people who put the plan together?

Jeff Fiedler: The germination of this summer’s “Tour of Champions” has roots that extend back to event-formatting attempts by Drum Corps East in the mid-1990s, the “New NEW Committee” discussions in the late-1990s, the DCI  “Tour of Champions” in 2004, the “Center Group” proposal of the mid-2000s and any number of committee meetings, off-line discussions and officially documented DCI meetings, along with aspects of many proposals and concepts presented to and discussed by the past 15 years of DCI Boards and their executive committees, as well as the current DCI membership.

So, as you can see, the development of this idea has had multiple contributors — some of whom are not active in drum corps any longer — and has been driven by four or five organizations over the past 15 years. The most recent plan took root a little over a year ago from a discussion by three organizations that felt it necessary to seriously revisit past formatting discussions and touring ideas. It didn’t take long for four more organizations to have an interest in expanding the number in the discussion.

SV: When did planning for the summer of 2011 get finalized between the eight corps and DCI Executive Director Dan Acheson?

JF: We were able to really finalize a tour plan in the early weeks of January, 2011. Though we had agreed to an overall schedule that included specific “Tour of Champions” events back in September 2010, it was necessary to meet in October in California — as well as two meetings in November and December in Chicago — to nail down the specific dates, venues, costs and structure, as well as discuss some of the travel challenges.

SV: I understand there were originally to be eight events, beginning with a two-show kick-off in Texas around the middle of June. Is that still the plan?

JF: We’ve all agreed to hold the “Tour of Champions” to five events in 2011, beginning in Rockford, IL, on Sunday, July 17, followed by four more events in Houston, TX, Murfreesboro, TN, Charlotte, NC, and in New Jersey. These events will be in tandem with major DCI regional events in Minneapolis, MN, San Antonio, TX, Atlanta, GA, and Allentown, PA.

The two season-opening Texas events currently scheduled for Saginaw, TX, on Saturday, June 18, and Round Rock, TX, on Sunday, June 19, are not TOC events and have been in discussion for many years as a way to start the summer off with a bang, while annually facilitating the movement of at least two Midwestern or Eastern corps to California.

SV: What was the reason the first few shows were changed to regular DCI tour events?

JF: Originally the Saginaw and Round Rock shows were under consideration as “TOC” events, however, after considering the time necessary for all of us to teach the bulk of our regular field shows in the 28 days that precede the season and the strain that it would put on the development of our regular summer programs, we all thought it wiser to fulfill the interest of the collective by getting the summer started with a “good old Texas showdown” and then work to further refine our TOC responsibilities, once we had the competitive summer started, and we could spend the time physically working out the logistics of the events while touring together, split into two groups of four.

SV: Will all eight corps meet at those Texas shows even though the “Tour of Champions” designation has been dropped for several of them?

JF: Yes, all eight corps have committed to the two Texas events at the beginning of the season which will be traditional DCI competitive contests. There had been a discussion about an additional “TOC” event immediately following the Denver show, but once we started to develop the logistical details of that event, we found it too difficult to accommodate the Federal restrictions on bus and truck driver hours for all the corps. considering when they would arrive to the city in the morning, when they had to arrive at the stadium that afternoon to begin the event, as well as when and where some of the corps had to appear the following days. It just couldn’t be worked out.

SV: Have plans been finalized regarding how the shows will be conducted, specifically relating to whether or not they will be judged?

JF: The shows will absolutely be judged. DCI Executive Director DCI Dan Acheson and Artistic Director Michael Cesario have participated in our discussions and will be using them as a basis to develop a “TOC” judging system in the coming weeks, which will allow for the addition of text-voting by the audience at each event.

The formatting of the shows has also gone from a framework in the fall to specifics which are to be rehearsed and produced by each corps through the winter and spring after their audition process has concluded. We already have and will continue to be holding fairly regular conference calls to discuss each corps’ role in the events and what they will be doing at their winter and spring camps to satisfy everyone’s responsibilities.

SV: Some of the ideas early-on for these separate shows involved a fairly significant departure from how drum and bugle corps competitions have been presented over many decades. It’s been my understanding the method for presenting the “Tour of Champions” will differ quite a bit. Did market research indicate fans are interested in what you’re planning or are you focusing more on drawing new people to your shows?

JF: The 2004 “Tour of Champions” offered the new wrinkle of instant encores and a different type of full corps finale. It’s our goal to develop the instant encores to be more seamless and to offer entertainment to the audience from the first steps out of your car toward the stadium, through the last steps out the gate back to their car before heading home.

Drum corps members are extremely talented and incredible kids. We wish to stage them in a manner where the audience gets to see more of who they are and what they can do, up-close and personal, and not one corps at a time.

There’s plenty of successful examples of what interests the American public and it’s different facets. We’re not trying to limit the reach of our hook. While we’re certainly hoping to engage more new fans to our entire activity, we’re also offering something familiar to current fans with a couple of major twists, updates and new things that maybe they haven’t seen or heard or experienced before.

SV: Have details been finalized to “score” the events or will they be more like exhibitions?

JF: As I stated previously, the events will be judged. There will be results. Absolutely none of the corps are considering this to be an exhibition. The first “Tour of Champions” in 2004 was an exhibition tour of the West Coast following the Denver, CO, DCI Championships. The 2011 events will be competitive within the boundaries of the traditional competitive season.

SV: What are your long-term expectations for the idea, beyond the 2011 season?

JF: Personally, I see 2011 as only a beginning or first attempt at what could be in the future. We’re going to try some things and some of them will be successful right away, some might take two or three attempts to really maximize the talent of all these incredible kids.

We can’t be afraid to fail and I’m confident we’ll find success in most of what we do. There are amazing performers in the activity in every corps and we need to take greater advantage of those talents and those personalities, and really show the world how good they all are and what they have to offer.

Live entertainment continually evolves. In 1972, there was no Cirque du Soliel, Blue Man Group, “Dancing with the Stars,” “American Idol,” reality television or Internet. Today we’re competing against all of those programs and more for the audience’s time and dollar. Those current   programs have incredible influence on our culture.

I can’t believe that a variety show that had great popularity in the 1960s — the “Ed Sullivan Show,” for example — would survive more than a few weeks of television today (look what happened to Jay Leno and his attempt at a variety show format modeled on a past program).

We have to flex and bend and evolve as well, leading us to believe the formatting of a traditional drum corps show could use a redesign and we should consider a new approach. I think 2011 is just the beginning of this formatting review, as we’ve had a number of ideas that we’ve had to put on the shelf for now because of the time necessary to develop.

I’m confident that immediately after the summer of 2011, these ideas will be given more attention as we enter whatever is our next phase of development.

SV: Anything else you’d like to cover?

JF: Since the September 2010 meeting of the DCI board of directors, DCI administration and voting membership are all anticipating positive results and hopeful that audiences will find these first efforts appealing and worthwhile.

SV: Thanks for this update on the “Tour of Champions” project.

JF: Thank you for the opportunity to offer an update. Keep watching.