The best of both worlds

by Fran Haring, DCW staff

What a weekend it was! My wife Barbara and I had the unique opportunity to see several of the best drum corps in the world, from two distinct sides of the drum corps activity, on the very same weekend. I call it our “Best of Both Worlds Tour.” Here are some highlights of our weekend.

Our trip began on the morning of Saturday, August 1. Our destination was Scranton, PA, about a three-hour drive from our home in Baltimore. Well, okay, sometimes more like a four-hour drive, all depending on how much of Interstate 81 in Pennsylvania is under construction. Legend has it that there are two seasons in Pennsylvania — winter and construction. This year, we encountered no delays in our northbound direction. Thank goodness for small miracles.

Scranton HS Stadium was the site of the all-age drum corps contest run by Drum Corps Associates and the local American Legion. I was the show’s public address announcer. As far as anyone knows, this was the first time in DCA history the top-six finishers from the previous year’s championship were on the same field for a regular-season show. It was a superb night for drum corps, with near-perfect weather. The defending DCA champion Reading Buccaneers rose to the occasion with a high-octane performance and took home yet another first-place trophy, turning aside challenges from the Connecticut Hurricanes, Minnesota Brass, Inc., Hawthorne Caballeros, Empire Statesmen and Bushwackers.

Aside from winning the past four DCA titles, the Bucs, through early August of this year, have not lost a competition since Labor Day weekend 2004. That was during George W. Bush’s first term as president. Think about that for a moment.

The Buccaneers have been on quite a roll, no doubt about it. Kudos to all six corps for really giving the fans at this show their money’s worth and a special “thank you” to Minnesota Brass for making the long trip East to put the finishing touches on a night of drum corps entertainment, DCA style.

After the show we headed back to our hotel, near the Montage Mountain ski resort and then off to one of our favorite restaurants in the Scranton area, Marvelous Muggs, located next to the hotel. If you like sweet-potato fries and good “pub grub” (and we do), this is a good place to be.

On Sunday morning I woke up, looked outside and saw . . . rain. Not exactly a great start to the second leg of our journey. Our destination was northern New Jersey, for the Drum Corps International junior corps contest at Giants Stadium, the final competition scheduled for that great stadium (pro football’s Giants and Jets are getting a new home, being built alongside the existing stadium). I had the privilege of being the announcer for this final hurrah at the Meadowlands. If only the rain would stop!

On the drive to New Jersey, we ran into all sorts of weather . . . rain, wind, thick fog, sunshine, more rain, more wind, more sunshine. As the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute. Traffic on westbound I-78 in New Jersey was backed up for miles due to flooding on the roadway. Luckily, we were traveling eastbound, with no flooding and no delays. I wonder if those poor folks stuck in that massive traffic jam ever made it home before sundown.

By the time we arrived at our hotel at Newark Liberty Airport, the rain had stopped. Very good news! I need to tip my hat to the folks who did the sound-proofing for this particular hotel. It is located next to a busy highway, with the airport a stone’s throw away, yet we heard no outside noise.

After relaxing for a bit, it was time to find a place for dinner before heading to the stadium. I’ve lived in Baltimore since 1991, but was a “Jersey guy” for more than 30 years. So, when I think “dinner on the go,” the no-brainer answer is . . . a diner. We found a good one: the Olympia Diner, not far from our hotel in the city of Elizabeth. It all felt like a homecoming for me. My first full-time job as a radio newscaster back in the day was at WJDM-AM in Elizabeth. Anyhow, Barbara and I liked the food so much at the Olympia that we stopped there for breakfast the next day, on our way back to Baltimore.

After dinner, it was off to Giants Stadium. I announced a number of drum corps and band shows there in the 1990s and was thrilled to get one more chance to work the stadium’s booming PA system. It was nice to see some old drum corps friends at this show — Gary Williams and Dennis DeLucia from my days with the Sunrisers all-age corps, to Ray Schofield, a long-time events manager and volunteer for The Cadets and their parent organization, Youth Education in the Arts! And it was very nice to know that the rain that had been pelting down earlier in the day was long gone, the skies were clear and the temperature was ideal. On with the show.

This contest was one of the final regular-season showdowns before the DCI World Championship, so the corps on this night were in great competitive shape. What a lineup.

The host Holy Name Cadets, the “new powerhouse on the block” Carolina Crown, the resurgent Blue Stars and the defending DCI champ Phantom Regiment were the headliners, joined by the Crossmen, Colts and Jersey Surf for a wonderful night of World Class drum corps.

The fans at this show also were treated to exhibition performances by the fabulous and fun-loving Bayonne Bridgemen Alumni and the Holy Name Cadets Alumni corps, which was making a one-time-only appearance, performing with the current-day Cadets to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the organization. The Cadets not only were the gracious hosts for this show, but also won the competition, edging out Carolina Crown.

On the way back to our hotel, we decided to treat ourselves to a late-night snack at the legendary Tick Tock Diner, not far from the Meadowlands. The Tick Tock is considered by many to be the best diner in the “diner heaven” state of New Jersey. I’ve been to the Tick Tock several times over the years, but this was Barbara’s first visit. She was not disappointed.

Monday morning arrived (too soon) and it was time to pack the car and get on the road home to Baltimore. Barbara and I were very tired, but very happy. It was a fun weekend for two drum corps fans. The best of both worlds, indeed!