Blue Devils on journey in search of world championship

More than 200 people in 13 vehicles pulled out of town this week, headed for Madera and the start of a two-month cross country tour that will cover 14,000 miles this summer.

This is the first week of the Blue Devils annual trek across America, showcasing the local organization’s unique performance style at 25 drum corps competitions in 18 states.

The Blue Devils have won more world championships than the Golden State Warriors, Oakland A’s, San Francisco 49ers and San Francisco Giants – combined! The Concord corps has recorded 18 Drum Corps International titles. They have been first or second at the last 11 DCI finals. Since their second year of competing in the world championships in 1974, they have never been ranked lower than fifth (once, in 1991).

The Blue Devils A Corps features 154 performers and musicians who are attracted by the Blue Devils worldwide reputation for performing excellence. They hold winter auditions for the corps around the country, attracting outstanding, seasoned drum corps performers from throughout the world.

Because of their reputation and unprecedented success, the Blue Devils are the oldest corps in DCI, an international organization promoting marching music performing arts in competitions for youth 13-22. The Blue Devils A Corps average age is 20.5, and performers age out at 22. This year’s group is about half newcomers and half returning from the 2017 world championship squad.

On the A Corps are 35 members who have moved up from the Blue Devils B Corps, which has high school performers who also travel across the country competing each summer. Six of those started in the grade school C Corps years ago.

The fleet of vehicles carrying the Blue Devils, their equipment and staff includes three semi-trucks, six buses, two smaller trucks, an RV and a van. A teaching staff of about 30 and another 30-40 managers, drivers, cooks, medical and health staff, roadies and media travel at any given time with the 154 performers, totaling 200-210 on the road at all times.

The drum corps world was shaken this spring when numerous sexual misconduct claims were made against the Hall of Fame executive director of the second most successful corps, the Cadets of Pennsylvania. Last year, the Cadets and Blue Devils were featured in a six-part reality TV show about the 2016 drum corps season produced by Dwayne Johnson.

Blue Devils president Rosa Lee Harden issued a statement April 16 in the wake of the scandal on the East Coast. “I’m proudly serving my sixth year as president of the organization and have no reservations in saying that we are doing everything possible to make the 2018 season safe for everyone associated with each of our programs,” Harden said. “Everyone deserves a safe environment to learn the amazing life lessons taught through the marching arts.”

For this article, the Blues Devils said: “We have always had stringent professional standards for all who are involved in the Blue Devils. That has allowed us to not have to be in a reactionary mode relative to the issues that DCI has had to address this year.”

This year’s A Corps program, “Dreams and Night­hawks,” was inspired by a painting by American realist Edward Hopper. They describe the program as “a fantasy of musical and visual hypothesis. In a whirlwind of puzzle pieces, a cast of characters assembles a plotline of timeless speculation. A conversation of where, when and why unfolds to a contemporary, eclectic soundtrack from John Adams, to Carole King to Simon Dobson.”

The King classic song “Natural Woman,” made famous by Aretha Franklin, is already a crowd favorite from the show.

After three days of rehearsals at Madera High School this week, the Blue Devils have their first competitions Friday in Clovis, Saturday at Stanford and Sunday in Sacramento before heading to Southern California and then across the country. The DCI World Championships are in Indianapolis Aug. 9-11.