When the Broncos unveiled their own drum-line – the Stampede – for the 2004 season, I was ecstatic. I love the marching band presence at football games, and for the Broncos to have the presence of a drum-line was a welcome addition. However, over the years the Stampede concept hasn’t panned out to it’s potential, and has grown into an annoyance, ultimately drawing irritation and resentment at Broncos games. As a drummer, I may be sensitive about this issue, the problems plaguing the Stampede are someday going to spill beyond annoying the musically-inclined at the games.
Among the Stampede’s struggles, many stem from the following dilemmas:
- Their in-game repertoire is extremely limited. As the Stampede enters it’s 4th year it still manages to play the same 3 cadences every game. Based on my anecdotal observations the Stampede usually gets 5-6 opportunities to be featured throughout the game. Rather than learning new cadences they’ve resorted to adding additional instruments (more on that later). I realize that they may not have a lot of opportunity to rehearse, but the fact that they’ve played the same cadences for four years without any incorporation of new material is far-fetched for a high school drum-line, let alone a line made up of former Blue Knights. To be fair, they take part in pre-game festivities and may have parking-lot cadences they don’t play, but why haven’t they rotated those cadences into the game performances?
- The expansion to non-percussion instruments. Rather than learn new material, the drum-line incorporated a trumpet player. The trumpet player increased the repertoire of the Stampede by a whopping 2 songs: Shakira’s “La Tortura”, and a popular jazz song that escapes me at the moment. At this point the 16-member drum-line has relegated to “rock-band” mode: becoming a glorified drum-set. The trumpet player takes center stage and defeats the purpose of having a drum-line out there. The trumpet player is plagued with the same inability to learn new material, and still manages to to play the song with a poor tone and out of tune. Two years ago they managed to put a guitar player out there with the drum-line, luckily someone came to their senses and we haven’t seen the guitar in over a season. I had hoped we’d seen the last of the trumpet player when the season began with only the drum-line, but the Green Bay game squashed that hope.
- Their lack of discipline while they perform. The coolest part about a drum-line is when they play with a military-like precision, appearing uniform and focused. In my drum-line days, we made it a point to appear serious (even intimidating), and locking it in: both visually and audibly. The Stampede has thrown that concept out the window. During performances the drummers take every opportunity to self-promote themselves, and often stop playing so they want wave at the camera or draw attention to themselves. This results in their playing looking and sounding sloppy.
- They’re a closed, nepotistic operation. The Stampede is presented by the Blue Knights drum corp and due to that sponsorship are completely made up of Blue Knight alums. This looks good on paper, but in reality turns out to be a bad arrangement. Where the intention was to have personnel who understand the concept and work-ethic of drum corps, you turn out to have drummers with chops that aren’t what they used to be, as well as the perceived security in their position that gives way to an acceptance of mediocrity and the lack of desire to improve (hence the lack of repertoire and discipline). You also have drummers who have corp-level ability and experience that are ignored, simply because they weren’t Blue Knights.
I don’t mean to call out the work-ethic or qualifications of the drummers, but I do have to wonder how the quality could improve if there was a yearly, open audition for the drum-line – just like the cheerleaders. The healthy competition would not only result in an improved drum-line, but could also be a good PR move for the Broncos organization – just like the Cheerleader auditions or the spring.
Obviously a change in attitude and work ethic regarding the drum-line could lead to improvement, but I have two alternatives as to how this could be fixed overnight:
- Hold yearly auditions, open to all drummers in Colorado. The Blue Knights could still have an active involvement in facilitating auditions, holding rehearsals. This may be self-serving (as I would give my right sticks away to have the opportunity to represent the Broncos through drumming), but I can guarantee you that I’m not the only drummer that feels this way. This would pave way for certain expectations, diversify the Stampede, as well as give the Blue Knights an opportunity to work with drummers over 21 or who maybe didn’t have the opportunity to devote their summer to a corp.
- Do away with the “static-personnel” Stampede and have a “rotating” Stampede: in the form of high-school and college drum-lines that play for the home game that week. Each drum-line has their own repertoire of cadences that they can feature. With marching being in-season (or recently in-season) they would be in-form to give off an impressive performance at the Broncos game. This would be a great opportunity to offer a unique experience for the drum-lines, as well as diversify the opportunity to participate in the Stampede.
With all the struggles the Broncos are having on the field this season, the Stampede may be the last thing on their mind. Nonetheless, there is always opportunity to improve and I wanted to offer a few humble thoughts and suggestions on how the Broncos can have the best drum-line in the NFL.