The thing about Drumline Live!, a touring show that entertained a large audience at K-State’s McCain Auditorium last Friday night, is that it was so wholesome.
The company was made up of what appeared to be recent graduates of what the program and narrator referred to as “Historic Black Colleges and Universities,” and the young people were energetic. And the show itself, apparently devised by Musical Director Don P. Roberts, was redolent of the football gridiron. But one expected the entertainment to be genuine and charged. Its simple decency was more surprising.
Mr. Roberts seems to have recruited a core of musicians from Florida A&M’s marching band and then to have added to the company players from Morehouse and Prairie View and other “HBCUs” (not including Southern University, home of “The Human Jukebox”). The bands at these schools have traditionally put on vital and showy half-time shows at their school’s football games. These traditions were fundamental to the shape of Drumline Live!
Most of the thirty-one performers played drums, usually parade drums, during the show. But the musicians also doubled. Two were Sousaphone players. There were five trombones, seven trumpets, a couple of saxophones, and so on, besides a “Host,” and Drum Major Brian Snell, and four female dancers.
Performing with a trap set at the top of upstage risers, this complicated unit gave us ten or twelve different five-minute scenes with costume and instrument changes in between, most of the scenes introduced by projected video, often of a master of ceremonies telling us something about “American Soul” or the significance of “Half Time” to the production.
Company members danced and played their way through selections of “Swing” numbers—”Sing, Sing, Sing” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing,” “Georgia on My Mind” and Gershwin’s “Summertime.” In the “Gospel” section, they played “Amazing Grace,” “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” and “Amen,” the song associated with the film “Lilies of the Field.”
The Soul section had impersonations of big acts from the 1960s. We heard “Respect” (Aretha-like), “My Girl,” and the Ike and Tina Turner version of “Proud Mary.” And then there was a special section given to Michael Jackson music. The second set began with homage to old-fashioned hip-hop, complete with a d.j. with two digitized turntables and a rapper costumed more like LLcoolJ than like the “gangsters” of more recent times.
The other scenes had the drum section going and the horns adding King Curtis line enders and some fanfares. In late sequences we heard more extended solos, perhaps most notably a saxophone one that spent some of its credit in a long-held final note. The limber singer-dancers were deployed like embellishments, most of the time. Their clothes were tight but decent, in the same way the whole show was about pop entertainment but not vulgar in the way of pop.
There was a drum off between two young fellows who liked to prop moving sticks onto body parts. There were audience participation sections and musicians performing in the aisles. It was all good fun, managed without pause, and performed with real and substantial skill and, of course, lots of the sort of energy Mickey Rooney might call “pep.”
And all performed with good will. This was manifest throughout the show. Here’s a taste of what half-time shows are like at Florida A&M. And welcome.