They audition 600 musicians ages 18 to 21 from 43 states and as far away as Japan every year.
They travel 15,000 miles in 60 days practicing eight to 10 hours a day – then competing at night – and bring their own bedding to sleep on gymnasium floors.
They visit and play in 45 different towns and cities in those 60 days.
They eat their meals that are specially prepared in a mobile kitchen that’s housed in the back of a tractor trailer.
They have a uniform that costs $5,000 – including instruments – and collectively a total budget of $3 million for their calendar year that runs from Memorial Day Weekend until Aug. 10.
They are the Carolina Crown, defending DCI (Drum Corps International) World Champion Drum and Bugle Corps from Fort Mills, S.C. that practiced, ate and slept at Warwick’s Bishop Hendricken High School from Sunday night until approximately 10:15 Tuesday night.
And that’s when the Carolina Crown, a 150-member traveling troupe of multi-talented musicians and marchers, such as flag bearers and rifle carriers, loaded into five classic motor coaches and headed for yet another competition, this one being last night’s event in New Haven, Conn.
“We’ll be back in Rhode Island Thursday,” said Jim Coates, the Crown’s director and one of seven full-time employees for the non-profit corps. “We’ll compete in the Bristol [DCI] Competition at Mount Hope High School on Thursday night, then march in the [121st] Bristol Fourth of July Parade Friday.”
While in Bristol, the Carolina Crown will stay at Kickemuit Middle School gymnasium, just as they did during the two nights the musicians and marchers and staffers slept on the floor of Hendricken’s Ray Pepin Memorial Gymnasium.
And it seems that wherever the Crown goes, they draw a crowd whether it’s a one-person police check or hundreds of people who are always amazed with the Corps’ crisp sound and near-incomparable precision matching routines.
Take Monday night, for example, when the Carolina Crown was practicing under the lights at Hendricken’s Dennis P. Hayden Memorial Stadium. The tall arc lights were beaming down on the Crown, which was marching all over the artificial green surface.
Suddenly, a Warwick Police patrol car pulled into Hendricken’s jam-packed parking lot and an officer got out explaining that he got a call that there was noise coming from the school’s property off Oakland Beach Avenue.
Once the patrolman learned what was going on, he got back into his cruiser and was seemingly amazed. Especially that the Crown’s equipment overflowed into another parking lot.
“We have five motor coaches,” Coates explained. “We have two tractor trailers and one houses our mobile kitchen and one’s our equipment trailer.”
The Crown also has four other huge trucks that Coates calls “support vans.”
Sound like a huge operation?
“Our touring group’s budget is $1.2 million,” Coates explained Tuesday night while watching yet another grueling rehearsal. “As you can see, every one of these musicians works hard.”
More impressively, perhaps, is that once the tryout field is whittled down from the original 600 musicians, the select 150 Crown members begin practicing one weekend a month in November in Charlotte, N.C., leading up to Memorial Day Weekend when the Crown takes its award-winning show on the road.
The crown, which was founded in 1988 as the Carolina Drum Corps Association and has competed and marched in almost every state in the nation, is a labor of love for Coates.
“I’ve been involved with drum corps since I was 7 years old,” Coates explained. “I’m 60 now and semi-retired. This is what I do; I like to take these kids around the country and have them perform.”
When asked if the Crown has a theme song, Coates replied, “Yes, it’s ‘Carolina in My Mind!’”
The Crown’s uniform for this 2014 season is a black jacket and turquoise pants with a silver vertical accent from the neck down the left leg, black shoes, topless black shako with silver stripe, black and silver mirrored interior.
“This never gets tired,” Coates went on as he watched a small portion of the trumpet section strut its stuff to perfect.
“Good job,” he said to the musicians in a tone of encouragement. “I enjoy each and every one of these kids; they rehearse eight to 10 hours a day then perform at night.”
And, Coates later explained: “Each corps member pays $3,000 to be here!”
A summer job, someone suggested while watching the Crown Tuesday night, “unlike any other – for sure!”