‘DRUMLINE LIVE’ marches into Vegas
by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud
“Drumline Live,” a stage production that celebrates marching band culture on the campuses of historically black colleges and universities, will thrill audiences at the Smith Center on Jan. 18 and 19.
Now on its fourth U.S. tour, this “Drumline” has close ties to the 2001 film of the same name. When its performers hit the stage, Las Vegas audiences will receive a taste of the flavorful drum orchestration that made the movie a hit — as performed live by a cast of 32 band members, overseen by creator Don Roberts and assistant musical director Brian Snell.
The origins of “Drumline Live” can be traced more than a decade ago, to the moments immediately after production wrapped on the movie. Sensing its impact, Roberts wanted to maintain the momentum as a way to continue shining a positive light on HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) marching bands. With the live production, said Snell, “We take the show a little deeper.”
Asked to recall the show’s genesis, Snell said, “It is an interesting story. The creator and founder of the ‘Drumline’ stage production, Don Roberts — who also served as the executive music consultant for the movie — gathered band members together for the Atlanta A&T band that performed in the ‘Drumline’ movie. He heard about my involvement with the Florida A&M University band, The Marching 100, and contacted me in 2004 to join his team. In an effort to continue the ‘Drumline’ momentum, he decided to do a stage production in 2005 that was initially called ‘Half Time Live.’ We did a short tour; but because of a lack of financial support, we concluded the production.
“Shortly afterward, representatives from one of the largest artist management companies in the country, Columbia Artist Management Incorporated, based in New York, contacted us and indicated that they were preparing to do a drum-based stage play. Instead of re-creating the wheel, they initiated a partnership with us to do ‘Drumline Live.’ There was 18 months of pre-production, and we started our tour in January 2009. This is our fourth national tour, and we have been making good positive noise ever since.”
In its celebration of a cornerstone of the black college experience, “Drumline Live” takes audiences “on a journey of all the musical genres that the HBCU bands draw musical inspiration from,” said Snell. “We call it a ‘musical gumbo.’ It is an electric mix of so many musical styles that start in Africa with the birth of the drumbeat, [showing] how the drum is the foundation of rhythm. There will be a little bit of gospel music, because gospel has influenced the HBCU bands quite a bit — along with ’60s soul music, with the American sounds of Motown. The music of Earth, Wind & Fire will be performed, along with jazz from the big bands like Count Basie. At the end of the show, we bring all the musical influences together and we give you ‘Drumline’ with a lot of drums. It is a musical journey of inspiration, and a celebration of the craft.”