1996: Sunset Boulevard


Entering their 15th season, the 1996 Bushwackers kept up the momentum of the early 90s corps, but unfortunately it just seemed to be one of those years where there wasn’t much movement in the standings. In fact, the second show of the season featured 9 of the 10 finalist corps (with the exception of Minnesota Brass) and they had the exact same placements that night as they would at the end.

The corps had a relatively good winter as many vets returned from previous years, especially in the “Dream Team” baritone line, where every member had been in the corps previously. Also notable was the particularly strong class of new members in 1996, though there wouldn’t really be evidence of how strong until a few years down the road. In addition to Chris Kilian, who would become our longest tenured drum major, that “Class of ‘96” also introduced the majority of who would become the drum staff for a 5 year span.

Following 1995’s symphonic show, the corps moved back toward the showtunes we were successful with in the first half of the decade, playing selections from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Sunset Boulevard. We also returned to the “Keyboard” sashes again, but continued to wear the shakos from 1995, only now with a “Panic Button” instead of the infinity symbols.


Bush introduced an aspect of the activity in 1996 that has become commonplace in recent years, particularly among Junior Corps, but was innovative at the time. Rather than using the allotted warm-up time as it was intended, it was used to extend the corps show. Even though we wouldn’t be judged until the warm-up time expired, the corps began the show as soon as we hit the field. Since this was back when the judges still shot off the timing gun, it was timed so the shot would fire during a 4 count break in the opener. This way, gunshot provided the sound of the murder that opens the musical. Clever, no?

Probably the most significant musical selection of that year, though, was a Sunset Boulevard piece that didn’t appear in the show. Brass caption head & arranger Dennis Argul arranged “The Perfect Year” as a warm-up for the hornline. It was immediately well received by the entire corps; the percussion and color guard would gather around to listen whenever they played it. Though it would take ten years for it to be played on the field, it was soon adopted as the corps song.


Though it may be “The Perfect Year,” those close to the corps know things rarely go perfectly. There always seems to be some sort of obstacle to overcome. This season there were two. The first one wasn’t so bad, but it was notable. To start the season, the show contained 5 pieces. But with both the intro and the closer containing long “ballady” sections, the design team felt that the actual ballad, “Surrender,” was sucking the energy out of the show. So, it was axed. To make up for the lost time, we needed to move the intro section back into the show, and add an entirely new ending. Though that was a lot to learn mid-season, it certainly improved the flow of the program. And “Surrender” wasn’t a waste, either. It would return and be used as a warm-up by the hornline many times in the future.

While that was an obstacle of our own making, the other was definitely a freak occurrence. Our third show of the year was on a Sunday in Wolcott, Connecticut. The problem with regular season Sunday shows is that they tend to be in the afternoon, leading to an especially short rehearsal. The corps left early in the morning on busses, so we could get some rest and maximize our time. Since it was early and most of the members were grabbing some extra sleep, only a few noticed the smoke billowing out of our equipment truck as it passed us.

When we arrived in Wolcott and went to unload, the entire inside of the truck was BLACK. And smelled terribly. It turns out that the scaffolding had come loose from its bindings and fell on the tractor, causing it to catch fire. Luckily, the fire burned itself out without spreading, but not before the smoke covered all of our equipment in soot. We spent most of the day cleaning the instruments, and then proceeded to go win the show. So the only major loss was the tractor, which mysteriously vanished during the “corps meeting.”


Going into finals weekend, it was pretty clear where Bush was going to end up. While we’d gained ground through the year, we were still 5 points behind the Cabs & Westshore who were battling for first, and had never gotten within 3 points of Empire in third. Syracuse and Sun were gaining ground, getting as close as 0.5 away, but we weren’t especially worried.

Then, in the prelims performance, we scored an 88.5. Lower than the previous week. Sun and the Brigs were now nipping at our heels, only 0.3 away. And as the conspiracy theorists love to point out, you could hear someone say “88.5” in the background of a judge’s tape, with about 20 seconds of show left. Rumors flew that the fix was in, we were being set up to drop from 4th to 6th overnight.

Even though that clearly wasn’t the case, it rarely matters what is motivating the corps, as long as they were motivated. The Bushwackers have long fed off an “us vs. the world” mentality, and the supposed conspiracy fed that fire. At Finals we maxed out the show, and left no doubt that the previous night was an anomaly. We jumped three whole points, more than any other corps in the top six.

Sunset Boulevard: As if We Never Said Goodbye, Let’s Have Lunch, The Car Chase, With One Look

Drum Majors: Laurie Hall & Chris Kilian

PRELIMS: 4th – 88.5
FINALS: 4th – 91.5

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