Avant Garde Drum and Bugle Corps Founder Jeff Perkins. Photo by Larry Goodwin.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – After a hiatus of 33 years, members of the renowned Avant Garde Drum and Bugle Corps of Saratoga County are planning to participate in the Flag Day Parade scheduled for June 9 on Broadway, Saratoga Springs.
“We wound up being world class. We just went all over the country,” remembers former director and corps founder Jeff Perkins.
The famed marching band disbanded in 1985, Perkins explained, yet a number of its original members have committed to making music again during this year’s Flag Day festivities in the city. They range in age from their late 50s to early 80s, he said.
From the original corps of more than 100 Avant Garde musicians will be baritone player Joe Anderson, who received a heart transplant nearly a year ago in Boston.
Anderson is “doing awesome,” Perkins said. “He says he feels like a 20-year-old.”
This weekend, according to Perkins, dozens of corps members are traveling to the city and will gather for a preliminary “Weekend Camp” rehearsal at the Church of St. Peter on Broadway, across from the Holiday Inn.
“We’re trying to make it mandatory,” he noted. “We can only guess that the majority will come.”
On Saturday afternoon, the brass, percussion and Color Guard members will start practicing in separate rooms at the school. The full corps will meet at 5 p.m. in the gymnasium—under strict rules of wearing only sneakers.
The Saratoga-Wilton Elks Lodge off Route 9 will host a buffet breakfast for Avant Garde corps members on Sunday morning, followed by more band practice at St. Peter’s.
The next mandatory Avant Garde rehearsal will be on Friday, June 8.
The “ballads” that corps members play, Perkins added, are “very impressive when they’re played loud.”
Perkins can clearly recall the reaction from people on Broadway during the last Avant Garde performances in the mid-1980s. “We stopped at the reviewing stand and just blew the place apart,” he said.
In December, Saratoga-Wilton Elks Loyal Knight Susan Waghorn started organizing this year’s popular Flag Day Parade. She indicated that it will be the 51st on Broadway.
“We do a lot for the community,” Waghorn said. “We’re pretty excited about it.”
She explained that 10 to 12 musical groups, including the Avant Garde and local school bands, will be spread across five “divisions” in the parade. There also will be contingents of military personnel, senior citizens and World War II veterans.
“Everyone is represented,” Waghorn said.
Members of the Avant Garde Drum and Bugle Corps will travel for this weekend’s rehearsal—and the Flag Day festivities in June—from other states and even Canada, according to national Elks marketing manager Rick Gathen, who originally devised the band reunion idea.
“The excitement of getting back together to perform one more time is incredible,” Gathen said, noting how he must travel from New Jersey to participate.
“Avant Garde alumni will be the largest musical unit in the history of the Saratoga Flag Day parade,” Gathen added. “It will be an event that everyone will want to see.”