Rain was no deterrent to the drummers of Louisiana Stars, Lafayette’s own drum and bugle corps, as they took shelter under the overhang of Cajun Field during a recent practice session.
Some drummers beat their tenor drums, matching the force of the rain on the metal roof above their heads.
Others sat in the stands, laughing with fellow corps members as they absentmindedly strummed a rhythm with their drum sticks on the stadium seats beside them.
The group is in its second year and is already known for pushing limits and striving for excellence, and an afternoon summer thunderstorm is no big deal.
“Probably the one thing I’ve learned is how to better myself as an individual and to work harder at everything I do,” said Taylor Naquin, an 18-year-old drummer from Thibodaux and an incoming freshman at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
He is one of 115 students, ages 16 to 21, who practiced 13 hours a day at Cajun Field under the blazing Louisiana sun this summer in preparation for the Louisiana Stars’ tour across the Midwest, which began earlier this month.
“It’s tiring, but at the end of the day, I see that it’s worth it,” Naquin said.
The Louisiana Stars is a nonprofit competitive team and is part of Drum Corps International, which is considered the major league of marching music.
The Louisiana Stars is the only competitive drum and bugle corps in the state.
Students interested in being part of the team auditioned in January for one of the coveted marching spots, and the team began to meet one weekend a month until the summer.
Team members moved in together in mid-June to start a rigorous summer training program and left for Indiana, the first stop on their tour, on July 5.
“Most of our members are here because they’re all in high school or college band, and they’re the best in their band and they’re the best at what they do at their school,” said Troy Breaux, the percussion coordinator for the Louisiana Stars. “They’re looking to be a part of a group of people who are striving for excellence. It’s kind of an all-star group, in other words.”
Breaux said members of the team want to achieve a higher performance level than they ever would at their school.
“They’re young people who want to do something amazing and, yes, will pay $1,600 to rehearse in the heat in the summer, 10 and 12 hours a day to do something in the end that will be amazing,” he said.
The $1,600 tuition pays for most of the travel expenses for the group’s summer tours. The team also seeks out donations and has corporate sponsors.
“Some of the more established drum and bugle corps that have been around a couple years have multimillion-dollar operations with semi-trailers of equipment and mobile kitchen trucks and trailers and those kinds of things,” Breaux said. “So, really, our biggest obstacle is trying to figure out how to get them on the road, on the tour, successfully.”
It is not mandatory to be from Louisiana, though most of the students are, but drummers from Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and even as far as Las Vegas traveled to train in Cajun country.
As a part of the drum and bugle corps, the students bring sleeping bags to sleep in the gym of a high school in whatever town they find themselves in for the night.
They shower in the locker rooms, and the team brings barbecue pits to grill hamburgers and hot dogs, meals that are easily made on the road.
UL-Lafayette sponsors the team and allows it to rehearse at Cajun Field and use other university facilities and equipment.
This year’s musical program is “Universal Melodies” and features songs by Ludwig van Beethoven adapted in the styles jazz, salsa and rock ’n’ roll.
“I think people are going to be in shock at what we have to offer,” Naquin said.
The Louisiana Stars was founded by Neil Simon, who directs the group, and Tim Darbonne, a former student of Simon’s who worked with 16-time DCI World Champion team Blue Devils, of Concord, California.
They brought in Breaux to complete their team to start up the group.
It took three years of planning to get the team on its feet, and the Louisiana Stars finally received official recognition as a team last year.
High school band directors, UL-Lafayette alumni and professional musicians make up the staff for the Louisiana Stars.
“It’s been a journey, yeah,” said Jordan Gray, a 19-year-old junior music business student at UL-Lafayette from New Iberia. “You start getting the feeling as a drum corps. Most of us haven’t done it before, and last year was my first drum corps experience and I had fun. It’s everything you expect it to be.”
He said the group made friends and connections in the towns it visited.
“It’s an experience that only comes seldom, and it’s one that you cherish,” Gray said. “It’s amazing.”
The Louisiana Stars return to Acadiana for their final performance at Cajun Field on July 20 as part of the Drum Across Cajun Field event that also brings in other elite marching bands from across the country to perform.