It all started with a dream.
In 1996, a group of seven people decided to form a senior drum and bugle corps in the San Francisco Bay Area. This was either a very brave or a very stupid thing for this little rag-tag group of people to do. They had no musical instruments, no uniforms, no instructors, and they were over one hundred members short of a full drum corps. They also faced one additional hurdle—the nearest competitive circuit for senior corps was 3,000 miles away. Simply put, their odds of success were above zero, but somewhere between astronomically small and tragically insignificant. Apparently, this didn’t bother them one bit.
Needing a name for their new drum corps, the group met in a member’s living room one day to narrow down a long list of suggested names. After much debate, it came down to a highly contested runoff election between “Barbary Coast Corsairs” and “Bay Area Renegades.” When the dust settled, “Renegades” was declared the winner by one vote, and the guy who thought of “Barbary Coast Corsairs” quit and went home. The group picked green and white as their official colors, and the drum corps known as the Bay Area Renegades was thus born.
Over the next few weeks, the little group of Renegades worked hard to start their drum corps, and each member bought, begged, borrowed, or stole a horn or drum to play. They rehearsed wherever they could, and more than one rehearsal was held in somebody’s house. Unfortunately, it remained nearly impossible to recruit new members, and the general consensus among drum corps fans was that the Renegades were wasting their time on a pointless endeavor that would never succeed.
The Renegades’ drum line, which temporarily consisted of every member of the corps carrying a drum—whether they knew how to play one or not—debuted in a small parade in Clayton, California on July 4, 1997. With no money to buy real uniforms, they simply wore jeans and white baseball jerseys with “Renegades” printed in green letters on the front.
In September of that year, the Renegades appeared with horn players for the first time, at the “Fog Fest” street fair in the sleepy coastal town of Pacifica. People scrambled out of the way as the Renegades marched through the festival playing the tune Magnificent Seven. A few amused Pacifica residents thought the little group in the green-and-white jerseys was just a local softball team that just happened to play musical instruments. The imposter softball team didn’t sound very good, but their enthusiasm more than made up for it.
Despite a constantly fluctuating membership and no instructional staff whatsoever, the Renegades kept their dream alive over the coming months as they performed in small Bay Area parades and other random events. When someone was needed to carry the American flag or Renegades’ banner, a member’s wife, husband or kid was unceremoniously drafted into duty.
During the holidays, the Renegades temporarily replaced the baseball jerseys with some old beige cadet-style marching band uniforms and Santa Claus hats. The little corps lined up on a front lawn in snare drummer Al Chan’s South San Francisco neighborhood and played Jingle Bells and other Christmas carols for anyone who cared to listen.
The impromptu holiday performance was ragged, but the corps played their heart out, and they even managed to make a few bucks by passing around a Santa hat.
Like I said, it all started with a dream.