By Alex Young
At least in my high school, colorguard wasn’t necessarily the coolest club to be a member of — and this is coming from a guy who was in marching band. However, thanks to David Byrne, flag twirlers everywhere have a reason to hold their head up high today. The legendary musician is staging a new project called Contemporary Color, which will see ten colorguard teams perform live alongside an all-star cast of musicians including St. Vincent, tUnE-yArDs, How to Dress Well, Dev Hynes, Kelis, Nelly Furtardo, and Byrne himself.
Contemporary Color will stage four productions: two at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on June 22nd and 23rd, and two at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on June 27th and 28th. According to a press release, each musician will work alongside the creative heads of each colorguard team to produce a “mind-blowing meld of original music and routine.” On stage, they’ll be accompanied by a brass and string section.
Byrne discussed his inspiration for the project in an issued statement:
Some years ago, a Colorguard team wanted to use some music I’d written (from a theater piece I did with Robert Wilson, called The Forest) for one of their routines. I said, “Fine, no charge… you are a high school team after all.” But I asked that they send me documentation out of curiosity and for my archives. I eventually got a DVD of the whole World Championship competition. I watched, and was amazed and delighted to find myself in a new world that I didn’t know existed.
What I was viewing is more properly referred to in that world as winterguard—as it takes place in the winter and spring—after fall football season, when the colorguard teams are more closely associated with drum lines and marching bands. Off season they do their own thing—still employing flags, rifles and sabers—but their routines are less about formation than about themes, emotion, concepts and visual spectacle. Over recent decades, the teams have evolved into something strange and wonderful; they’ve created a vibrant, innovative and original vernacular artform that is wildly popular across the whole North American continent, but is all but unknown in many of the big urban centers—like New York, where I live. Contemporary Color aims to remedy that situation.
I was stunned at what I was seeing, and being a musician I naturally wondered to myself, “What if these performances had live music? Really great live music! Wouldn’t that be amazing? And wouldn’t that lift it to another level?” (Besides being fun for the musicians too!). The competitions these teams engage in already fill arenas with their fans and supporters, so I thought to myself, “Let’s take it from there!”
I approached BAM and Luminato Festival in Toronto about presenting this idea: 10 colorguard teams paired with 10 musical artists. Somewhat surprisingly, they said yes! So this summer, on two successive weekends in June, we’re going to bring all of this together in live shows at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
The musicians will be backed by an all-star band that will include a brass and string section. Here they are (in no particular order):
How To Dress Well
Nico Mulhy and Ira Glass
This is sort of a crazy idea. We’re all slightly out of our comfort zone, but very excited—it’s an idea that seems natural and obvious too, so why not!? Please join us!
Also watch a trailer for the event (featuring an appearance from Byrne) below.