Nite Express

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Based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and formerly known as the Emerald Knights, Nite Express fielded Division II and III drum corps in the years 1992-1996. The corps is no longer active in DCI.


This corps was formerly known as The Emerald Knights. In 1991, the Emerald Knights briefly merged with the Quad City Knights to form the Knights Drum and Bugle Corps. For various reasons, the merger was not deemed a success and both corps went their separate ways after the 1991 season.

In breaking off the merger in 1992, corps director Matt Daugherty and John Wooten took the laidback style they brought to the Knights to its logical conclusion, forging a new identity for the Cedar Rapids corps known as Nite Express. Matthew Daugherty is the brother of composer Michael Daugherty, whose music has been extremely popular in the drum corps idiom. Only a handful of Emerald Knights joined this corps (mostly in the drumline,) instead most members joined the Quad City Knights. Therefore Nite Express was a new corps in many respects, with few connections to The Emerald Knights. Among these connections, however, was Dean Bassett, a man who had marched tympani in The Emerald Knights in the late 1970's and had remained with the corps as equipment manager until his death in 1994. He was highly respected in the EK/NEX organisation, and The Emerald Knights equipment trailer in emerald and white with its very loud sound system was the envy of many corps.

At its inception in 1992, Nite Express was conceived as a "comedy corps" in the style of Velvet Knights. This sort of lineage traces from the Bridgemen and can be seen today in groups like Impulse. The Nite Express show in 1992 was based on the music of the Blues Brothers, and included the corps falling down at one point and ending the show in a company front with corps members pulling their pants down to their ankles.

A new corps director in 1993, Ron Thibodeaux, had most recently been the director of a corps called Expressions in Louisiana and led Nite Express away from its comedic beginnings. The new look and new sound would be more serious straight-ahead drum corps, but the fare would remain light and seated in the rock genre. The corps continued to have troubles being taken seriously, playing the music of Queen in 1993. They competed in Division III, finishing in 7th place.

1994 saw the corps searching for more "respectable" music within the rock genre as the group brought Emerson, Lake and Palmer to the field. More members helped the group gain in strength and excellence, and although the corps competed in Division II, they were able to crack into DCI's Top 21 in Quarterfinals competition.

An influx of staff from the Tulsa area brought in new membership and new ideas for the 1995 season, although the corps struggled to find its artistic legs with the Symphonic Works of YES. Unable to retain its competitive success, the corps slipped back down in the rankings, missing making Division II finals that year.

The Tulsa staff members continued to recruit members from southern high school bands in 1996, and membership of the corps topped 100 that year. It is interesting to note that the corps struggled with its identity within the community of Cedar Rapids, as increasingly less members were actually from Iowa. This refected changes within drum corps as a whole, but its effect showed in those within Cedar Rapids who were now less willing to donate funds. Friction between the Iowa members and the Oklahoma members also simmered within the membership. On the field, the corps jettisoned rock music and turned toward something more symphonic and "respectable." It was thought that this would be more competitively viable. The soundtrack of the movie First Knight in addition to music by Robert W. Smith comprised the program that year, with a theme loosely based on a knight's tale and chivalry. The group again enjoyed competitive success, placing 3rd in Division II finals and 22nd overall with the Division I corps. A new cook truck, new brass instruments, and a souvenier trailer announced that the corps had "arrived."

Financial difficulties forced the corps to close its doors after the 1996 season.

In 2001, Emerald Knights briefly returned to the field as a Division III corps, playing the show from Nite Express' 1996 season. Some EK pre-merger staff/members were involved. The new Emerald Knights was shortlived, and the corps has no known plans to reform.


Nite Express had no traditons, although it traditionally had a very strong drumline. A lineage of top instructors, from John Wooten to Eric Johnson to Michael McIntosh, had been involved with the corps since before the merger year, and many members hailed from North Texas State University.


The original uniforms in 1992 were black Dockers and white waiter jakets.

In 1993, the corps purchased used bibbers from The Cavaliers to replace the Dockers. To match the theme of the show, a sash was made out of wildly colored material and matched with a bright purple turtleneck underneath the jacket. The corps also wore red ribbons in support of those suffering from AIDS in honor of Freddy Mercury.

Hoping to be taken more seriously but unable to purchase actual uniforms in 1996, the corps dyed the waiter jackets grey, turned up and closed the collar at the throat, replaced the wild sash with something more demure, and replaced the white Aussie hats with black shakos. That year the drums were also stripped and refinished for a stained wood look by caption head Michael McIntosh.


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