General Butler Vagabonds
The General Butler Vagabonds junior drum and bugle corps was founded in 1966 by Andrew Yarics and others. For the first two years the Vagabonds were an all-male corps. By 1970, however, the Vagabonds were fully integrated. The General Butler Vagabonds hail from Lyndora (Butler), Pennsylvania, approximately 50 miles North of Pittsburgh. The corps have served the Western Pennsylvania region, providing a low-cost (if not free) musical experience for youth, 12-21. The Vagabonds were affliated with Drum Corps International for many years. Although the corps never placed as a DCI finalist it has produced many influential players, teachers, and citizens. Tne corps survives today as a parade unit with a youthful membership.
The late 1960s and early 1970s were the Vagabonds' heyday, when they placed well in DCI competition and became an Associate Member of DCI in 1975. In terms of competitive scoring, 1975 was the watershed year for the GBV. Although the corps continued to be very competitive in the late 1970s, the Vagabonds would never again be among the elite top 25 DCI corps. Yet the Vagabonds organization was always about more than just scores. The Corps provided musical instruction, touring opportunities, and a fun-filled summer to countless numbers of young lower middle-class or working-class youths.
During their long history, the Vagabonds have participated in field contests and parades in 38 states in the USA and Canada. An early highlight was when they won the Class A US Open Championships in Marion, Ohio, in 1968, 1969, and 1971. At this time, the Marion show was one of the most influential drum corps contests. The Vagabonds were frequently finalists in the US Open, the American International Open, and other major shows during the 1970s and 1980s.
In the 1970s the corps remained competitive, and toured extensively. The Vagaonds of the 1970s produced many fine soloists and players such as Scott Koter, Andy Yaracs (son), Curt Hawkens, Pat Cavenaugh, John "Rabbit" Gilliland, Barb Yaracs (daughter) and many others. During their marching careers, many of the 1970s era Vagabonds would have success in DCI Individuals Contests. Candy Weiger, for instance, one of the first females to compete in DCI individual snare drum competition. She placed 14th in 1979. In that same year, Pat Cavanaugh would win the DCI French Horn Individuals Contest.
Many of the 1970s era corps members would return to instruct the Vagabonds and also have served as local band directors and instructors. Andy Yaracs,Jr., for instance is the band director for the award winning Butler High School Marching Band. Others such as Gilliland would march in the United States Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps. All told, the 1970s era Vagabonds were highly influential in Western Pennsylvania-if not national marching circles.
Beginning in the 1970s, the General Butler Vagabonds were also the host corps for the popular American International Open Championships, held in Butler High School Stadium. During the 1970s and 1980s, this show was often a two or three day event drawing in top national corps hoping to capture the lucrative purse. In the 1970s and 1980s the AIO became one of the most prestigious drum corps championships ranking just below the actual DCI Championships. The Vagabonds made the finals of this show many times, although they never were able to win for the hometown crowd. Conflicts with DCI lead the Vagabonds Board of Directors to shift to DCA corps in 2002. Unfortunately, the AIO has not been held since.
The Vagabonds seem to have a cyclical pattern of performing for several years and then spending time rebuilding. For instance, after the corp's highly successful years in the late 1970s, the Corps went inactive in DCI competition in 1982. In that year, the corps marched in parades and rebuilt, with heavy recruitment from Beaver County, Pennsylvania. In addition, by this time, the corps was reaping the benefits of the Pittsburgh Royal Crusader's demise with several former RC members joining the Vagabonds.
By 1983, a new Vagabonds emerged in DCI competition. When the Vagabonds stepped onto the field at Allentown in 1983 remarkably, only a few members had ever competed in Drum Corps before. It was almost an entirely new corps. This incarnation of the Vagabonds was a large class A corps featuring 32 brass, 22 cg and 25 percussion. 1984 and 1985 were also years of DCI competition, with the corps competing mainly in the Open class and occasionally in A-class.
The new Vagabonds featured a strong hornline that was hampered by a young and inexperienced battery. Drum Corps Hall of Famer, Pepe Notaro served as the corps' musical director for the 1983 season. Although the corps did not win a show this season, it did place second several times, most notably at the Titusville show to a corps' favorite, the Bridgemen. By the end of the summer the young corps showed noticable improvement-particularly in the gaurd. During the 1980s, the Pit also was performed well.
The 1984 season saw considerable improvement in the young corp's playing ability even if competitive scores remained relatively low. Much of the same 1983 nucleus returned, although Ron Crusan, a former member of the Pittsburgh Royal Crusaders served as musical director. The staff featured Andy Yaracs as Percussion Caption head, Tom Milchick, also a former Crusader assisted manning the percussion section. Jack Ratica returned as drill writer, and a young bass drum tech named Dave Campbell (GVB director in the late 90's) rounded out the staff.
During thr 1984 season, the drum line began to markedly improve even as numbers in the horn line began to decline. (The color gaurd consistantly fielded around 20 members during the mid-1980s.) Still, this year saw several second place finishes and seemed to point toward a more competitive future. Yet the show design and music choices were more of a traditional drum corps show, more appropriate for a competitive DCA corps of the era, rather than a DCI organiation. The Vagabonds were a bit behind the times: in 1983, the Garfield Cadet's fast moving and expansive drill design and musical style shifted DCI performance standards. The Vagabonds, like many other corps, lagged behind in this regard.
By 1985, the drumline was becoming quite powerful, and locally influential. During the winter of that year, they participated in a successful seminar at Latrobe, Pennsylvania conducted by Drum Corps Hall of Famer, Fred Sanford. Most of the Western Pennsylvania drumming community was in attendance and the event saw the Vagabonds reach new levels of acclaim. The Vagabond's drum line would be a highlight of the 1985 competitive season. Regardless of the large and strong drumline, the sad fact remained that the hornline lacked members. With barely 20 members, the hornline lacked the punch to complement the full battery with eight snares. Balance issues were a problem in 1985 and while the show was updated, it still remained a bit behind the times in conceptualization. With scores remaining relatively low, some members began jumping ship seeking a more competitive corps experience. Also, in 1985 long-time drum major Melanie Gardener aged-out, and that seemed to also hint that this version of the Vagabonds had run its course. After 1985, many 1980s era Vagabonds left to join top competitive units such as the Cadets, Crossman, Boston, Phantom Regiment, Bridgemen and other corps.
With a lack of seasoned, mature players, in 1986 the Vagabonds returned to the parade circuit with younger members in order to rebuild. While the Vagabonds of the 1980s could not match the successful corps of the 1970s, they were nevertheless the sole junior corps to represent Western Pennsylvania, once a thriving Mecca of drum and bugle corps. Influential Vagabonds of the 1980s had included Cathy Jo Carnahan, Bob Beatty, Diane Mabin, Chuck Lee, Jim Baker, Mike Hoebler, Greg Gumina, Deb Knisely, Donnett Bell, Melanie Gardner, Paul Devlin, Ray Dugan, Fred Weissert and Melissa Fend--all of whom served as local instructors or marched in top DCI corps, such as Star of Indiana, Garfield Cadets, Bridgemen, Phantom Regiment and Boston Crusaders. With these people now marching elsewhere, the young Vagabonds entered into a prolonged period of rebuilding.
In the 1990s, the General Butler Vagabonds entered a new era. During the early years of the decade, the corps concentrated on the parade circuit. The Vagabonds Drum Corps was the best marching and playing military unit at the Baltimore, Maryland National VFW Parade in 1990, in the New Orleans, Louisiana 1991 parade, Indianapolis, Indiana in 1992, and Dallas, Texas in 1993. While competiting in the parade circuits, gradually a new membership base began to come of age.
During the mid-1990s, long-time Corps Director Andy Yaracs remained the organizational strategist. Meantime, a new staff led by Musical Director Dave Campbell, former instructor of several smaller corps; the Steel City Ambassadors, and South Park High School, rejuvenated the corps. While much smaller in numbers than the corps of the 1970s and 1980s, the new Vagabonds enjoyed some competitive success in the new DCI Division III. With a talented, dedicated staff, and hard working membership, the corps began to concentrate on thematic shows, rather than the Pop/Jazz music favored in the 70s/80s. Gone were the dated drills and musical selections of the 1980s. Instead, the new Vagabonds performed the "Sound of Music," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Les Miserables" and "Carmen" during the course of the late 1990s. Clearly, this corps represented a more sophisticated musical and visual approach than earlier versions of the Vagabonds, although small personel numbers remained a big problem.
Despite the Vagabonds' small membership base, the corps continued to mature during the late 1990s. By 1998, Campbell had become the corps director and the Vagabonds "Fiddler On the Roof" program finally succeeded to getting the corps into DCI finals as a Division III corps. In this year, the corps won the coveted "Spirit of Disney" award for it's innovative show design. The corps placed 3rd in DCI II/III finals competition in 1999, and secured the bronze medal in Division III in addition to the "Most Improved" corps award for Drum Corps Midwest. Reviews of the corps of this era stress the innovative show concepts and skilled playing by a small unit. In 2000, the Vagabonds would place fourth in DCI Class III finals.
Before the 2001 season, the 1990s version of the Vagabonds had collapsed due to internal conflict. As of 2005, the corps remains a parade unit of younger (13-15) musicians. It is unclear whether they will return to DCI or DCA field competition in the future. The 1990s version of the Vagabonds featured Deanne Heller, Alan Fear, Austin Osterhout,Adam Street, and others. Several members followed Dave Campbell, when he became Musical Director of Pioneer Drum and Bugle Corps, and marched in Pioneer after the decision of the Vagabond Board of Directors not to field a corps in 2001.
Over the years, the Vagabonds have had many notable instructors including drum corps great Pepe Notaro; Scott Koter (former DCI percussion caption head and current Cavaliers program designer), Andy Yaracs Jr.(Butler HS Band Director), Tom Acheson (instrumental in the rise of the Glassmen),Jack Rattica, Dave Campbell, Dan Mullen, Joe Stultz, Ron Crusan, Frank Yurkovich, and many, many, others.
The most dedicated instructor has been Amerigo "Riggie" Laus. He joined the Vagabond family in 1974 as a brass instructor. The famed Pittsburgh Rockets soloist has been with the organization ever since. Riggie holds the first place championship for individual bugle for 9 concecutive years. (1956-1965) In addition, he was inducted into the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame in September 1986. Many generations of Vagabonds can recall Riggie's kindness, tact, and fundemental decency.
While Riggie Laus is the corps' longest tenured instructor, Andrew Yaracs remains the Corps' CIO and holds the keys to any attempted return to DCI competition. Yaracs (unlike many other better scoring DCI corps) built a strong financial base for the corps through development of a successful bingo. In addition, the Vagabonds own a large corps hall that is rented for weddings and other events. This structure is an important part of the Butler County community assets. The Vagabonds' strong financial base made the organization almost unique amongs other DCI drum corps: there was no tour fee. In addition, the Vagabonds instruments were always new (or fairly new) and the best available. The corps also have maintained a fleet of buses and trucks over the years. In addition, Yaracs and the Board of Directors prided themselves on providing a quality experience for youth. This meant that the corps ate extremely well on tour, and never went through the "peanut butter and jelly" diet rumored among other corps. In addition to the strong financial base, Andy Yaracs established good relations with the Butler Community and the Vagabonds are one of the most well-known entities in the county. Quite deservedly, Andy Yaracs is a member of the Drum Corps Hall of Fame.
After the Vagabonds withdrawl from field competition in the early 2000s, the Vagabonds organization supported a short-lived DCA corps the Allegheny Nightstorm circa 2000-2002. In addition, the Vagabonds have supported a feeder corps since the 1970s, the Vagabond Cadets. Sometimes there has been confusion (particularly at www.corpsreps.com) as the Vagabonds junior corps is sometimes called "senior" and the Cadets "junior." The Vagabond Cadets have not appeared in field shows and focus on parades with a very youthful membership. As for the junior corps, it appears that the organization will concentrate on parades and rebuilding for the future.
Since its inception in 1966, the Vagabonds organization has provided low-cost-if not free-musical instruction and traveling opportunities to a lower middle-class/working-class population. In that regard, the corps has been one of the successful of its type as it nears its 40th anniversary. While the Vagabonds' competitive future remains in limbo, the corps continues its existence and successful bingo. Who knows what the future will bring...
Uniforms. The Vagabonds wore a cadet style burgundy jacket with gold and white trim in the early to mid-1970s. This uniform was fairly similar to the one worn by the Garfield Cadets of New Jersey. By the late 1970s, the Vagabonds were sporting white jackets with gold and burgundy trim and cavalier style burgundy hats with burgundy pants. By the 1990s, the corps had reverted to cadet style uniforms. The final years of DCI competition saw show-oriented uniforms. Since the Vagabond's return to the parade circuit they have worn the cadet style uniforms.
- The Corps name came from a local radio contest and honors a Revolutionary War era General.
- The Corp's symbol is a "bum" with a drum.
- www.vagabonds.org official web site