General Richard Butler Vagabonds Drum and Bugle Corps
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The General Butler Vagabonds junior drum and bugle corps is a drum and bugle corps and community band marching band founded in 1966 by Andrew Yaracs and others.
The General Butler Vagabonds hail from Lyndora (Butler), Pennsylvania, approximately 35 miles north of Pittsburgh. The corps serves the Western Pennsylvania region, providing a low-cost musical experience for youth ages 12–21. The Vagabonds were affiliated with Drum Corps International. As of 2008, they are a parade corps with a young, but active membership. The corps has begun a recruitment drive in hopes of a return to DCI Competition.
Founded in 1966 by Andrew Yaracs and others, the Vagabonds at first was an all-male corps. By 1971, however, the Vagabonds were gender integrated. They won the U.S. Open Class A Championship in Marion, Ohio, in 1969, 1971, and 1972. This vaulted the organization into the upper tiers of the elite Class A corps of the era.
The 1970s were the corps' heyday, when it placed well in DCI competition and became an Associate member of DCI in 1975. Many outstanding players and teachers such as Andy Yaracs Jr., Bill Coulter, Bruno Zuccala, Tony Christofano, John Gilliland, Scott Koter, Curt Hawkins, Ken Fennell, Candy Weigel, Mike Rhodes, Jack Ratica, and others marched in the 1970s era Vagabonds. Gilliland went on to be a member of the prestigious United States Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps at 29 Palms California.
This era also saw Pat Cavanaugh and Ed Lewis win DCI Individuals on French Horn and Soprano, respectively and Ken Fennell place 2nd behind Lewis at Denver DCI 1975 and 1976 Philadelphia DCI.
The corps became well known for its large, talented brass lines taught by the late Pete Spadero. The 1975 offering gained notoriety by beating nearly every other line in head to head competition. Powered by Lewis, Hawkins, Cavanaugh, Fennell and others, the corps presented the first of its hallmark "Big Band" shows featuring American Patrol and the Harry James Medley. The soprano solos by Fennell gained the reputation of Harry James II. In addition, the Vagabonds were the host corps for the long-running classic drum corps show the American International Open. In its heyday during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the AIO was a two- or three-day event with national corps hoping to capture the lucrative purse. By 1981, however, the Vagabonds could field only 18 horns and were not as competitive as in earlier years. The first generation of Vagabonds came to an end after the 1981 season.
The Vagabonds seem to have a cyclical pattern of performing for several years and then spending time rebuilding. For instance, after the corp's most successful era 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 1983, the Vagabonds would return with a large class A corps in 1983 featuring 32 brass, 22 color guard and 25 percussion. When the 1983 Vagabonds stepped onto the field at Allentown to open the competitive season, it was almost an entirely new corps. Less than five members had prior DCI experience. The oldest members were 19. This version of the Vagabonds, with few seasoned members, emphasized crowd entertainment. In 1983 Musical Director and drum corps legend Robert "Pepe" Notaro chose a traditional show of Drum Corps traditional favorites. Scores were relatively low in 1983 as the young battery struggled.
By 1984, the Vagabond percussion section had begun to markedly improve under the instruction of Andrew Yaracs, Tom Milchek and Dave Campbell. Meantime, a new musical director, Ron Crusan, updated the corps' show with contemporary pop tunes. In 1984, the Vagabonds were very competitive with corps of their size such as the Black Watch from Wilmington NJ., and made the finals of several national shows. Nevertheless, the Vagabond's show design remained behind the times in conceptualization. In 1983, the Garfield Cadets had changed the competitive nature of Drum Corps with their fast moving and expansive drill. The Vagabonds, like many other smaller corps remained behind the times in that regard.
In 1985, the battery would step to the fore with 8 snares, 3 quads, five bases, 4 cymbals, five pit and a quality of sound that was rapidly approaching the upper ranks of DCI Class A. But the hornline had declined in number to 18 members. With competitive scores remaining relatively low, seasoned members began seeking a more competitive experience joining corps such as the Garfield Cadets, Bridgemen, Boston Crusaders, Bluecoats, and the Crossmen. With a very small amount of brass players remaining, the corps retired from DCI competition for the 1986 season. The Vagabonds returned to the parade route in the late 1980s in order to rebuild.
Throughout their history, the Vagabonds have participated in field contests and parades in 38 states in the United States and Canada. They were voted the best marching and playing military unit at the Baltimore National VFW Parade in 1990, in the New Orleans 1991 parade, in Indianapolis in 1992, and in Dallas in 1993.
In the late 1990s, the General Butler Vagabonds entered a new era. While Andrew Yaracs remained the organization's guiding light, a new staff led by Dave Campbell rejuvenated the corps. While much smaller than the corps of the 1970s and 1980s, the Vagabonds enjoyed success in the DCI Division III. This version of the corps performed more sophisticated shows emphasizing themes such as "Fiddler on the Roof." The Vagabonds made DCI Finals as a Division III corps in 1997 with their ground-breaking "Fiddler on the Roof" show. The corps received the coveted "Spirit of Disney" award for most entertaining program in 1997, and the Bronze medal and 3rd place in Division III in 1998. The 99 program, music from the opera "Carmen" finished 4th and secured the High Brass trophy. Unfortunately, by 2000, the Dave Campbell-led version of Vagabonds had collapsed due to conflicts between the Board of Directors and the Artistic staff. Many of the 1990s era Vagabonds moved on to other more competitive units.
For the period from 2000 to 2012, the corps featured younger performers and did mostly local parades and performance at the VA under the directorship, once again, of Andy Yaracs. The corps performance schedule gradually shrunk as his health declined. Mr. Yaracs died on March 26, 2012, aged 88.
After a period of uncertainty, co-founder and former Vice President of the corps Alex Schott took the reins and a new path forward was forged by Mr. Rich Zamperini and several alumni, who successfully relaunched the group as a summer parade and performance unit that performed in the Small Drum Corps Association (SDCA)in 2013. With new energy and a new staff, Rich's energy and passion caught fire with new members and the corps had a great summer or mostly local performances. The pattern was again repeated with tension between the board and director that led to Mr. Zamperini leaving his position in August that same year. Since then, Dave Campbell has been reappointed Corps Director, but corp's future seems uncertain. During their long history, the Vagabonds have been unique in many ways. First, there was never a tour fee. Amazingly enough, Corps Director Andrew Yaracs built a successful financial operation through hard work and shrewd business maneuvers. The Vagabonds own two corps halls-one devoted to bingo and fundraising, and the other for rehearsals. In addition, the corps maintains a fleet of buses and trucks that at one time provided transportation to the Butler Community at large. The Vagabonds also never suffered the often rumored "peanut-butter and jelly" diets that some corps endured. The Vagabonds ate well, had excellent instruments, uniforms and rehearsal spaces thanks to the Board of Directors.
The bingo hall, once a huge part of the corps fund raising efforts has seen a steady decline in patrons since casino gambling has been made legal in the state. The current board of directors is working to increase attendance and is, once again, renting the facility for weddings and other events in an attempt to fund the corps in a more meaningful way. With such a long and varied history, the only remaining active Junior corps in the Pittsburgh area is still a work in progress.
As of 2016, the corps are looking to compete in Sound Sport.