Blue Stars

2014 marks the golden anniversary of the Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps. The group has a rich history starting in 1964, later becoming one of Drum Corps International’s founding groups. Executive director Brad Furlano discusses his involvement in the corps, describes its 2014 show and talks about how the corps plans to celebrate this exciting anniversary.

Photo by Ken Martinson/

Starting in 1964 and eventually becoming one of the founding members of Drum Corps International (DCI), the Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps from La Crosse, Wis., is a program with a rich history, including several DCI World Championship finals placements in the 1970s and late 2000s. Brad Furlano, the corps’ current executive director, has worked with the Blue Stars in various capacities since 1982. Read his discussion of the Blue Stars as the group enters its 50th anniversary.

Halftime: Tell us a little about your musical background.

Furlano: My musical background is not very extensive at all. I played the saxophone in middle school and joined the Blue Star [Cadets] when I was 10 years old as a drummer. Through a unique set of circumstances, I became the drum major when I was 10. So, I was the drum major here through my age-out year, and that’s really the extent of what I did.

Halftime: Why did you decide to be a director?

Furlano: Running an organization like this is a great opportunity to impact a lot of young adults and students who will hopefully go out into the world and do great things with their lives. The drum and bugle corps activity is unique, immersive and such a positive experience, and I wanted to help and expose as many people as possible to what we have here at the Blue Stars.

Halftime: This is the 50th anniversary season for the Blue Stars. How does it feel to be at the helm of such a seasoned, storied program?

Furlano: It’s a great feeling; it’s a scary feeling. I hope I’m only renting the position, so to speak. I certainly won’t be here forever. I hope, while the corps is under my stewardship, that I’ll be able to steer them in the right direction and do what we need to do in terms of training students and giving them a great experience and being fiscally responsible, impacting fans and keeping alumni engaged. It’s a daunting task, and when you think about the long history of the drum corps, I’m very fortunate to be at the helm of this organization, guiding it, hopefully, so that they’ll enjoy the next 50 years of success as well.

Halftime: What celebrations do you have planned for this year?

Furlano: On June 14, we had what we call our “grand premiere,” which is a sort of banquet we have here in town. We have the Blue Stars junior corps performing this year as well as a 50th anniversary alumni corps making their debut that night. On July 10, we’re having our big Blue Stars Blowout Bash here in town, where we’re inviting everyone who’s ever been a part of the organization to come into town and celebrate with us. On July 12, we’re very fortunate to have DCI’s Minneapolis regional in the town, so the 50th Anniversary Alumni corps will perform that night with the junior corps.

Halftime: Describe this year’s show for us.

Furlano: Our show this year is called, “Where the Heart Is,” and it’s an emotional show. It’s a show that takes us back, more in the vein of the Factory show from 2008 and 2009, a tug-on-your- heartstrings kind of show. It’s about the emotions and experiences that come from moving into a house and making it your own, the life experiences that happen while you’re there and the life-cycle of building a home for your family.

Halftime: How do these themes tie into the 50th anniversary?

Furlano: It’s not an accident that we chose this show. We’ve always felt that the Blue Stars is a home away from home, a place where the people that you interact with become your family. So, it was not lost on us that there was a connection there. We’ve put small Easter eggs in the show referring to our 50th anniversary, and as a lot of people look closely at some of the props and items, they may recognize some things from our past and little fun references to our 50th as well.

Halftime: What do you think makes the Blue Stars a successful group?

Furlano: Well, for us, we think that we make our mark as a close-knit family. When we talk about these values that we hold dear, family becomes a word that we take very seriously. The worth of everyone who works and interacts with us is very high, and they’re all welcome and crucial to our success. So, when we talk to people who have been with the Blue Stars, or with other organizations, about what’s different about us and makes us unique, the fact that we’re very welcoming comes up a lot. We strive hard to keep that alive here. I think on the field, especially in the Michael Shapiro era, we’ve become great storytellers and are able to take some unique concepts and bring them to life in a way that’s impactful, meaningful and, hopefully, exciting for the crowd as well.

Halftime: What challenges did you face when you first became the director and throughout your tenure?

Furlano: The number one challenge for the Blue Stars—and for most drum corps—is the financial side, the business. It takes an awful lot of money to run a World Class drum corps these days. We’re not a drum corps that has a bingo operation or any sort of secondary business that kicks money off to the drum corps, so we have to be very careful with the money that people donate to us and entrust us with, and we have to be very resourceful. That’s the biggest challenge for the Blue Stars, really. In terms of when I started, some of the early challenges were making sure we had the right equipment as we moved from Division III to Division II to Division I, making sure we had the right staff in place and making sure that we had enough members. Those were a lot of the tough battles in the early years.

Halftime:What lessons have you learned as the Blue Stars’ director?

Furlano: I’ve really learned how to remain steady and not take the highs and the lows too seriously or let them affect me too badly. The highs and the lows are all coming. There’s gonna be bad stuff in each season, but there’s gonna be great stuff, and you just have to roll with it. So, I think one of the things I’ve learned is patience and to moderate my emotions, to just keep pushing forward through the highs and the lows, to succeed and just get to the end of the season, hopefully having people think it was a worthwhile experience.

Halftime: What advice would you give to students auditioning for drum corps?

Furlano: Jump in and try it. They’re really great learning environments, and I encourage students to sign up, check it out, get the audition materials to practice and just see what it’s all about.

About author

Joel King

Joel J. King is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. He is a senior at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa seeking a degree in magazine journalism. He marched trumpet with the Howell L. Watkins Middle School in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., for a year and Palm Beach Gardens High School for four years as the high brass section leader. He has also marched mellophone and trumpet with the USF Herd of Thunder for a year each.

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