I. Love. Color guard. Since I first joined the activity at the age of 11 (and now being 22), I’ve probably spent thousands of hours watching (and re-watching) winter guard shows. As a young flag twirler, my favorite thing to do was to go home after a winter guard competition, look at the roster of competing guards, and try and find recordings of their performances on YouTube. Then, at the next competition, I’d regurgitate all of the competing schools’ show themes, songs, costumes, flags… I thought it was cool, okay?
I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area so the marching arts scene here is vast. From tiny little programs with 20 members to the powerhouse schools that travel nationally and internationally like James Logan High School (Union City, CA) and Homestead High School (Cupertino, CA), we’ve got quite the array of performances. I’ve been teaching color guards of various levels in the Bay Area for nearly 5 years now, and I feel that a lot of Bay Area (and California in general) guards get overlooked; so, I’ve put together 5 of my favorite winter guard shows from Bay Area groups that you’ve probably never seen to share some “hidden gems” I’ve found and loved over the years.
Starting out the list we have Vanden High School’s 2013 program, The Fairest of Them All. As the name implies, it takes inspiration from Snow White, with the show starting out with string-heavy music behind the infamous phrase: “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” Well, Vanden, I’d have to say it’s you… because this show was fierce.
The first time I saw this show was at the first winter competition of the 2013 season for the Northern California Band Association (NCBA) circuit. Because it’s early in the season, most schools are coming out with ~1-2 minutes of the beginning of their show, no costumes yet, and perhaps even some practice silks. Not Vanden 2013. The doors to the gym open and in they walk––full costume, hair slicked back into ballerina buns, glittery red lips… fierce.
I could talk about this show for hours and I’ve probably watched it 100 times. These performers were well trained in both technique and performance. I remember being so intrigued by this school’s performance that I was like, “Well I need to move to Fairfield to be in this program.” Sadly, it didn’t happen. But Vanden did extremely well that season, remaining undefeated for the majority. Also, since there was a super cool band mom (Sherry Duncan, if you’re reading this, you rock!) who filmed and uploaded every performance, you can watch them progress over the course of the season––but guaranteed no matter which performance you watch, it’ll be a fierce one.
A bit more recent in color guard history, we have Saratoga High School’s 2017 program. I’m not sure of the exact name of this show, but it uses Ursine Vulpine’s Wicked Game. I remember seeing them warm-up at the 2017 California Color Guard Circuit (CCGC) Championships and thinking, “Oh, what Independent group is that?” I don’t think I actually found out this was Saratoga High School until a year later when I saw it on YouTube. Needless to say, I was shocked (in a good way).
These kids can PERFORM. It’s also important to note that the set design is gorgeous, with a printed shattered glass floor, a gigantic, multi-piece, 3-dimensional heart prop that comes together and apart like a puzzle, simple yet beautiful costumes… it’s a production to say the least. But these kids didn’t let that overpower their performance. They’re giving you face, they’re giving you emotion, they’re giving you contractions, extensions, hairography, the entire guard is spinning sabre––I really don’t know what more you could ask for.
If there were a checklist for creating a great winter guard show, this one would check most if not all of the boxes. This show got 6th in Scholastic Open at the 2017 WGI West Power Regional in Las Vegas, NV out of 11 total there that weekend so a fair amount of people have probably seen this one, but I think more people definitely should watch this show. Perhaps grab a tissue.
Before we hit my top 3, I wanted to throw in an honorable mention: Homestead High School’s JV program from 2018, A Moment Like This. Let me also make a disclaimer by saying I am employed by the Homestead Color Guard, so this may be a bit biased (although this show was from before I began working there). This show is simply hilarious when you find out the story.
It’s set to Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This,” and is staged in a diner set that aims to mimic an In n Out Burger––yes, the fast-food chain. Basically, it’s about your first time eating an In n Out hamburger because they’re so delicious that “some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this.” See, what did I tell you? Hilarious.
From the diner-tile floor, to the french fry flags, to the hamburger flags, to the Neapolitan ice cream closing flag feature, this show is camp. This show is the honorable mention because while it wasn’t necessarily competitive, it was definitely fun, extremely memorable, and a different approach to color guard that I think (a) more people need to see, and (b) more people need to try.
Anyone in the pageantry world will tell you that there are just some show themes that are not necessarily overdone, but let’s just say there are is at least one creepy doll show every year. However, this is one of my favorite renditions of a creepy doll show, and arguably one of the best (they made Scholastic Open Semi-Finals at WGI Dayton 2016, so statistically speaking, one of the best).
If Oak Grove is going to give you one thing, it’s dance (but trust me, they’re going to give you tons more). But, they’re also going to give you some fierce sabre work enhanced by dynamic performance. And, because the show theme is creepy dolls, the audience fully knows what the deal is from the get-go, so it’s just more enjoyable because everyone is in on the fun. The performers don’t have to try extra hard to sell an avant-garde theme/story, so they can focus more on embodying their character and displaying their technical prowess on their equipment.
My favorite thing about this show, though, is just how fun it is. Yes, it’s a creepy show. But how fun is that?! You’re going to watch this show and tell me those performers aren’t having an amazing time on that floor? Don’t lie. Watch this show and see what I mean.
Let me preface this by saying you probably know who James Logan HS is and the powerhouse that their color guard is––I mean, they only won WGI Scholastic World Class 10 times in a row in the late 90s and early 2000s. But, this was the first James Logan show I saw, and I really attribute a lot of my color guard inspiration to this show.
I’d been doing color guard for about 1.5 years at this point, and I’d seen some good color guards… but I hadn’t seen any good color guards yet (like, WGI level). Out of the Blue keeps you on your toes for the entire show. You never know what’s coming next. I mean, before the show even starts, you’re like, “What are these giant fabric props?” And then the music starts and you’re even more intrigued. And then they start tossing––and wow can James Logan toss.
My favorite part of this show is around the 3-minute mark where there’s the rifle ripple, followed by the sabre ensemble toss, and then the introduction of those vibrant flags… *chef’s kiss*. And, because I’m a flag tech and clean flag features are my favorite thing ever, the ending flag feature is fantastic. I always love how James Logan manages to involved the entire body in their work and really pushes the boundaries of movement. Definitely check this show out. Especially if your favorite color is blue.
And taking the top spot for my favorite California Bay Area winter guard shows is El Capitan HS’s 2019 program Tomorrow. Merced isn’t technically in the SF Bay Area, but it’s close enough––and how could I NOT include this show?! This show will make me cry every time I watch it.
Not only is it a well-designed open-class color guard show, but it’s also just a good show in general. If I’m going to explain to my non-pageantry friends what color guard is, this is the show I’m going to send to them. The emotion portrayed by the performers combined with their technical skill depicts a certain passion for the activity that isn’t always seen in every show. You can tell that each performer (and the staff) is physically, mentally, and emotionally invested in this program, and as an audience member, it’s such a joy to watch.
Additionally, this show marked history for El Capitan: Their first WGI Finals performance. But, with the performance given by this group, I think we’re going to be seeing and hearing a lot more about El Capitan in the pageantry scene. If you’re going to watch one show on this list, make it this one.
Summary - How to Support Pageantry Arts!
So there you have it: My top 5 favorite shows originating from the San Francisco Bay Area (and adjacent areas). It’s important to note that this is just a small snapshot of all of the amazing talent we have here in the Bay Area Pageantry Arts scene; we have some amazing performers of all ages and skill levels that often don’t get the recognition they deserve.
What can you do to help? Well, check out your local color guard or percussion circuits! Whether you’re the friend or family of a current, past, or future performer, or even if you don’t know anyone in the activity, go check out some local shows. The more audience members at a show, the more rewarding and exciting it is for the performers––nothing sucks more than performing in an empty gymnasium.
Finally, be on the lookout for future collaborations with pageantry programs (like this one we did for Homestead Color Guard!). They’re great fundraisers for the arts (programs receive 10% of the profits), and you can look good while doing it.