I’ve always been interested in history. It was one of my favorite subjects in school. I have a long commute and drive all over Indianapolis as part of my day job and I pass the time by listening to podcasts. There are a number of great history podcasts out there that really help make your commute feel like it was worthwhile, and that you learned something as opposed to wasting away in traffic for an hour each way.
I’ve been particularly interested in learning more about WGI history recently. This started by analyzing all of the different groups that have won PIW Finals and PSW Finals over the years. As I dove into the history of PIW Finals, I came across a group that I had never heard of before. Not only did I not recognize their name, but they were PIW champions and I had still never heard of them. My first time going to WGI Finals was back in 2003 as an 8th grader going to watch my older brother perform. I joined the next year when I was a freshman in high school and have been involved in the activity ever since. Over all of those years and all of this time, I had never heard of Atlanta Rhythm Machine.
Atlanta Rhythm Machine
So who were these guys? Where did they come from? Where did they go?
If you look at the list of PIW Finalists from the early years, Atlanta Rythm Machine only shows up in 1995 and 1996. Independent groups were introduced in the 1994 season, and in just the second year of PIW, Atlanta Rhythm Machine shows up, wins the whole thing, makes finals again the following year, and seemingly disappears and never competes again.
That’s a pretty cool story already, right?
WGI Independent Finals – 1995
So Atlanta Rhythm Machine wins Finals in 1995, their first year competing. Granted, this was only the second year of independent percussion finals, but winning in your first year of competing is impressive regardless!
I did some Google searches for Atlanta Rhythm Machine and I uncovered the following story from an old forum from 1998 on the interwebs. I normally wouldn’t quote such a long excerpt, but if true, this story is incredible.
Disclaimer – I don’t know this person quoted below, I don’t know how much is true and how much (if any) is exaggerated. But of course, we all know that if it’s on the internet, you can trust it as being true.
“Let me clarify what the Atlanta Rhythm Machine did in 1995. I was contacted in January of that year asking if I’d like to be part of an independent drum line that Glen Carter was putting together for WGI. In an effort to keep the cost reasonable, Glen came up with a way to involve as little practice time as needed. What happened is that he sent the music to everyone in the line, and we were expected to have it all memorized so that we would be able to focus on the marching aspect of the show at our rehearsals.
Our rehearsals started two weeks before WGI Finals. We had a practice Friday night from 6-midnight and learned the drill to the first piece. And, of course, we already knew the music, so it was easy to play along as we learned the drill. We also had practice all day Saturday and up until about 6 PM on Sunday. We learned the entire show that weekend. The [next] weekend, the practice schedule was the same. This weekend, we focused on cleaning every set as well as the music and getting everything to flow. By the end of Sunday, the show was presentable.
We then had an evening rehearsal on Tuesday and Wednesday, which included a performance for our friends, family, relatives, whoever was interested. We accepted $3 donations from everyone to help cover the cost of our trip to Dayton. The total cost for each member was about $145 ($100 + $45 for hotel). Glen Carter was an instructor at Douglas County High School at the time, and we were allowed to use their basketball court for rehearsals and we also borrowed their marching band uniforms for our own use. We also had a rehearsal the morning of prelims up around Dayton.
From what I heard, the entire WGI community was pissed that a line that practiced so little, didn’t attend regionals, etc. won the competition. They failed to recognize that we were the cleanest line there and isn’t that what a drumline competition should be about? In response to that, they changed the judging sheets to incorporate a lot more visual emphasis, knowing that any line that tries to put a show together in two weeks will never have a shot at winning. I guess they were right. We placed 6th in 1996, despite an improvement in talent of the line and design of the show…”
-Sean Taylor, Atlanta Rhythm Machine Bass 1995, 1996
These guys got together two weeks before WGI Finals, put the whole show together in a weekend, showed up at Dayton and ended up winning WGI Finals???
I really hope that is true – because that is an incredible story. I can’t imagine that ever happening again. Sean Taylor alludes to WGI changing the scoring in the following year, which caused Atlanta Rhythm Machine to drop to 6th place in 1996, supposedly preventing a group from just showing up and winning again. I don’t know enough backstory there to comment on that, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that no other group has started rehearsing two weeks before Finals and ended up winning.
So what happened to these guys after 1996?
If you look at all of the other PIW Champions, they’re all still around. You know their names. Blue Knights, Mystique, RCC, Rhythm X, Pulse. History tells us that three of those groups will probably medal this year in Dayton.
I have searched the internet and haven’t been able to find anything about what happened to Atlanta Rhythm Machine after 1996. My best assumption is that they did not field a group in 1997 and the ensemble simply folded.
Do you know someone who marched with Atlanta Rhythm Machine? I would love to know more about what happened. Can someone else confirm that they only rehearsed for two weeks before finals in 1995? Can anyone tell us more about what happened afterward? Did the group fold? Did the group choose not to compete because they disagreed with the direction of judging putting more emphasis on visual performance? If you know more, please shoot me a message.
I don’t think a video of the 1995 finals exists (not for free on YouTube anyway). Thankfully there is a video of a dress rehearsal run through. I assume this is probably the show for friends and family that Atlanta Rhythm Machine did to help fund their trip to Dayton.