By Azure Wickert
Her leg drags heavily behind her, a grotesque snarl spreads across her face, and a charred vintage marching band uniform drapes over her broad, strong shoulders. Fiercely snapping her teeth at passersby, she seems like a natural assuming the zombie role for her evening performance.
The rest of the band follows from behind the chain link fence, as if right out of the grave, ready to entertain the thrills and chills seekers in Fort Worth, Texas, at the current Guinness Book of World Records holder for the largest walk-through haunted house in the world, Cutting Edge Haunted House.
Brookhaven College student Allison Jackson plays trumpet with Vigilantes Drum and Bugle Corps, and the corps picked up an exciting and unconventional gig this Halloween season. V-Krewe, the brass section and Jackson’s pride and joy, is looking for players, she said.
Years of playing since elementary school led to an opportunity for Jackson to march major-league style with Drum Corps International’s The Bluecoats from Canton, Ohio. As a young adult, she continued until an injury sidelined her, keeping her off the roster for the season. Set for surgery on her bad knee, Jackson put her horn down and did not look back, until Brookhaven professor Ricky Reeves and his humanities class inspired her otherwise.
Motivating students to get more involved with numerous elements of the arts, Reeves assigned a project that Jackson referred to as the “interest binder.” This was when Jackson revealed her history with music and Reeves played a pivotal role in instigating her second wind, getting her to pick up her instrument.
After Jackson joined Brookhaven Chamber Ensemble, the fire was re-ignited and she was once again plugged into a community of musicians. Through those connections, she found her way into the Vigilantes, a professional association of musicians who have either become ineligible by age or are not involved with DCI, and still have a passion for performance.
Jackson unfolded the notebook paper where she had hand-drawn her own version of a drill sheet from memory. “I’m 95 percent sure it’s correct,” she said. “They never gave us anything in writing.” She lowered her head, flashing her skull and crossbones black ribbon barrette, as she reached into her bag to pull out sheet music for the pieces this year’s zombie band would perform at Cutting Edge.
“We are all trying to figure out where we need to be,” Jackson said. “I’m very worried.” During the two brief rehearsals, she said, the majority of the time was eaten up by confusion.
The band performs in the parking lot at Cutting Edge. The lot is a small space that doubles as the waiting area for admittance into the haunted house. The lines can get very long and the zombie band will be the entertainment for those waiting.
A section is carved out of the middle of the line and tied off by cheap plastic yellow rope. This space is the stage for the nightly showing, which includes seven to 10 performances, with time allowing. This cracked black pavement setting is shared with a collection of drummers coming from an assortment of different DCI corps, clad in all black with faces painted, chopping as a haunting skeletal drum line. It is considerably close quarters.
The pavement was uneven, which posed an extra challenge for Jackson’s marching route. There was evidence of a haphazardly removed former parking pole, which left a protruding ridge that she trips over “every time” she marches backwards over it, she said, “but people can’t tell who you are in full makeup if I do trip.”
Arriving at the haunted house, the popularity of the venue in this season of fright was clear as the parking area rapidly filled with thrillseekers of all ages. A red and black hearse with classic fins was jacked up on mud terrain tires and blared Rihanna’s “S&M” from oversized speakers just before the zombie band made its way toward the audience.
Creeping out from the threadbare and humid tin building that housed them in between sets, the zombie band members lurked about the haunted house attendees, snarling, moaning and trying their hand at terrifying.
Onlookers quickly swarmed the makeshift stage as the first few bars of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” drew them in. The horns wailed the familiar notes in the tune as the more outgoing in the crowd danced. Drum major Kristian J. Cox dropped into the splits, popped to his feet again and stretched his legs out in front of himself, taking large strides across the front, rallying the energy of the audience.
Jackson walked through her performance, possibly recalling the drum major’s commands from earlier in rehearsal: “Don’t stand straight. You’re not in DCI. You’re a zombie.”
Accompanied by a couple of horn players, she displayed the research she gained watching episodes of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” as she walked into the rope in front of the spectators as though she was the mindless undead she portrayed.
She jerked each of her movements, bent herself upside down and continued to play, showing prowess and creativity in her performance. As a testament to that skill, mellophone player Sara Wolfe, member of Vigilantes since 2005, said, “It’s a whole new level of control to be able to play it [the music] well and to be a zombie as well.”
Three songs later, the band left the stage in the same fashion it arrived, taunting people along the way, as it retreated back into the holding area.
Behind the scenes, the band peeled themselves out of the heavy multi-layered uniform jackets with unbreathable lining. The band hydrated and took a moment to relax, sitting gathered around in a semicircle on camping chairs and coolers.
The Vigilantes perform as the zombie band every weekend leading up to Halloween and once more the weekend following Oct. 31, on Friday and Saturday nights beginning roughly around 10 p.m. Attendees can witness the resurrection of this living dead band.
The band showed up, the crowd was entertained, and the fact is that, as Wolfe said, these were a bunch of people who loved playing. “They can’t get band out of their blood — literally,” she said. With every pun intended.