Beyoncé Knowles-Carter has officially closed out her reign at the Coachella Valley Music Festival — which has been renamed Beychella, now.
While there were many memorable moments during her stunning performances, it’s hard to forget one of the most standout parts of her set: Drumline Live.
The Drumline Live Band is an Atlanta based organized made up of members, musicians and dancers who are keeping the HBCU marching band spirit alive — and in April, they performed on their biggest stage yet alongside Beyoncé at Coachella.
Drumline Live consists of band members from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other universities around the nation. The band is led by Don P. Roberts, who’s the former director of the marching band at Southwest DeKalb High School in Decatur, Georgia. Blavity spoke to Roberts — who serves as the director, president and CEO for Drumline Live – along with two members of the band, Larry Allen and Dasmyn Grigsby, about what it was like performing onstage with the hardest working woman in the music industry.
Roberts, who has over 20 years of band experience, said he was initially contacted by someone on Bey’s team about having his band perform with her onstage.
“We knew we had to prove ourselves day one in order to a part of such an INCREDIBLE team,” he told Blavity.
“We had approximately 28 performers from Drumline Live, but the remaining core band was from [Beyoncé’s] team sprinkled with a few LA locals and dancers from all across the world,” he added. “Her core band was the foundation of the show and also some of the most incredible musicians I have ever seen. We learned about the world of [the] music industry and [the] production from them, and I think they learned a whole lot about HBCU marching bands from us. It was an incredible marriage of talent!”
But it wasn’t easy in the days and weeks leading up to Coachella. Larry Allen and Dasmyn Grigsby, two members of Drumline Live, talked to Blavity about the grueling work that led up to them taking the stage alongside Beyoncé. Both men also thank Roberts for reaching out to them to perform at Beychella.
“It was a lot of work, a lot of weeks, some longer than others,” Grigsby told Blavity.
Allen said after getting a call from Roberts inquiring about his availability for an opportunity and later receiving an email with a non-disclosure agreement, the 30-year-old saw Beyoncé’s name and immediately thought:
“Even if I wasn’t available, I’m going to make myself available.”
Allen, who’s the band’s creative director, said they saw the “Lemonade” singer every day in rehearsal.
“She would be there before we got there and [was still there] after we would leave,” Allen said. “You can’t be nothing but inspired by her work ethic.”
For 29-year-old Grigsby, it “meant the world” to him that Beyoncé incorporated the Southern black marching band culture into her show.
“It was one of the biggest performances I’ve had in my life,” he said.
Roberts, who served as the executive consultant for the movie “Drumline” 15 years ago, said he was already familiar with how impactful marching bands have been to the HBCU world and he was ready to prove it again to the mainstream public.
“As Drumline Live arrived in California to begin rehearsals with the world’s greatest artist, we immediately saw that Beyoncé’s vision for Coachella was going to once again shock the HBCU culture, America, and the world in the same way that ‘Drumline’ the movie did, but perhaps on a greater worldwide level,” he said.
Grigsby has been playing in a band since the sixth-grade. He was drum major at Southwest Dekalb High School, and he now plays in the Atlanta Braves’ Heavy Hitters drumline.
But he still says when April 14 finally came around, “the energy level of the first performance [at Coachella] was something I wasn’t prepared for,” adding that the surreal moment left him “on a high.”
Perhaps the trickiest part for both men was keeping the entire performance a secret.
Houston native Allen said his mom found out about him performing at Coachella the same time everyone else did, during the live stream of the performance on YouTube. She called him on FaceTime in shock and he said the joy on her face “priceless.”
“She was literally running in the streets, saying, ‘Oh my God, you’re the percussion director for Beyoncé — why didn’t you tell me?’” he said. “It was so crazy but just to see the joy on her face — that was priceless for me. It kind of validated all the things she’s helped instill in me and work with me on for that moment to happen.”
This has been an incredible triumph for Allen, especially after his home was damaged in a flood following Hurricane Harvey.
“It made all of us stronger,” he said of the aftermath of the catastrophic storm.
Grigsby, on the other hand, said he just quit his day job to pursue music full-time before getting a call from Roberts about the Coachella opportunity. He also has a piece of advice to any young person currently in the band program at their school or university.
“Even if you feel like it’s not getting anywhere, just keep going,” Allen said. “You never know where it’ll lead you.”