The eighth annual Drums Along the Waterfront brought 7,300 people to Dunn Tire Park on Monday evening to be entertained by seven drum and bugle corps from around the nation and beyond.
But this year's edition transcended entertainment, as it included a tribute to the 11 Western New Yorkers who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Nine-eleven has become the battle cry of this generation," John Sommers of WKBW-TV said over the loudspeakers as the evening began. "Our generation now speaks as one."
Also saluted were those who served in past wars.
"Many of our friends and family members are now serving in harm's way," Sommers said. "But as we reflect on their sacrifice, we are equally reminded of soldiers in past generations who fought the battles of their times."
As the American Legion Band of the Tonawandas, Post 264, stood off the baseball diamond and played the themes of each branch of the military, many veterans in the audience took the invitation and stood up to be counted in this salute to the services.
Most people in the stadium had paid $18 to $22 to be part of the event.
Johanna Luper of Buffalo, who enjoyed the movie "Drumline," found her first experience of Drums Along the Waterfront thrilling.
"It was excellent," she exclaimed. "I especially like the moves -- and the exercises and the way the bands were moving. I like that. Everybody was in step."
Another first-timer, Anthony Carter, 22, of Buffalo, was taken up by Spirit, from Jacksonville State University.
"Their brass section -- they had a lot out there, and they sounded real good," he said.
In fact, many of the drum and bugle corps had 50 pieces of brass on the field. Composed of 135 members, the teams typically included 35 to 40 dancers carrying flags or wooden guns, 16 drummers and four on cymbals, plus eight xylophones on the sidelines.
"Just to hear the music and watch the formation, we like that," said Marilyn Emerling of Hamburg.
She and her husband, John, had returned for their second year with a group of eight residents in their 50s.
Pam Foster drove three hours from Galeton, Pa., to be with friends who are music instructors with the Portville-Hinsdale Marching Band. The band was in the audience too.
"We brought them up to turn them on to the drum corps," she said. "They were first in every parade this year."
Mona Speranza came from Rochester to see Matt Winans, director of the East Ridge High School Color Guard, perform with the Cadets from Bergenfield, N.J., winners of last year's competition.
As the night continued, the brass could be heard from blocks around the downtown ballpark.
While the Tonawandas band played a John Philip Sousa march, a video on the scoreboard screen reproduced footage of servicemen and women returning from duty in the Middle East.
The 16-member U.S. Army Drill Team thrilled the crowd with maneuvers of their bayonet-tipped 1903 Springfield rifles.
For their finale, they performed their signature "front-to-rear overhead rifle toss," in which four soldiers in the front rank flipped their 10-pound rifles 15 feet into the air, to be caught by men in the fourth rank, 12 feet behind them.
The Kiwanis Kavaliers from Kitchener, Ont., played numbers from "West Side Story."
The Mandarins from Sacramento, Calif., had a unique rendition of the "1812 Overture." The Blue Knights of Denver presented "A Knight's Tale." Spirit from Jacksonville State played "The Architecture of Life."
The Crossmen from Philadelphia used a unity theme. Bergenfeld's Cadets played music by Jethro Tull. And the Vanguard from Santa Clara, Calif., played excerpts from "Scheherazade."
The Vanguard came in first, the Cadets a close second and Crossmen placed third.
In addition, the Mighty St. Joe's Alumni Corps from LeRoy, with an average age of 57, performed after the competition.