V.I. Army Band brings Caribbean sound to East Coast
Published: July 2, 2012
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Patriotism and big band sounds with a Caribbean flare filled the air around different areas of Delaware during the last few days as the 73rd Army Band of the Virgin Islands National Guard completed a number of free public concerts in the state's coastal area.
Sgt. Athneil Thomas, public affairs specialist, said the group's concert, marching, steel band and calypso ensembles entertained crowds of thousands with music from Latin, calypso, reggae and French-Caribbean genres.
Audience members readily left their seats to dance to the sounds of the music as well as to stand during several patriotic songs.
He said the 73rd's first performance in the city of Lewes, Del., thrilled the record crowd of 450-plus in Stango Park.
The record-setting performance garnered the largest crowd ever to witness any band perform during the city's Summer Music Series, according to event organizer John Woodyard.
"This has been great," Woodyard said of the 73rd's performance. "Do we want them back in Lewes? You betcha we do."
The free Summer Music Series showcases about 20 performances between May 29 and Aug. 28.
Chief Warrant Officer Juan Harrigan is the group's officer-in-charge and said the bands' mission is to boost soldiers' morale, entertain people or assist with military ceremonies.
"All of what we do is done during this training exercise, and we hope to the delight of our audiences," Harrigan said.
Diann Eliz Garcia was one of more than 1,200 people who gathered on the Bethany Beach boardwalk Friday night to take in the unique sounds of the band.
"It was something way different than army bands are usually," Garcia said of the band's Friday evening performance. "It was something fresh, new and very different. We were very engaged."
Thomas said the Virgin Islands' citizen soldier-musicians can boast membership of the U.S. military's only Calypso Combo and only complete steel drum ensemble.
Chief Warrant Officer Sheila Klotz, commander of the 257th Army Band of Washington, D.C., said she was impressed by the band's talent and their complement of steel drum and calypso ensembles.
"They can do what we do," Klotz said of the V.I. soldiers' ability to play all of the traditional and required military music. "But we don't do what they do."
Klotz made the three-hour trip from the nation's capitol to take in the band's Caribbean show and said it was worth every minute of the travel.
Sgt. 1st Class Monet Davis, acting first sergeant for the 73rd Army Band, said she views the mission so far as a success.
"I think it was excellent training for the unit," she said. "It was a good experience to sit and play next to our peers from Delaware." Prior to playing their first note, Davis gave simple guidance to the stateside musicians.
"Just do what we do," Davis said. "We brought our Caribbean rhythms and the cultural aspect of the V.I. music like reggae, calypso and even a little zouk."
Thomas said the spectators were treated to hours of musical entertainment plus a special treat as Army Spc. Alpha Taylor put on thrilling dance routines on his stilts as a mocko jumbie.
Taylor lends his high-stepping dancing skills to the overall event, but it is not yet part of the Army's plan, according to Thomas.
The 73rd Army Band is now at Fort Belvoir, Va., preparing to participate in the Nation's Independence Day Parade on Wednesday that will feature numerous high school and military bands marching the two-mile parade route.
They also will perform at six other engagements they have planned in the Washington, D.C., area, Thomas said.
The band is also scheduled to make appearances at the World War II Memorial and the National Harbor. They return to the territory later this week.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com.