The Back Beat of the Band

Story and photos by Tech Sgt. Jocelyn L. Rich
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Banská Bystrica, Slovakia ― Have you ever been to a concert? Have you ever sat in the audience before the band took the stage to marvel at the lights, stage and speakers that pepper the venue and wonder how it all came together?

Long before the first note comes barreling through the intricate sound system of a concert hall, hundreds of hours, days and sometimes even months have gone into planning that moment that kicks off the show.

The U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band brings the experience of concerts to many people every year. In order to do that, a lot of hard work goes into each show.

“We will do almost 400 performances a year, but it is not just a matter of preparing the music and performing,” said Maj. Matthew Henry, commander and conductor of the USAFE Band. “We are also responsible for all of the set up, tear down and movement of several tons of equipment that we carry with us.”

The USAFE Band has 47 members ― 45 enlisted musicians, one officer and one German national. Within that group, there are seven different sub-units, which can perform at any given time.

The concert band, consisting of 43 members, is currently on tour through three countries, performing at seven different venues throughout Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

“There’s so much preparation that goes into doing an event like this,” said Master Sgt. Joshua Gates, clarinetist and first sergeant with the USAFE Band. “Starting in the planning stages with our operations staffs, seeing what countries are priorities, what things we need to support, then building it with the sponsors, embassy and all the logistical details.”

The planning stages aren’t just a matter of finding out where the band will be headed.

“There is a matter of transporting 40 to 50 people. You need busses, sometimes you need airplanes, lodging and food,” Sergeant Gates said. “Sometimes you are in different countries, maybe not being able to communicate well. There are so many things that go on.”

The USAFE Band is also a unique unit in that they are self sustaining. Not only are all members musicians, but they also have collateral duties to make each event possible as well as fulfill their military obligations.

“The band doesn’t have a support staff; everything you see is done by band members. All USAFE Band members, who are operations folks, are the ones dealing with the embassy, logistic, and our crews are members of the band,” Sergeant Gates said. “They will do the set up and then change into their mess dress, and then they’ll go play and do a fantastic job doing it. Everyone has several jobs to do in order for this to come off as successfully as it does.”

Getting the band to the shows on time and making sure that everything is organized without a hitch is up to the operations representatives. For this tour, Staff Sgt. Rachel Trimble has taken center stage.

“I think that (the current tour) has been going really well,” said Sergeant Trimble, vocalist and operations representative. “There have been great sponsors everywhere to help work out logistics.”

Once the band arrives at their locations to perform and are given the key to their dressing rooms, a whole other symphony begins to play; crewmembers survey the venue and create a stage plan for the musicians to perform.

“We move 11, 940 pounds of equipment with us throughout the tour,” said Senior Airman Ian Tyson, clarinetist and transportation representative with the USAFE Band. “It is our job to make sure that it gets where it need to go and gets set up the way that it needs to be.”

During the stage set up the audio technician has a chance get familiar with the lay of the land in order to create the best sound for the audience.

“Each venue is different, so they all come with their own challenges to create the perfect sound for the show,” said Staff Sgt. Clayton Allen, audio technician and supply manager for the USAFE Band.

After all of the planning, coordination and set up, having a successful show is a great reward.

“Lots of long hours, lots of work and lots of time away from our family,” Major Henry said. “I think that the reactions that we see out of the audience, that it is definitely worth it.”

With this tour coming to a close, all of the band members agree it’s well worth all of the effort they have put in.

“All of the hard work is defiantly worth it, especially at the end of a concert, and you get some face time with the audience and you see that you have really evoked an emotion and lasting memories,” Sergeant Trimble said.