The Army Band of the Bluegrass thrills fans in Lexington, Northern Kentucky

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Steve Baker, 202nd Army Band Unit Public Affairs Historian Representative

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Members of the 202nd Army Band perform for spectators in Georgetown, Ky., July 9, 2014. The unit performed for more than 35,000 fans on 17 missions for the unit’s annual training. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. 1st Class Steve Baker)

NEWPORT, Ky. — The 202nd Army Band of the Kentucky National Guard, “The Army Band of the Bluegrass” toured Northern Kentucky for their annual training, June 28 – July 12.

The unit’s “home station” for the period was Northern Kentucky University which provided a wonderful auditorium for concert band rehearsals along with separate areas for Musical Performance Team (MPT) rehearsals. Along with polishing the musical proficiency of the MPTs, the band performed for an estimated¬†35,000 people on 17 missions at locations from the banks of the Ohio River in Northern Kentucky to the streets of Lexington during the two weeks.

On June 29th the Woodwind Quintet performed a pre-concert followed by the concert band performed for a very appreciative audience at Behringer-Crawford Museum in Covington, Kentucky. The patriotic concert presentation was very well received by those in attendance and many compliments were relayed to band members.

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Chief Warrant Officer Gregory Stepp, commander of the 202nd Army Band leads musicians during a performance in Covington, Ky., June 29, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. 1st Class Steve Baker)

The next day the band traveled to Lexington for the first rehearsal with the University of Kentucky Singers. The UK Singers consisted of approximately 28 student-voices. The band and singers combined to participate in the Lexington Fourth of July Celebration “Salute to Heroes” event July 3. Transylvania University was kind enough to host the event on the grounds of Old Morrison and Gratz Park area. The rehearsal was exciting “under the big top” and all the performers spontaneously cheered when soloists as well as other special musical moments happened.

The gathered audience of approximately 12,000 was treated to a fantastic patriotic concert which consisted of a variety of American fanfare. Many compliments were conveyed to members of the band and the overwhelming message was “please come back next year”.

On to July 4 the band found themselves back in Lexington for the Fourth of July Parade. For city block after block there was little more than standing room for those in attendance. Band members said they really enjoyed themselves and created memories during this past week working with great people and performing for enthusiastic patrons will remain lasting impressions.

“The commitment to excellence in mission performance from all members of the 202nd was evident during Annual Training 2014,” said Chief Warrant Officer Gregory Stepp, commander of the 202nd. “Performing patriotic music on our nations birthday for 12,000 Kentuckians was a tremendous experience.”

“Serving our country through patriotic music performances and acknowledging those men and women who have served before us is a great honor for us”.

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Musicians with the 202nd Army Band perform at Newport on the Levy in Newport, Ky., July 9, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. 1st Class Steve Baker)

The band in its entirety consists of 40 members but is not limited to just the concert band ensemble but also has several MPTs. Current MPTs consist of the Jazz Combo, Rock Band “Fallout”, Brass Quartet, Marching Band, Dixieland Band, Woodwind Quintet and the newest addition, “Swamp Brass.” The Woodwind Quintet had several performances in the Covington area. These locations were the Ft. Thomas and Covington branches of the Campbell and Kenton County Libraries, the Lexington Public Library and Ft. Thomas Veterans Administration. Several of these performances were during the “children’s’ hour” and were themed to include puppet making and dancing.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to allow our community to experience talented musicians of the 202nd,” said Beth Eifler, ¬†Adult and Teen Services Librarian at Ft. Thomas Public Library. “They did a wonderful job tailoring the musical presentation to the children in attendance.”

One unplanned mission during the annual training was the opportunity to provide a vital and humbling service to our Veterans. Sgt. 1st Class Mike Embury recalls the story.

“Upon returning to the hotel from our first Woodwind Quintet performance I was approached by a hotel worker who had been speaking with a gentleman. The gentleman was introduced to me and he stated that he was a retired master sergeant. He then told me that he was here to bury his father the next day.”

The man stated “My Father was a World War II veteran and they couldn’t find a bugler to play Taps. We are going to have to use a tape if we don’t find someone, and that just isn’t the same”, he said as his eyes began to tear. “Is there any way at all your could play Taps?”

“I took his contact information and relayed to the unit’s leadership who then made arrangements for Pvt. Michael May to attend the ceremony and provide the honor of performing Taps.”

“When you consider our mission of providing musical support for our troop, there is no greater function of those missions than providing Taps. As part of the final ceremony for so many Veterans, it is followed by the presentation of the flag to the family of the deceased.” Embury adds, “As military musicians, being a part of this service is truly an honor because there is no substitute for the final call to rest that only can be provided by military musicians.”

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Members of the 202nd Army Band perform in Fort Thomas, Ky., June 30, 2014 as part of the unit’s annual training. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. 1st Class Steve Baker)

The band traveled to Newport, Kentucky July 9, where three MPTs performed at Newport on the Levy. This lunchtime performance of the concert band was preceded by a warm-up “mini” concert by the Woodwind Quintet. The day also included the debut of the newest MPT, “Swamp Brass” which is a street stomping style group. This group used the concept of a “flash mob” which started with the bass drum and snare drum. Slowly other members who had been “hiding” in stores and alley ways joined to form a very entertaining performance.

Included on this day was an evening concert by Rock Band MPT, “Fallout” in Georgetown, Kentucky. This street dance venue was well attended, and the Soldiers performed a very entertaining and spirited show. Those in attendance danced and sang with the popular group and were treated to a great enthusiastic night of music and fun.

July 11 brought the final concert of the summer tour. The Maysville Community and Technical College located in Maysville, Kentucky hosted the band members. The audience was enthusiastic and expressed their appreciating for all that the Soldiers in the unit do.

“My first annual training exceeded every expectation I could have had, it was very rewarding” said Spc. Cody Williams. ¬†“The days were incredibly long but we made sure we filled each hour with useful and meaningful rehearsals. I would like to thank every member of our unit for being so helpful and welcoming. From day one I always felt like I had been in the unit for years. I look forward to making some incredible music for years to come.”

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