Residents of Wheatland and a few other neighboring towns enjoyed jazz and Celtic music played by the town’s locally based Wyoming Army National Guard 67th Army Band on Aug. 20, at the annual Green Harvest Festival.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rob Phillips, who has been the commander of the unit since February 2013, is proud and enthusiastic about the unique and popular songs played by two of the 67th’s music performance teams.
“One is called the Warrior Bard and plays Celtic and Americana,” he said, with musicians wielding a mandolin, flute, bass, a few banjos and guitar. “The other team is a jazz combo called the Steamboat Express, and usually plays at dining-ins such as the Governor’s Ball and other formal events.”
The teams range from five to eight soldiers and focus on genres to meet the refined tastes of their listeners. For years the 67th Army Band has performed as a concert band, which required all 40 members of the band to be present. This put both a logistical and financial strain on the unit.
Staff Sgt. John Kumm, the longest serving member of the band and part of the team called Independence Rock, which plays rock ’n’ roll, says the teams have been used more frequently over the past three to four years. Overall, “the changes are exceptional,” he said. “Soldiers are coming into a good environment.”
The structure of the teams streamlined the process of performing, allowing individual teams more flexibility to perform. Kumm said the small groups are run by their team leaders, which make it easier to arrange travel and housing.
At the festival, two of the 67th Band teams were the featured event Saturday.
“It’s sort of a farewell to summer and as the kids start back to school,” said 1st Sgt. Katherine Zwiefel, who rejoined the 67th in January, as the unit’s top NCO. She remembered the band regularly played at Green Harvest, but with the full concert band. “We consider it an honor and a privilege to play for the community,” she said.
Attending the concert, clad in black vests and bandanas, Len Anderson, the commander of American Legion Post 95 in Guernsey, brought a contingent of about a dozen veterans, on motorcycles.
“(The concert) is a good deal,” Anderson said. “As long as Sgt. 1st Class Jaime Anderson keeps coming out. She’s a good singer.”
At one point during the Warrior Bard’s set, the audience joined in as Sgt. 1st Class Anderson sang “America the Beautiful,” and they laughed along with the musicians as they gave a playful rendition of “Cool Water,” with Phillips as lead vocal.
Authorized 40 positions, the band is facing loss with a spate of intrastate transfers and retirements, according to Phillips. Two young soldiers taking up some of the slack, Spc. Jake McDonald, 19, the youngest in the unit, and Pfc. Austin Beck, 22, joined the unit this year.
A native of Berthoud, Colorado, McDonald has played the saxophone for 10 years, and didn’t consider himself particularly gifted.
“My aunt had a son who played sax, and I took it as a hand-me-down,” he said. He enlisted with the Guard after abandoning his attempt to complete a criminal justice program through the ROTC program at the University of Wyoming. That’s when he met one of the band’s team leaders, Sgt. John Moore.
“He recommended I try out,” McDonald said. In a three-song audition in front of Phillips and Moore, he was given their blessing in time for an annual training trip in June to Rapid City, South Dakota, where the band played for tourists at Mount Rushmore. “I love every second of it. And, I get to wear the uniform.”
On the day of the Green Harvest concert, Beck, a resident of Afton, learned he had been assigned to play in the Dixie Band, another music performance team. When Beck first entered the Wyoming Army Guard, he served in the 1041st Engineering Company for two years before transferring to the 67th Army Band. His interest in music originated with family, sparked by his father’s talent for banging on the drums. Like McDonald, he too, played the sax in high school, counting John Coltrane as his idol, and a particular favorite tune, “Blue Moon.” Originally, he said, his dad inspired his interest in music.
For more information on the Wyoming Army National Guard’s 67th Army Band, contact Staff Sgt. Stewart Dyer at 307-322-3052, ext. 4425.