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Sugarland Redstone Arsenal Army Concert Tour

(Photo by Rob McIlvaine, FMWRC Public Affairs, cleared for public release, not for commercial use, attribution requested.)


No doubt about it, the U.S. Army brings quality entertainment


By Rob McIlvaine

FMWRC Public Affairs


If any doubt about the U.S. Army’s ability to bring top-quality, world class entertainment to Soldiers and their Families ever existed, those who attended the opening show for this summer’s Concert Tour had their fears put to rest at Redstone Arsenal on Saturday night, May 16.


The Army delivered, big time.


Some doubted the concert would happen. After all, the rain came down in buckets the night before and left deep puddles on the grounds all around the stage. Saturday’s 100 percent chance of more rain with huge thunderstorms, winds and lightening was promised by early morning meteorologists.


The battle to turn the tides was on.


Thirty Soldiers and Marines, Army Entertainment Division personnel, a four-man stage building crew, and 70 crewmembers from country sensation Sugarland made sure the air became filled with lights and music at 5:30 p.m. at this Alabama military installation in the heart of the Tennessee Valley.


“We’ve done this dance before on this very stage,” David Haskell, Sugarland production manager said of the stormy threat with a huge smile on his face.


“This time last year when we played Orange Beach, Ala., we had two inches of standing water on this stage. At Jamboree in the Hills on the West Va. and Ohio border, it was ankle deep,” Haskell said with a twinkle in his eye.


The huge steel stage was something of a good luck charm. It saw this group of people with Sugarland through at least the last seven performances in the U.S. and Canada. Besides the stage, the crew, after traveling across nine states and three countries, had learned to work together through any hazard.


With the help of the Soldiers and Marines, the concert was almost guaranteed to come off without a hitch.


Glenn Smith of Glenn Smith Presents from Texas is the tour promoter for the Army Concert Tour. When asked how the band felt about playing he said they’re always ready to perform, but it’s not up to them when it comes to adverse conditions.


“It’s up to us and how we feel about the conditions for the people coming to hear the band tonight. The gate opens at 5:30 tonight and we’ll wait until the last possible minute before calling it off,” Smith said.

According to Kenneth “Gorriller” Matthews, Army Concert Tour production manager, contingency plans were already in place.


“We have the garrison’s golf course people coming in to pump out the puddles of water. We’ll lay down sawdust and plywood next. The field will be fine.”


Derrick Gould, DFMWR director, agreed.


“I just talked with Colonel Robert Pastorelli, garrison commander, and we’re going ahead as planned. Only lightening will put a stop to the show,” Gould said.


“The best thing about playing on military bases, they’ve got everything we need to keep the show going,” Haskell said. “They’ve got the “can do” attitude that gets the job done


At 4 p.m., the wind picked up, the rain started coming in and then lightening struck not too far off in the distance. The volunteers, people manning the booths, military personnel and local police were all told to leave the grounds

But nearly 10,500 people who had bought tickets were not to be denied.


By 5 p.m., they began walking back in, piling up outside the gate, ready to hear Matt Nathanson, Billy Currington, and the headliner, Sugarland.


“I love Sugarland, especially the singer, Jennifer Nettles,” said Yenny Acevedo, whose husband, David, is currently in Iraq on his third deployment.


“My family and I love to listen to them,” Kent Cook, retired Army, said. His daughter, 17-year-old Suzanne seemed the happiest to be attending the concert.


“I just like the words of her songs,” Caroline Whalen said. “There’s no sugar coating…she writes about life just the way it is.” Caroline’s father is on his second tour in Iraq.


“Sugarland’s music is upbeat and fun to dance to,” Emily Love, 16, said. Her 18-year-old friend, Kristen Sampson agreed. Both were ready to dance in the mud in their cowgirl boots.


Mother Nature responded by slowing down the rain and the gates opened at 5:30 with people rushing for the choicest spots in front of the stage.


With rain picking up speed again, Nathanson, a former “school troubadour” and current San Francisco-based singer-songwriter took the stage, followed by Currington, another singer-songwriter who burst onto the Nashville scene with his self-titled debut album. With Top Ten singles, “I Got a Feelin’” and “Walk a Little Straighter,” Shania Twain tapped him to be her duet partner in their smash hit “Part for Two.”


As if in deference to the next singer, the rain again slowed up.


The stage lights went dark, the music hinted of impending greatness, the screams from the crowd crescendoed until slowly emerging through the mist and the darkness, Jennifer Nettles burst onto the stage with Kristian Bush and his finger-pickin’ strings.


The theatrics of the staging with the interplay of lights, hanging chandeliers, huge video screen and the use of lighted umbrellas, along with the singing and sometimes poetic, sometimes mesmerizing dancing of Ms. Nettles, created an electric connection with the crowd that did not let up until almost 11:30 that night.


The rain never stopped. But not many in the crowd felt it, thanks to the talent and heart pounding drums, bass and voice that filled the air.


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Taken on May 17, 2009