TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — The high point of vocalist and flutist Master Sgt. Sherry Burt’s tour with the band The Blue Yonders in Southwest Asia was at an International School for a room full of children.
“Some of the kids came up on stage and danced with us,” said Burt.
For guitarist and bass player Staff Sgt. Jonathan Biccum, it was performing at a small forward operating base somewhere in Afghanistan where the audience was continually reinforced by soldiers just coming back from missions outside the wire.
The Blue Yonders’ seven members spent almost four months on the road in Southwest Asia, performing 65 shows in nine countries in gigs ranging from formal receptions in U.S. embassies and missions for orphans to stages made out of pallets at forward bases in Afghanistan and aircraft hangars in what members refer to only as “undisclosed locations.”
“We really liked it. It surpassed all our expectations,” said the group’s musical director, Staff Sgt. Paul Wells.
“It was awesome for me to be over there and to see the work being done,” Burt said. “We are proud to be able to serve them.”
The Blue Yonders came together in early 2013 to offer a mix of traditional and not-so-traditional Irish and bluegrass music, with pop, country and modern rock mixed in.
Inspired by the increasing popularity of Irish music in pop culture brought about by groups such as Flogging Molly, the group gives the public another opportunity to enjoy the musicians who are part of the U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West, of which The Blue Yonders is a part.
The group packed their bags and left Travis on Aug. 12 to first take courses to prepare them for deployment that included a combat skills course in Texas, before heading overseas.
With a wide range of audiences, the group had to put together a playlist of music that had to run the gamut from music for children to adult service members.
What pleasantly surprised them the most was all the musical talent they encountered at airfields and forward operating bases that included a mandolin player with the 1st Cavalry Division to an aircraft maintainer “who had a real nice country baritone voice and was a good guitar player,” Wells said.
More than a few of those they played for showed themselves talented enough in informal after-performance jams to be invited back the next night to perform with The Blue Yonders. That added a very welcome additional dimension to the group, members said.
“They would also take us out to show us what they do,” said Biccum, who said it gave him a better appreciation for how fellow service members are serving their country.
Vocalist and accordian player Staff Sgt. Brandon May said the group was proud to give their military audience a much-deserved break from their work.
“One guy who came up after the show told me, ‘You turned a bad day into a good night’,” said audio engineer Staff Sgt. Lou Kohley.
In addition to Biccum, Burt, Wells, May and Kohley, The Blue Yonders also included Senior Airman Meg May and Airman 1st Class Ben Johnson.
The Blue Yonders are next expecting to perform on tour in February with the U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West and then put on several local shows in this area in March, one of which will be performing in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day.
For more information about The Blue Yonders and the U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West, go to www.bandofthegoldenwest.af.mil/events/index.asp or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bandofthegoldenwest.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.