The 122nd Army Band's 2016 summer tour — "Ohio Stands Ready" — is in the books, marking both a successful performance series and several major changes for Ohio's National Guard band. This year was the culmination of years of work that has changed the face of music in the United States Army; gone is the era of the Army Band Program, now here is the Army Music Program. This may seem like a superficial change of nomenclature, but it signifies a much larger change in the function, structure, and mission of Army bands.
The shift has been underway for several years and it's been evident in the evolving structure of the 122nd's summer concerts. Several years ago a typical concert may have consisted of a variety of musical pieces and styles, and in recent years the 122nd trended towards performances that encompassed a theme — such as the music of the Frank Sinatra or retelling the D-Day invasion of WWII through the tunes of the time. These concerts centered around the traditional wind-brass-and-percussion concert band.
Tour Ohio 2016 reflected upon the history of the Ohio National Guard with one central theme: Ohio Stands Ready. It told the story of the Ohio National Guard over the past 200+ years, marking the pivotal conflicts and crises to which Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen responded with courage and conviction. Telling this story required a shift in the performance structure for the 122nd — a concert band is perfect for Light Cavalry Overture and Sousa marches, but it's just not right for the big bands of WWII or the rock music that comprises the soundtrack of Vietnam, Desert Storm, and the modern War on Terror. To fill that need, the Soldiers of the 122nd pulled together a classic jazz band and for the first time incorporated the Flashbang rock band into the summer concert series.
As it goes with trying any new performance concept, however, we were anxious to see how our audiences respond — we were certain they would love it, but how much? There was only one way to find out: take the show on the road! But in our last days of rehearsal at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Columbus, the 122nd had to rise to the ethos of Ohio Stands Ready — our commander and director, Warrant Officer Joseph Lewis, was called away for the birth of his second child. SSG Emily Bennett stepped up to lead the band in Mr. Lewis's absence, ably leading the ensemble for the first leg of the tour.
Tour Ohio 2016 kicked off in downtown Wooster, where well over a thousand packed the town square. This was the first time the entire 122nd Army Band had performed so complex a show, and it was well received by the people of Wooster. Our next performance was at the Guy C. Meyers Band shell in Ashland, followed by a concert in Boardman as part of their Music in the Park concert series.
The next day, the band returned home to Columbus for two days of parades marking our nation's Independence Day. First was the annual Red, White, and Boom parade through downtown Columbus with SGT William Thomas leading off as drum major for the evening. The next morning, SSG Emily Bennett stepped off as drum major of our second parade in Sunbury, Ohio.
We hit the road to begin the next leg of our Ohio Stands Ready tour in the northwestern part of the state. First up was the familiar Riverside Amphitheater in Findlay, where hundreds crowded the park for what's become something of a home away from home for the band. The next day we headed to Elmwood High School in Bloomdale for our annual alumni concert, welcoming back former members of the 122nd and the 555th Ohio Air National Guard Band for the final part of our concert. We also were delighted to invite former 122nd trumpeter and local jazz artist Al Parr to join in for the big band portion of the performance, even soloing during Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. For our final performance of our Annual Training period, we headed down to the beautiful North Park Amphitheater in Springboro.
A month later, the 122nd returned to one of our favorite performance sites: the Village Green in downtown Worthington. This performance has become something of a "home" show for the band, and as usual a great crowd came out for the final concert of Tour Ohio 2016.
This summer marked several significant changes for the band. This was Mr. Lewis’s first tour as commander and conductor of the 122nd, after 14 years touring as an enlisted trombone player. Specialists Michael Greene, Casey Rhine, and Dan Stevens marked their first tour with the band, and SPC Erin Kessler, who has served as an Army musician in both the Ohio and Louisiana National Guards, was promoted to Sergeant at the Worthington show.
With Tour Ohio 2016 closed out, we’re already looking forward to our next performances in 2017 and beyond. We appreciate the support of our hosts, audiences, and the citizens of Ohio in making these concerts possible, and we hope we’ll see you all at future shows!