On a return visit to Homer, the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific's "Top Cover" is set to bring its upbeat rhythms to local students and a free performance for the public.
The band -- comprised of Senior Master Sgt. Michael Williams on piano, Technical Sgt. Dennis Pack on guitar, Technical Sgt. Clint Whitney performing vocals and on guitar, Staff Sgt. Natalie Madison-Rascoe also performing vocals, Staff Sgt. Mike Henrie on drums and percussion, Senior Airman Jordan Kimble on bass and Staff Sgt. Josh Deal providing audio engineering -- will perform:
* Feb. 26, noon: Homer Middle School student concert;
* Feb. 27, 2:30 p.m.: Homer High School student concert;
* Feb. 27, 7 p.m.: Mariner Theater free public concert.
"It's always fun to play for the students and the community," said Williams, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the band, of the upcoming visit to Homer.
The band has two components. Top Cover, the one performing in Homer, plays popular music from the 1950s until today.
"We try to mix it up with anything that's a fun kind of song," said Williams.
The second component is a brass quintet that performs for ceremonial functions, as well as community concerts.
As in past years, Linda Rourke, a teacher at Homer Middle School, is instrumental in arranging the band's visit.
"The kids like the entertainment and the community likes the entertainment. It's good music," said Rourke. "In addition, it lets the kids see that there's a variety in life. Generally, kids don't see people in the military as musicians."
The importance of education is "a big thing we like to talk to the kids about," said Williams. "What they see on stage is a lot of fun, but basically it's a result of all the schooling we did."
As an example, Williams has a bachelor of arts in music from Thomas Edison State College and a master's certificate in arranging from Berklee College of Music. He began his military career in 1992 with the U.S. Army Band Program, and has performed and arranged music in numerous settings, including keyboardist with the Broadway touring show of "Beauty and the Beast" and classical performances with the Tokyo Symphony. He also has performed for multiple dignitaries, including Presidents William Clinton and George W. Bush.
"We try to spend some time when we perform talking about music in general as well as what we do in our jobs in the Air Force and all the things that can be possible through studying hard and continuing to work at something," said Williams.
The seventh- through eighth-grade Homer Middle School performance offers an opportunity for sixth-graders from West Homer and McNeil Canyon elementary schools and Fireweed Academy to spend some time at the middle school.
"It's a little bit of a transition activity for them to be part of our league for the day," said Rourke.
After the Air Force became a separate branch of service on September 1947, the Army Air Forces Band was redesignated the 752nd Air Force Band and activated at Fort Richardson in December 1947. It has earned 10 Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards.
Through the years, the band has toured across the state.
"We just returned from the Sitka Jazz Festival and performed in Juneau and Ketchikan," said Williams. "We've played all the way up to Nome and one group just got back from King Salmon. We do our best to try to hit as much of the state as we can."
What sets this visit apart from past performances in Homer is that it is likely the band's last tour in Alaska, with Homer as its only stop. Currently, the Air Force Band of the Pacific has units in Yokota Air Base, Tokyo, Japan; Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Honolulu, Hawaii; and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage. Budget cuts and other considerations mean reducing the band to two, instead of three, locations, Japan and Hawaii.
Rourke said it wasn't until after the band's visit to Homer this month was scheduled that she learned it would probably be its last tour in the state.
"I said 'How did I get that?'" said Rourke of her surprise when Henrie told her of the upcoming change. "He said, 'You asked.' I feel fortunate we're getting them down here. We're excited to see them again."
The band's visit is sponsored by HMS, with lodging provided by Ocean Shores Motel.
For more about the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific, visit www.banDofthepacific.af.mil.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.