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The Sequester Means St. Louis Gets An Extra Dose Of Regional Air Force Band

Tim Lloyd
St. Louis Public Radio

The so-called sequester is going to take some military pomp out of summer events across the country.

Budget cuts have forced the Golden Knights, the Army’s signature parachute team, to cancel several of its performances.

The same goes for the The Navy’s Blue Angels.

Military bands aren’t immune from the cuts, either; travel restrictions have forced them to cancel shows from coast to coast.

But in a twist, we’re going to be seeing the local Air Force band a whole lot more than we normally would.  

Working on local relationships

John Barnes is totally psyched.

The big guy with a full beard, short ponytail and a bohemian vibe is a band director here at East St. Louis High School. 

“It’s really, really cool,” Barnes says.  “It’s really special.”

What’s so cool is the sound that’s wafting out of the gym on a recent morning.

Credit Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
Technical Sergeant Keisha Gwin-Goodin (left) and band leader, Major Cristina Moore Urrutia (right), during an Air Force Band of Mid-America concert at East St. Louis High School

It’s the Air Force’s full Band of Mid-America warming up before, figuratively speaking,  it blows the roof off the place.

In a normal year, a gig like this would be off the map for the band, which is based at Scott Air Force base near Belleville.

“We often don’t get a chance to these particular types of things because of all the travel that we’re doing,” says the band’s leader, Major Cristina Moore Urrutia.  “So, this has given us an opportunity to in particular work on our relationships into East St. Louis, into St. Louis and the greater St. Louis area.”

Budget cuts have resulted in them turning down close to 60 shows across the band’s region, which spans 10 states.

The rules are generally flexible enough to get individual or small groups of musicians to most events, including funerals for soldiers. But the full band, complete with horn section, added percussion and tandem lead singers, has to stay close to home.

So, with part of their mission to engage the community, Major Moore Urrutia says shows like this one at East St. Louis High School take on added importance.  

“I think mission success is just seeing their faces,” Moore Urrutia says. “When we perform the way music affects people, and how it gives them encouragement.  So, mission success is just seeing those faces.”  

"It just spoke."

As band members take their places, sophomore Morgan Brown takes a seat near the front row.

“The march, I just wanted to get up and start dancing, you know!” Brown says.  “It was very articulate.   It was just so upbeat, the tonguing, the articulation, the dynamics, it just spoke.  You could really feel the music, the different genes, the styles.” 

Listen to the complete performance of the Air Force Band of Mid-America at East St. Louis High School.

As the show stretches on the band kicks into high gear, revving up into a stadium rock thump and the students love it.  

Senior Terrion Peete says he was blown away by the band’s technical prowess, but it’s a chance encounter with some of the musicians before the show that had the biggest impact.

Credit Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
The Air Force Band of Mid-America performs at East St. Louis High School.

“I play piano and I asked if I could play around a little,” Peete says.  “And they saw me playing and I had a group surround me telling me how good I sound and they want to come by and play with me some time.”

From schools to libraries to art shows, representatives for the band say they’ve added 50 local shows scheduled for the coming months.

So, while it’s anybody’s guess what the odds are Congress will reach a long-term budget deal, one thing is for sure - at least for this year, the St. Louis region will be seeing a whole lot more of the Air Force’s Band of Mid-America.  

Follow Tim Lloyd on Twitter: @TimSLloyd

Tim Lloyd was a founding host of We Live Here from 2015 to 2018 and was the Senior Producer of On Demand and Content Partnerships until Spring of 2020.