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The Mission Goes On Despite Pandemic

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Ani Berberian
  • The United States Air Force Band

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the members of the U.S. Air Force Band have kept busy fulfilling their mission support duties in order to keep the unit running, performing for funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, and have been also heavily involved in virtual outreach projects and recordings.

Live performances have been impacted by COVID-19, due to safety concerns and the size of some of the larger flights, such as the Concert Band. However, for The U.S. Air Force Band’s premier rock band, Max Impact, their live performance mission has come to life again, recently with their Veteran’s Day performance at the MGM Grand Hotel in Oxon Hill, MD.

The event was hosted by ESPN’s Malika Andrews, and featured Max Impact and select members of the Air Force Strings, Concert Band, Ceremonial Brass and Singing Sergeants, with special guest appearances by country music sensations, Kellie Pickler and Chris Janson.

The musicians of the U.S. Air Force Band were ecstatic to perform live again. Senior Master Sgt. Matt Ascione, guitarist with Max Impact, states, “It felt great to perform live once again with the band! These last eight months have been tough on everyone, and having this live performance was very healing for many of us.”

Technical Sgt. Gabriel Staznik, who is the percussionist for Max Impact, shared the same sentiment.  He explains, “Having this performance opportunity was very motivating during a time when so many live performance opportunities have been taken away from musicians for many months. Starting the moment we opened with the first song, I could feel the energy on stage from the musicians enjoying the experience of a live audience. Nothing replaces the feeling of how live music makes you feel when you connect with people through music.”

Safety protocols were utilized in the creation of the live audience. Tables of three were spaced more than six feet apart, audience members were required to wear masks, and only a select number of audience members were allowed in the performance space.

Other safety protocols were utilized in the preparation and staging of the performance. Sgt. Staznik explains, “Our Music Director, Technical Sgt. Mike Wittrien, did a fantastic job of preparing the band with limited rehearsals. With Chris Janson, we only had one opportunity to run those songs with him before the show. This really showcased the professionalism of the band.”

“Throughout the process and while at the MGM many safety measures were in place including daily temperature checks, distancing, masks, and air purifiers throughout the venue. Many people were working behind the scenes to make this performance a success. A huge thank you and shout out goes to the teams of production, audio engineers, marketing, and leadership of the USAF Band that made the show flawless!” adds Sgt. Staznik. 

There were many memorable moments of this performance that honored our past and present veterans. Sgt. Ascione states, “My favorite part of the performance was the collaborative effort between the Air Force Band and the artists playing with us. Also, Chris Jansen was very complimentary of Max Impact, and he professed his deep respect for all servicemen and women serving around the world.”

However, for Sgt. Ascione, there was a particularly special moment in the performance, one that featured one of his original songs, entitled, “Faded Heroes.”

“It is always humbling to see a song that you have written come to life, and to have someone like Kellie Pickler sing a portion of it. The collaboration was set up by Chief of Production, Chief Master Sgt. Dennis Hoffmann, and Kelly was more than eager to be part of the event. She recorded her part in Nashville, then we matched it up in post-production. It looked and sounded as if we were all playing together, so it was a definitive success!” adds Sgt. Ascione.

A total of 96,000 people tuned in to the virtual live event on FaceBook, and elicited an enormous emotional response from some of its viewers.One viewer stated, “A fitting tribute to our brave veterans, and over-the-top wonderful performances!”

Another viewer commented, “Thanks for your service, and for putting this show on supporting ALL of the military families!”

This special live Veteran’s Day performance can be accessed from YouTube and also The U.S. Air Force Band’s FaceBook Page.