Looking back on our short time in Afghanistan, the experience of playing and just being there was one that I will never forget. It definitely was a whirlwind weekend, traveling on a Friday and coming back on Monday; with three gigs there. Here is a look back to Friday, departure day.
Traveling to such a place requires some extra "gear," that being protective armor and a weapon. Even though we would be staying on the base for our time there, it is always good to take all the extra precautions. Our ride was a C-130J model this time, a newer/faster plane that we have yet to be on. About a 4 1/2 hour journey from Qatar. We left late in the day, and with a time change, I prepared myself for an intense landing in the dark. It is known that pilots will do some "evasive maneuvers" when landing. Actually, it was one of the smoothest landings yet! But still in the dark, nonetheless. The plane was pretty much completely blacked out for landing, minus a few dark green "night vision" type lights. Definitely a neat thing to see the loadmasters on our plane unloading our gear with night vision goggles strapped to their helmets!
We were greeted by an excited team that showed us to our dorm style lodging and helped with our bags. We don't usually get the "rockstar" treatment like that, but in a place like Kabul, none of us in the band needed to be wandering off trying to find these locations on the base! The next day was very busy, playing at a barbecue for U.S. And coalition forces. In addition, playing the big show at night for troops from 12 countries represented! The night show was most likely the most responsive and fun crowd we have had, like people cheering after solos, and thunderous applause after each tune. Being that we were the first band to come through in well over a year, a night off with some live music was much appreciated. Even continuing the days we were there, I'd be eating breakfast and a Turkish soldier would come up to me saying how much he enjoyed the show. Amazing! Side note: the Turkish dining facility we ate at everyday was BY FAR the greatest food I've had on a military installation. Shawarma for lunch, the cheese and olive selection, AND an espresso machine?? Forgeddaboutit. Thank you Turkey!
We try to treat every show, no matter what the circumstances (venue, audience) with as much energy as possible, but this show on Saturday night really brought the band to another level. Anyone who has performed on stage with a live audience knows the feeling of the the crowd really giving it to you. In turn, you'll keep giving it back, and we did just that! It really felt like the band was firing on all cylinders. Not to say we don't usually do, but given the fact of where we were, who we were representing and the sheer joy we were bringing these people really upped the ante. I was really happy with my solo that night in the tune "Best Day of My Life by American Authors. Drum talk alert:
I've been experimenting and trying to get my left foot hi-hat ositinatos happening, so the one in particular I've been doing is splash open/close and close/open. It has been a great independence exercise to have that over my right foot and hands. That tune sits at a good "March" tempo around 100 bpm, so there are a lot of fun possibilities with implied time (love the continuous dotted quarter at that tempo) all while keeping that left foot cranking with the ositinato. It is the stuff like this that makes playing these songs night after night great, picking my little moments to improvise a different feel or fill without hurting the pulse of the song all the while still making it feel good for the rest of the band. I've had my share of trying some crazy fills that don't really work in the context of a pop song, especially if the vocalist misses an entrance after it...that being said, I feel like this gig is a great chance to try those things and learn from them. I have a great bass player that can pretty much read my musical mind at this point, so I know when something works and it doesn't with him. A blast indeed...
Many of the people we spoke to were deployed to Kabul for a year, and never thought they'd see some live entertainment during their time deployed. If we could come in for a few days with a "taste of home," it is the least we can do as fellow military members. It really was an honor. Sunday saw us playing a concert during the daytime, as sort of the foundation of a gathering with higher leadership of the Afghan Air Force and our U.S. Leaders. I have to admit, this was the first time that I was a little uneasy, but once I saw everyone having a good time, I was able to focus on the task at hand: making these people happy with a great show! It is not everyday you see our Afghan partners bopping their heads and "Shaking it off," to T-Swift. (That is actually in a loose quote being sent to leadership at the Pentagon, noting what an impact the band made during our visit). After some pictures and an impromptu drum lesson (see below!) we were off to build our pallet for the flight out the next day...
The flight home was a long one, a 5 1/2 hour trip. But, I got to do something I thought I'd never do, ride in the cockpit of a C-130 for takeoff! I learned that all you have to do is ask...I'll let the pictures speak for themselves!