The fiery explosions of hundreds of fireworks will serve as the culmination of the annual Greenwood Freedom Festival.
Thousands of people will crowd into Craig Park to ooh and aah as the bursts of color illuminate the sky.
But before the pyrotechnics begin, another explosive force will rock the crowd with percussion, horns and woodwinds.
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As the lead-in to the fireworks display, it will be the Air National Guard’s Band of the Midwest putting festival-goers in a patriotic mood. The musical division travels throughout the central portion of the U.S. and beyond, performing everything from big band classics to Sousa marches to rock ‘n’ roll favorites.
The opportunity to come to Greenwood, and other communities like it, is as rewarding for the musicians as it is the audiences that come to see them.
“It’s one of the greatest jobs I’ve ever had,” said Master Sgt. Doug Mattsey, who plays tuba, euphonium, trombone and sings in the band. “When we go to all kinds of different communities, seeing the smiling faces and shaking hands, going out into the public such as playing ‘America the Beautiful’ and have 500 people spontaneously rise and put their hands on their hearts, it fills me with pride.”
The Air National Guard Band of the Midwest has been performing for more than 50 years, with roots stretching back to World War II. The group was originally formed in 1941 in Boise, Idaho, where it was activated as the 66th Army Air Force Band. Two years later, it was renamed the 566th Air Force Band.
Though the band has been headquartered in numerous different areas and attached to various military units, it is now attached to the Peoria Air Guard and the 182nd Airlift Wing in Illinois.
The band was created to increase public awareness of the U.S. Air Force and the Air National Guard, Mattsey said. Throughout its history, it has played in front of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, elected state government officials and the U.S. President.
One of its more rewarding missions is to go to veterans homes throughout the Midwest to play for World War II, Korean War and other veterans. The goal is to let them know that their sacrifices and duty to their country is not forgotten, Mattsey said.
Performing at official ceremonies and community relations concerts, the band’s 40 members help the general public put a face to the men and women of military service.
“Folks don’t feel great about spending their taxes a lot. Many times, we’re the only face of the military that they will ever meet,” he said. “When our band comes into town, we can tell the story about what their military is doing.”
To go along with their performance, the band will promote what Airmen are doing in their own states and communities.
When the Mississippi River floods its banks, or when a tornado struck Washington, Illinois, it was the band that helped people realize that it was the Air National Guard assisting in those situations, Mattsey said.
“We tell people the story of what their tax dollars are going towards,” he said.
Spots in the Band of the Midwest are hard to come by and only come open on rare occasions. When a vacancy needs to be filled, band leadership conducts auditions.
Those chosen for the band then sign up to join the Air National Guard and are sent to basic training, just like every other recruit.
For 8½ weeks at Lackland Air Force Base outside of San Antonio, Texas, they march in formation, learn basic combat and survival skills, as well as how to communicate on the battlefield.
But once their basic training is finished, instead of going to one of the Air Force’s technical schools, they go right into the band.
“They already have the technical ability to play in the ensemble at the level we need,” Mattsey said. “They go right in and we start playing for the public.”
Being a military band, it could be assumed that the Band of the Midwest performs band marches and other rousing patriotic songs. And they do, Mattsey said.
But the repertoire of the band goes well beyond John Phillip Sousa and Robert Browne Hall. Within the band itself, 10 ensembles and smaller groups perform and can break out on specific songs.
“We try to hire members who can wear two or three different hats, if you will,” Mattsey said. “We all perform together in the concert band, but we can break apart from that larger group into several smaller groups.”
The Harmony in Blue ensemble performs swinging jazz music, from classic big band to modern compositions. Dixie Blue features Dixieland and New Orleans-style jazz for an upbeat show.
Permanent Party is the band’s rock ‘n roll arm, featuring a five-piece horn section to help capture everything from Chicagoland blues to alternative rock.
“The average person doesn’t just listen to one style of music. The radio has a bunch of different dials on it for a reason,” Mattsey said. “We also want to show exactly how diverse and how talented their Air National Guard members are, and we do that by utilizing many different skill sets.”
Greenwood Freedom Festival
Where: Craig Park
Noon: Parade, starting at Meridian Street and Surina Way
1 p.m.: Booths open throughout Craig Park, with food, crafts, games and vendors
1 p.m.: Microbrew and wine, Greenwood Amphitheater, featuring Oaken Barrel Brewing, MashCraft Brewing, Planetary Brewing, Mallow Run Winey and sangria from Johnny Carino’s. Proceeds from the sales benefit Greenwood Parks and Recreation
2 p.m.: Freedom Jam, a band competition with nine groups aiming for a chance to be a main-stage act next year.
2 to 8 p.m.: Kids Zone, face painting, bounce houses and kids entertainment, featuring the magic of Travis Easterling at 2 and 7 p.m.
3 p.m.: Shelby County Sinners; Greenwood Amphitheater
4:30 p.m.: Meadow Ryann; Greenwood Amphitheater
5:15 p.m.: Woomblies Rock Orchestra; Greenwood Amphitheater
6:45 p.m.: Angela White and Marvin Parrish; Greenwood Amphitheater
7:30 p.m.: Tastes Like Chicken; Greenwood Amphitheater
8 p.m.: Honor Our Heroes, a special ceremony honoring military, police, firefighters, first responders and others who serve our country and communities, presented by Grace Assembly of God
8 p.m.: Air National Guard Band of the Midwest, Harmony in Blue jazz ensemble.
10:15 p.m.: Fireworks