TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – On October 8, 2017, a devastating wildfire broke out and ripped through the counties of Napa and Sonoma in Northern California.
The fire destroyed over 6,500 homes and killed over 40 people. Thousands were impacted by the disaster including musicians from the United States Air Force Band of the Golden West and Napa Valley Youth Symphony.
The day the fires broke out, the two musical groups had practiced together for the very first time under a new initiative orchestrated by Master Sgt. Andrew Benton, rock band “Mobility” of the USAF BOTGW music director. Benton had taken a successful program from his last assignment at the Air Force Academy where the band performed side-by-side with local youth symphonies, and persuaded his leadership at Travis to try the same.
“I requested that we try this program at Travis because of the success I saw first-hand at the academy,” said Benton. “It requires a lot of time, effort and resources but I got the green light and we made it happen.”
Benton came up with the idea after performing for students during several venues. Seeing their reactions and the excitement on their faces encouraged him to pursue the joint venture.
“At some point we decided that instead of performing for students, it would be great to perform with students,” said Benton. “Our ultimate intension was to make this a collaborative educational community outreach effort.”
The program is designed to combine the musical talents of both groups and put on a performance that is challenging yet accommodating to the level of experience.
“They have an opportunity to perform some of their own classical works,” said Benton. “The music is written at a youth orchestra level, however it’s meant to be challenging, not only to accompany the rock band, but to have some standout moments themselves.”
The opportunity to perform alongside with a rock band is a dream come true for Sadie Carpenter, a Napa resident and violinist with the Napa Valley Youth Symphony.
“I like to play classical music, but playing pop songs is really something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Carpenter. “When we get to play fun songs like that, we all get pumped up about it.”
Carpenter knows first-hand the impact the fires had on the community because she and her family were affected directly.
“We had to evacuate the night of the fires because they were burning across the street from our home,” said Carpenter. “We spent the next two weeks at a friend’s house not knowing if our home was still standing.”
Carpenter’s home was saved but many of her friends’ homes in the neighborhood were not. Having gone through the uncertainty and experience of the destructive fires, Carpenter has a new perspective on things.
“It just made me think about what was really important in my life,” said Carpenter. “I’m really happy to have what I have and the opportunity to play in a symphony.”
Carpenter believes that moving forward with the concert at this time is the right thing for the band and the community.
“I think it’s really good that we’re doing this,” said Carpenter. “It’s like a relief and we can all just play together and enjoy what we set out to do before the fires disrupted that.”
Another musician affected by the fires was Katie Haubold, also from Napa and a violinist with the Napa Valley Youth Symphony. Haubold’s family took people into their home who had to be evacuated because of the fires.
“We had 15 people staying in our home for over a week during the fires,” said Haubold. “Most I knew, but some I didn’t. We just wanted to do our part to help those going through this horrible situation.”
Haubold is thankful that the concert is back on and she gets to perform the music she practiced with the band before the fires.
“I’m really glad we get to do this because I was kind of bummed when it was cancelled,” said Haubold. “Since it’s my first year in the youth symphony I’ve only played classical music, so it’s really fun to play different music with a band.”
Now that the concert is back on, Tristan Arnold, Napa Valley Youth Symphony, artistic director, is excited to see his students perform through the adversity.
“The kids are excited again,” said Arnold. “That music has been sitting in their folders for three or four months. We have amazing families here, we had some students who actually had to physically defend their homes from fire.”
Arnold also understands the significance of playing with members of the U.S. Air Force.
“My grandfather was a Navy veteran in World War II,” said Arnold. “I also have an uncle who served in the Army overseas in Germany. I’m grateful for their service and all of our military personnel.”
It was also a great opportunity and experience for Tech. Sgt. Clint Whitney, Mobility rock band guitarist.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to join forces with the community and the future of this country,” said Whitney “It brings people together in such a unique light, it’s an experience that these kids may never have again.”
The concert won’t bring back homes or the people that were lost in the fires, but they will at least for one night, bring communities together to celebrate music.
“It was an emotional time for everyone, to realize that these fires are knocking on our doorsteps,” said Whitney. “Now we get to celebrate communities coming together, we’re better together, we’re stronger together.”