One of my fondest memories of my time as a lieutenant (I don’t sound like an old Soldier there, do I? Yikes.) was serving as the Executive Officer of The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Band (although back then, it was called The U.S. Continental Army Band). There were a lot of great things about that assignment, but what truly set that band apart, in my humble opinion, was its summer concert series, “Music Under the Stars” or MUTS.
MUTS was/is one of the two best summer concert series of any military band that I’m aware of; the other being the concert series at Trophy Point by the West Point Band. MUTS was held June – August on Fort Monroe, VA (the band’s home before the base closed and TRADOC and its band moved to less than historic or beautiful Fort Eustis – sorry, but the truth hurts). While the concert series continues to this day at Ft. Eustis – this coming summer will be its 84th year – my memories are from the evenings spent on Continental Park overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.
Fort Monroe is a special place. Located along the Chesapeake Bay, it and its predecessor Old Point Comfort served a strategic military purpose for hundreds of years. Following the War of 1812 and the burning of Washington by the British, the fortification of Fort Monroe went under construction. Lt. Robert E. Lee – yes, that Robert E. Lee – oversaw the final phase of the fort’s construction between 1831-1834. The result was the largest stone fortress ever built in the United States, housing powerful 32-pound guns and featuring a moat as part of its defense.
It was an amazing place to work, especially for a history buff like me. The band’s facility was in the inner fortress, “inside the moat.” Continental Park is located outside the moat at the bottom of the above picture next to the historic Chamberlain Hotel. Every Thursday evening, from June -August, the band performed public concerts for an average audience of about 800 to a high of about 8,000 people (the largest crowd always turned out for the annual 1812 Concert that featured live cannon and fireworks). They came with their picnics every week to hear their Army band play. Prior to every concert, the commander and I would walk around and talk to audience members, many of whom had been attending for years.
The band was an integral part of the Ft. Monroe and Hampton Roads community. People who lived and worked on Ft. Monroe would walk over to Con Park in droves to hear their band perform. Hundreds to thousands of people drove on base every week during the summer months to hear the Army band. Those concerts helped bring the military and civilian communities together, and it gave the Commanding General (who lived a few feet away from the Park) an opportunity to relay his messages to the Hampton Roads community. With those concerts, the TRADOC Band made the public feel personally connected to the military and the Army. Their Army. The band told the Army story – America’s story – through music; it made people feel proud of their Army and their country by tapping into raw emotion the way only music truly can.
To see multiple generations of families sitting together enjoying music performed (well) by a U.S. Army band – giving them hope and strength, especially in the wake of 9/11 – gave me and all those stationed with the TRADOC Band tremendous satisfaction because we knew we made a difference in their lives.