WASHINGTON – The owners of a musical landmark on the outskirts of the nation’s capital and a vocalist who uses her talents to entertain U.S. troops kicked off Fourth of July festivities for local service members here last night as a way of thanking them for their service.
Gary Oelze and Ralph Capobianco, co-owners of the Birchmere Music Hall, closed their doors to the general public to treat about 150 veterans, reservists and active-duty military to an evening of free food. Then musician Jenny Boyle and her band took the stage to “wow” the crowd as she belted out a mix of original work and classic hits that had the crowd hanging on her every syllable.
“We’ve both been in the service,” said Capobianco, a former Naval aviator. “We were pleased to close off the venue for our service members.”
Oelze, a former Air Force pilot, said it was a fun way to thank the crowd for their military service.
Boyle is no stranger to military audiences. The singer has traveled to 26 countries to perform for troops, in addition to performing multiple times at the Pentagon and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C.
“This is how I thank these folks for what they do on a daily basis for our freedom,” she said of her performance. “We have the best men and women serving our armed forces,” she said. “And there’s nothing I love more than telling them that.”
Not only does she sing and play guitar, Boyle is also a songwriter. Calling it one of her most exciting tunes, Boyle said “World of Dust,” was written following her visit to troops deployed to Afghanistan and the song is her tribute to them.
Deployments are monotonous, said audience member Marine Sgt. Noah Tretter. Currently serving as a tour guide for visitors at the Defense Department’s headquarters, Tretter has deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.
“When someone comes out to the middle of nowhere to perform for troops it means a lot,” he said. “And when they are talented like this young lady it makes it even better.”
Although the evening centered on expressing appreciation to troops, several grassroots support groups also attended to educate the audience on the services available to them and their families.
Members of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, which spotlights troop-support efforts and helps to connect home-front groups with service members and their families at home and abroad, had information booths set up in the Birchmere’s lobby.
“It’s plain and simple, I want troops to know that we are here for them and support them,” said Karen Grimord of the Landstuhl Hospital Care Project. Her organization provides comfort and relief items to military members who become sick or injured from their service.
Her organization has shipped more than 14,000 pounds of sweat suits, house slippers and personal hygiene items to the medical center in Germany since December 2004.
Operation First Response President Peggy Baker shared Grimord’s sentiments. Since 2004, her group has assisted more than 2,000 families or troops coming through Landstuhl and Walter Reed medical centers with both personal and financial needs.
At her booth last night, she had a quilt on which supporters could write messages. The quilt, which was nearly covered by night’s end, will soon find its way into a backpack along with clothing and hygiene items that will be delivered to a combat support hospital in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The concert had a special meaning for Baker, whose son deployed to Iraq in March. “It goes to show that there are so many Americans supporting our troops,” she said. “It is amazing.”
“The entire event was wonderful,” Baker said. “You can always tell when you’re in a room filled with heroes; and the Birchmere had a special feeling tonight.