Entertainers pay tribute with songs, laughs, twirls
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — You don’t get to the top of the music charts multiple times without knowing your audience.
And Restless Heart, with seven No. 1 country music singles and a few crossover hits to its credit, is no exception.
“Following cheerleaders is tough with a military audience,” said Greg Jennings, a guitarist with the five-member band that’s close to celebrating two decades in the business.
Of course, it wasn’t like those attending the Operation Season’s Greetings show Thursday at Aviano Air Base ignored the guys from Nashville, Tenn. Far from it.
Restless Heart was the headlining act, following four New England Patriots cheerleaders and comedian Andy Andrews to the stage.
Jennings said he and his bandmates knew exactly what they were getting into. They headlined the show last year as well.
“We’re just honored they asked us to do it last year and this year as well,” he said. “Maybe we’ll get to do it sometime again in the future.”
Words such as “honored,” “appreciated” and “awed” were used by all those performing to describe their participation in the concert series.
“This is the first tour I’ve ever done where I’ve been awed by the audience,” Andrews said before his bit in the free show that lasted more than two hours. “It’s embarrassing how many men and women in uniform have said, ‘Thanks for coming here.’ ‘No,’ I say, ‘Thank you.’”
Andrews, like several of those performing, didn’t have a lot of ties with the military before signing on. He left two kids and a wife — and missed a wedding anniversary — in Alabama to come on the trip and will be spending Thanksgiving with a bunch of strangers in Germany. But he said he didn’t hesitate long when asked about the show.
“You quickly realize these guys over here are allowing us to live the way we want to live,” he said, referring to members of the military serving in places such as Europe and even farther from home in countries like Iraq.
“It’s given me a real appreciation about all the men and women in the military that spend time apart from their families.”
Kristin Gauvin, one of the cheerleaders, laughs when she talks about her sacrifices to be on the tour.
“I’m missing two weeks of school,” she says with a smile. “I thought I’d be better off spending my holiday entertaining over here.”
Gauvin spent some time near Aviano this summer, visiting her boyfriend, who was living in Venice. Then it was back to classes at Assumption College in Massachusetts, where she’s near the top of her class academically.
But when the opportunity came to participate in this tour, she leapt at the chance. That’s due partly to a show she took part in at Fort Hood, Texas, in March.
“I didn’t realize how appreciative everyone was,” she said.
Many of those on stage could relate because they wear military uniforms on a regular basis.
Senior Airman Aaron Stone, assigned to the 31st Security Squadron at Aviano, opened the night with a few songs he wrote himself and was followed by musicians from the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Force Reserve Command bands.
All those involved stayed after the show to talk and sign autographs.