What it takes to put on a show – The Field Band’s advance team

By Jonathan E. Agee
The United States Army Field Band

News story photo
Photo credit: Jonathan E. Agee
Master Sgt. David Bullman and Sgt. 1st Class Michelle Laska measure the stage weeks before an upcoming concert. As part of the Field Band’s advance team, Laska and Bullman need to ensure everything is perfect before the Soldiers arrive for their concert.
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md.— They drive down the city streets of Atlanta with one thing on their minds – find the safest and most efficient route for the Soldiers who will perform here in three months.

Master Sgt. David Bullman is at the wheel. Next to Bullman is his counterpart, Sgt. 1st Class Michelle Laska. They are both part of The United States Army Field Band’s advance team, and they both are intensely focused on their mission.

Suddenly, Laska looks up from her roadmap and says, “Wait, that’s a truck sign!”

Bullman looks around to locate the truck sign, but in vain. “I didn’t even see the sign,” said Bullman.

“I wasn’t sure which direction the sign was facing,” says Laska as they drive past the sign. “Was it meant for the road we wanted to use or for the road we just came off of? It isn’t placed very well.”

Laska and Bullman are traveling in a midsized passenger van. The van is not restricted, but they must annotate the local truck routes so the tractor trailers, carrying the Field Band’s gear for the upcoming tour, can travel safely.

They travel the road five more times, each time taking detailed notes as to where the truck route begins and ends. The entire process takes about two hours in city traffic. What they discover is that half of the street is restricted due to weight limitations on an overpass.

The restricted area is probably less than one mile, but it makes all the difference in the world for the advance team. If the Field Band’s trucks were to travel the shortest route, in this case traveling on the overpass, the drivers could be fined, injured, or possibly killed.

Laska writes down the alternate route then continues jotting notes. She marks each turn, distance traveled and major landmarks that will be useful to the Field Band drivers when they come to the area for the upcoming tour.

During this “advance,” Atlanta is just one stop, of about 30 locations, along the upcoming East Coast tour. And finding the correct route is one small piece of their job. They are also responsible for securing adequate lodging for the Soldiers. Although booking a room may sound easy, the advance team has many other factors to consider when making arrangements.

“Things we are looking for are hotels big enough for the entire group,” said Laska. “It makes it easy for check in, rather than to break the group up in two or three hotels. However, the first thing we look for is location, location, location! Does it have plenty of restaurants within walking distance – safe walking distance? Once they arrive, they are on foot to go find something to eat. Parking is the second consideration, because of the trucks and buses. You want to have the vehicles in the hotel lot, or as close as possible.”

During the advance the Soldiers also meet with the sponsors for each event. Every performance along a tour has a sponsor who is responsible for the marketing, advertising, and ticket distribution for that concert. The advance team is there to assist the sponsors along the way, but the idea is to give the sponsors a sense of pride when sponsoring a concert. The advance team makes recommendations and encourages the sponsor to make many of the decisions regarding the promotion of the event.

“The sponsors will have questions or something will come up and we will respond to them,” said Laska. “We are regularly communicating with them.”

For the sponsors, the process of having the Field Band perform is seamless. The advance team scouts the location, measures the stage, counts the steps from the loading dock to the performance area, and records hundreds of other fine details. This allows members of the Field Band to travel into an area, unload, set up, and perform as if it were talking place in their own back yard.

“They are very organized; many of the details are taken care of,” said JK Murphy, fall tour sponsor and publisher. “That is appreciated. It means a lot less time on me and the staff at The Post to organize. I think the people at the venue feel the same way. They are accustomed to providing everything for some of their guests or acts or performers. And The United States Army Field Band seems pretty self sufficient.”

“The advance team is one of the things that make this successful,” said William Edward Clark, Fall Tour sponsor, retired Army Colonel and former Field Band Commander. “They get everything organized. If you are going on the road with 100 Soldiers and you don’t have this as a well-coordinated machine, it will not work properly. Over the years it has evolved … The way of doing a tour is much more effective because you have the advance team.”

The advance team presents the sponsor with a media kit that includes press releases, promotional photographs, public service announcement support, and publicity methods. In addition, the sponsor is provided with a hyperlink to the concert’s program. This way the sponsor can logon to the Field Band’s website, download the program and print it for the attendees. “We inherited the process,” said Bullman. “We have tweaked it a little, with technology we have added some things like having everything online. The basic process has been the same for years and years and years. The tools and technology make it easier for us to get the information to people.”

Putting on a trouble-free performance and reaching the community with the Army story is what this is all about, according to Laska and Bullman. “I feel like we did a good job when they [the Field Band] have good audience counts and return without any problems,” said Bullman. “The satisfaction for me is giving them a product that makes their lives on tour as smooth as possible.”

As soon as the advance team returns to the office, they begin planning for the next tour. “For us the tour is done when all the paperwork is filed,” said Bullman. “Usually by then we are well into planning for the next tour.”

The Field Band travels more than 100 days a year throughout the United States and abroad. Tours include formal public concerts, school assemblies, educational outreach programs, festivals, and radio and television appearances. To find out when The United States Army Field band will be performing next, logon to www.ArmyFieldBand.com and click the “Schedule” link located at the top of the page.

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