Friday, April 10, 2009

Jack Ingram's Cuban Experience: 4 Days, 3 Shows + A Whole Lot of Conviction In Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

USO Tours are one of the many ways a country singer gives back to the working people who are such a big part of keeping the music strong. Playing for our fighting men and women is a privilege and an honor - and there is a definite rush about being in the line of fire, as the pictures of various USO Tours attest. But for Jack Ingram, who's a hard-hitting performer with a thoughtful streak, when he decided it was his turn, he wanted to sing for the people nobody notices; that desire led him to Guantanamo Bay.

“The first night, we played on the side of a cliff overlooking the bay. There were 300 people, ranging from Officers with their families to enlisted kids who, literally, looked like they got on the wrong b us on their way to Freshman orientation at college,” Ingram says of the audience far from their homes on island most Americans will never visit. “The air was hot and humid, and the moon was full and rose over the back of the stage. It was beautiful, especially when I got them to sing 'Goodnight Moon' with me, and we dedicated it to all our family members not with us this there that evening.

“I signed autographs and posed for pictures for several hours for anyone who wanted one, and you get the sense of how much these soldiers miss their homes and what they give up to serve our country. Not for politics, but for the faith in what America stands for.”

Ingram played the Goat Locker, which is an officers' club of sorts, “and it felt real intimate, like a coffee house gig. Funny how when people are really listening, they are always going inside the songs.

With days filled with base tours and going into the bay on viper boats, Ingram got to spend a lot of time talking to the men and women, many of whom are well beyond their first tour of duty, “about their everyday life, including their dreams of the future and fears of the present. And it really gives you perspective… especially coming into Easter and the spring.”

The final night. Ingram and his lean 3 piece band, played for the general population at GTMO (pronounced “GIT-mo")'s community center with a raucous set that saw people up and dancing.

As Ingram says, “It felt like any Friday night in Anytown, U.S.A. with a bunch of kids and people looking for an escape from their every day problems - if every day problems mean dealing with known terrorists and prisoners who throw feces and urine at you while you are walking the block."

“And you know, that's the stuff we never think about… not enough… cause how can you? How can you know this stuff is out there? And it's sad in a way that we live in a world like this, but it's amazing to see the young people with the courage of their convictions, who are all over world doing these jobs that make such a difference for freedom in our world. It was certainly fun to play for them - it's always fun, especially with audiences like those - but this was a special kind of honor, too.”

With “That's A Man” just coming off the Top 15, Ingram's definition of song just got a little sharper - and a little bit more compelling on a song that already spoke volumes to who he is at the core.

Thanks to Holly Gleason for the story.

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