Among the military community actor Gary Sinise is as well known for his support as he is for his role as Lieutenant Dan in the hit movie "Forrest Gump."
Sinise is also a musician who plays bass guitar in the Lt.Dan Band, a group he founded with Kimo Williams in 2004. They started touring with the USO, and the reaction they got from crowds convinced them to keep at it – a challenge considering Sinise’s busy acting schedule. Now the band performs upwards of 40 times per year, focusing mostly on benefit or charity events.
On May 11 the Lt. Dan Band played at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion in Portsmouth, VA. The concert, hosted by the Gary Sinise Foundation to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Hampton Roads military newspaper, The Flagship, was billed as a “Tribute to the Troops.”
The Lt. Dan Band is a “cover band,” which means they feature other artists’ material, and this “Tribute” show – offered free to anyone with a DoD ID – featured songs by artists ranging from Beyonce to the Zac Brown Band to Santana.
The opener was Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven,” which got the crowd going right out of the gate. That was followed by hits like Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Walk Away” and the Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” the theme song of Sinise’s recently cancelled “CSI: New York.”
After jamming on Santana’s “Smooth,” Sinise slowed things down to talk a about his passion for the military, which he explained was sparked by the veterans in his own family as well as his wife’s family.
In the 1980’s he got involved in various Vietnam veterans groups in Chicago. In the 1990’s, he played Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump, a soldier who was wounded in the Vietnam War, and grew active with the Disabled American Veterans. Then, following the attacks on September 11, 2001, he started volunteering to visit deployed troops, and soon after that the Lt. Dan Band was touring the world playing for the military.
“We’re trying to get to every single base before we’re done,” Sinise said, which drew a huge cheer from the crowd.
Sinise also talked about the Gary Sinise Foundation, which he said creates programs to entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen and build communities. Building for America's Bravest, one of his latest GSF programs, is designed to building Smart Homes for wounded veterans in order to provide houses with amenities to help them adjust to their major life changes and gain independence. “We need to take care of you before the battle. We need to take care of you during the battle. And we need to take care of you after the battle,” Sinise said.
The emotional high point of the concert came next, when the band played Mariah Carey’s “Hero,” a song Sinise dedicated to all the Gold Star families and wounded warriors. There weren’t many dry eyes, especially among those in attendance who were part of the group the song was being played for.
Sinise lightened the mood a bit by ending the song with the famous "Forrest Gump" quote: “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.”
The audience remained standing for the balance of the show, dancing to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” the Dave Matthews Band’s “Ants Marching” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” One sailor even found himself on stage being serenaded by two of the band’s female vocalists singing Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
The last song of the night was Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A,” a predictable ending to a concert honoring the military, perhaps, but one well-received by the audience who represented every segment of the military experience.
“We value our freedom,” Sinise said before closer started. “And we value those who provide that freedom for us.”
Military children grooved in the aisles, young sailors high-fived each other, military spouses waved their arms, and veterans smiled beneath the brims of their weathered unit ball caps. If Sinise intended his tribute to be a fun night out for the crowd, by all appearances he certainly accomplished his mission.