Less than 48 hours after returning to the United States from a trip overseas, the guys from local band Evelynn Rose are full of energy. With no jetlag evident, they're sitting around a table and sharing stories from their journey. The band left roughly 20 days earlier for an 18-day tour to entertain the troops in Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Pictures scroll by on a laptop as the four band members -- Joseph William, Jimmy Jack, Joshua Wade and Chris Black -- along with local filmmaker Tim Albright and musician/soundman Eric-Scott Guthrie tell stories of drunken nights, overplayed Lionel Richie songs, strange foods and odd locations (enough stories to fill all the pages of this paper -- ask them if you see them). The guys, all in their late 20s or early 30s, laugh, talk over one another and are full of smiles and energy through every tale.
As much fun and enjoyment the sextet got from their excursion, there are also moments of reflection and gratitude.
"What was amazing was that after you play a show, all of the troops know to line up. We'd go sit at a table, Sharpie in hand and a stack of CDs and you start signing CDs and shaking everybody's hand," William says. "As fast as we can thank them, they're shooting it back at us. We gave about 900 CDs out to the troops, and probably the same number of stickers. We're nobody -- we're a little band from Charlotte just trying to do our thing. The appreciation level over there ... those few moments to talk to everybody and hear stories were amazing."
The band, which formed 14 months ago, filled out an application with Armed Forces Entertainment after hearing about another local band's similar journey. Wade and Black were both former enlisted in the military and thought it was a great idea to give back to the troops. Local band The Stellas traveled to the same region earlier this year through the same organization.
After being accepted, they recruited Albright, who has been documenting the band's progess over the last year, to shoot video of the trip and Guthrie, to run the sound during their performances.
"We were in the studio one month after filling out the paperwork and my phone rang," Wade says. "I wasn't gonna pick it up, but these guys all told me to. They asked if we could leave the next month -- we said no -- but we could the month after that."
There was no hesitation on the Southern rock band's part at the thought of being overseas during Thanksgiving, either. Troops don't have a choice of when they're home or away and they're missing their families for months, William says. "We went through the line on Thanksgiving and ate with all the troops and talked to all the generals who were serving food to their soldiers."
They knew they'd be performing concerts, but didn't know for how many people or if there would be any equipment. They rented everything they needed -- speakers, sound equipment -- or got some loaned to them by The Stellas, just in case.
In most situations, if they ran into any trouble or confusion to who they were, William says the simple answer was always music. Members of The Stellas gave them some useful advice to make friends and hand out CDs whenever they had trouble in an airport. For the most part, they had guides to help them get from the airports to their base or hotel or to drive them around the city for tourism purposes. They stayed either in hotels or pleasant accomodations on base.
Their guides also mentioned that the next person expected to perform at the same places is Kid Rock. Evelynn Rose is hoping the troops will mention Evelynn Rose by name to Kid Rock and they even left him a "present" in his final location -- a CD signed by the band with a message: "Kid Rock -- Keep rockin'. You'll get there some day." "He's either going to hate us or he'll get the joke and take us on tour with him," William says.
In the end, the band, which is named after Wade's pitbull, played three shows over eight days in Bahrain, two shows during three days in Qatar, three shows in four days in UAE and one show while in Saudi Arabia for three days. The concerts had as few as 50 or as many as 1,000 people in attendance. Some troops were simply based there for the military, others were about to come home and yet others were just getting a little rest and relaxation before hitting the front lines again.
"I talked to a guy who fires mortars and took fire for the first time last week," William says. "We left that show -- we saw more people who are in the thick of it. We made a lot of fans and a lot of friends and a number of those guys and gals who listened to us play and have our CD aren't going to come home. It was powerful. It's no joke. The dedication they show is amazing."
Now that they're back, focus will change toward recording their next album, which they hope to release early next year after hitting the studio in January. All six feel like the trip was split into two parts -- the moments where they were tourists seeing the sites, singing karaoke with nationals in bars and having fun and the moments when they met the troops, performed for them, heard their stories and accomplished their own mission of bringing them a piece of home.
"Before we left, I knew this was going to be a great experience. I was hoping that for the troops, too," Jack adds. "It was far beyond what I imagined. It was the greatest experience of my life. On top of it, we did exactly what we set out to do -- bring a piece of home to these guys. On top of that, we met so many nationals that enlightened me on what the Middle East is really like and what they think. It threw a lot of my ideas of how things are out the window."
Evelynn Rose will perform with The Stellas at Whisky River on Dec. 11 from 7 to 10 p.m. There is no cover before 11 p.m. More information at whiskyrivercharlotte.com.