Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Peterson Space Observer

Tops in Blue captivates Peterson audience

(U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jette Carr)
Tech. Sgt. Tonie Marshall, 849th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., shouts out some high notes during a Tops in Blue performance. The ensemble provides quality entertainment utilizing talented Airmen from every rank within the force.

By Lea Johnson

21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Have you ever stopped to listen to all the sounds that surround you every day?

This year’s Tops in Blue theme, “Listen,” reminds audiences how much their ears hear all the time, whether it’s the sound of traffic, warning sirens, the cries of a friend in need, or even their own heart.

The 35-person Tops in Blue team performed for families at Peterson Air Force Base Aug. 26, and they pulled out all the stops for the show.

Col. Chris Crawford, 21st Space Wing commander, welcomed the group noting one of the wing’s own was part of the ensemble. Staff Sgt. Daniel Knight, 21st Medical Group public health manager, found out in February he earned a spot as a trombone player in the group and left Peterson AFB to start rehearsals in March.

The group took the stage in sparkling dresses and tuxes to “Listen to the Music,” made popular by the Doobie Brothers.

The audience spent the next two hours being entertained with classic hits, popular music from today, country ballads, a Michael Jackson tribute, and, of course, a medley of patriotic favorites. The Pointer Sisters, Whitney Houston, Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5, Adele, the Zac Brown Band, and Carrie Underwood were just a few of the artists whose songs were featured in the show.

Staff Sgt. Katie McGuire, 114th Civil Engineer Squadron, is a keyboard player for the group. She said Tops in Blue performs anywhere from 30 to 40 songs in a single show. “We’ve learned more than what’s actually in the show. When we go into the communities, we learn new songs,” she said.

In addition to being outstanding singers, performers also learned some complicated and technical choreography to make the show shine.

And it doesn’t stop there. The performance also featured a duet by Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy and a performance by a mime.

The audience clapped enthusiastically as the show ended with the Air Force song, and the performers left the stage, but it’s what happens before and after the show that earns the applause.

McGuire said the group is its own road crew. In addition to learning the music, choreography and costume changes, they also learn how to set up, tear down and pack the set away in two trailers.

Knight said the group has learned to streamline the process. “Our first set up took 15 hours, and we’ve gotten this down to setting up the stage in three and a half hours,” he said. In addition to playing the trombone, Knight also helps set up the audio and drives one of the trucks.

Having a quick set-up time is important for the performers, McGuire said, because it means more time to practice the show. “It keeps the show up-to-date and makes sure it’s the best it can possibly be,” she said.

The extra practice is important because the ensemble only had two months to learn the whole show. The stop at Peterson was still early on the tour schedule, but they performed as if they had been together for years.

Knight said the travel schedule is one of the biggest challenges of being part of the group, compounded with leaving his family, a wife and two children, for a year.

For Knight, the reward comes from the different locations on the tour schedule. One of his favorite stories so far is from playing on the boardwalk in Kandahar. “We were playing outside and then, in the middle of a song, there were fighter jets going,” he said. “You knew there was still an active mission going on, and we were playing some music to help take them away for a few minutes so they could enjoy an evening without the mission on their mind. It was pretty remarkable.”

Tops in Blue starts its European leg of the tour in September. For the aspiring performer, applications for next year’s group are due Dec. 5.

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