By Ms. Lynn Kirby, JFHQ-NCR/MDW Public AffairsFebruary 27, 2016
"Name a favorite song."
And a mandolin starts up the distinct sound of Hank Williams' "Jambalaya." It is joined by an acoustic six-string guitar and a banjo as a male tenor sings, "Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou. Jambalaya, and a crawfish pie and a filé gumbo."
It's an unadorned room the size of an elementary school classroom with bare walls lined with black, hard-sided wheeled cases holding music instruments and equipment, but it's reminiscent of Louisiana Saturday night jam sessions by the campfire.
In an open space on the left stand four folding chairs in a 10-foot circle where three soldiers of The United States Army Field Band sit strumming their instruments and singing a line or two of a song before moving on to the next one.
They are three musicians of the four-member small group called The Six-String Soldiers, which was born of the perfect culmination of the right time, the right place and the ability to deliver the right idea.
They are Master Sgt. John A. Lamirande on the mandolin, Sgt. 1st Class Thomas M. Lindsey on the banjo and Staff Sgt. J. Brandon Boron on the guitar. The fourth member of the group is Sgt. 1st Class Glenn E. Robertson, who plays the bass.
In the middle of a snowstorm near Boston Feb. 9, 2015, the group had the idea to entertain the residents of a snowed-in city by trudging atop a snowdrift to make a music video. That video would catapult them on a path of popularity and filling the demand for a folk band they hadn't known existed.
"They got up on a snowbank that was 15 feet high, and they played the Beatles' tune "Here Comes the Sun," and it got on the news, Boston area news, and eventually it went viral," said Col. Jim R. Keene, commander, the Army Field Band.
To date that video has more than 8 million views, and The Six-String Soldiers' Facebook page has grown from 10,000 followers to almost 55,000. And with the popularity of their videos, the Six-String Soldiers are making a world-wide impact.
"Through social media, which has been kind of our big break, you know, we have people from Brazil and the Philippines. We have people all over the world commenting on our Facebook page," Lamirande said.
The group's success has been attributed to a variety of reasons, including the limited resources needed to perform. Because the music is acoustic, they don't need access to electricity, which allows them the flexibility to perform for 10,000 people, or to go to a Veterans Affairs hospital and play for a single person.
"I want to reach as many people and deliver our message to as many people as possible through any and all means," said Lamirande, who is the non-commissioned officer in charge of the group and also performs vocals. "At the same time, I love the fact that we can dedicate an entire performance to a single person."
But it's more than just reaching an international audience one performance and one video at a time. The group sees their mission as an extension of the Army, using the music they create to unite people and remind them that they share a common goal of maintaining our American way of life.
"Why does the Army exist? So we can maintain this way of life," Lamirande said. "Why do you have a band? So you can remind everybody of that in a language that is not through tanks and M16s, but through something that everybody loves, which is music."
That music ranges from Americana and bluegrass to folk and Irish music. And although the instruments may be indicative of bluegrass, the music isn't necessarily that.
"You're playing just American music, anything and everything. You can play country. You can play rock, but it kind of all comes through this filter of these instruments and these four guys," said Boron.
That filter creates a type of music that appeals to a lot broader audience. And, when that music is performed by four highly-skilled musicians, the result is a group with a fast-growing following.
"We are fortunate in the military to have, you know, great soldiers across the spectrum that do all the tough jobs that America needs us to do. But, I'm convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have the most talented soldiers in the Army in our unit," Keene said.
The Six-String Soldiers say their success is due to the level of musicianship at the field band.
"Here it's just about as close to just focusing on music as you can ever get," Boron said.
The Field Band's commander thinks it is the group's level of skill mixed with their ability to tailor the music to the location, focusing on the music itself, that has earned them such popularity.
"It's because of their selection of music. It's the way they come across, the way they connect," Keene said. "Their focus has, if you will, charted a course for the rest of professional musicians, and that is to ensure that the product is first. It's first. There's no room for anything else."
The Six-String Soldiers agree on one thing.
"For us, it was never really a choice. Music chose us," Lindsey said.
"Let's play a little uh," says Lamirande as he strums the first notes to the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" on his mandolin, and Boron and Lindsey join in with their instruments.
They harmonize the lyrics, "Let me take you down 'cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields. Nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about, Strawberry Fields forever."