Band prepares for a rockin' tour of duty

Baltimore group to play for troops

April 24, 2004|By Alexandra Fenwick | Alexandra Fenwick,SUN STAFF

The ruins of Pompeii. The leafy-green canopies of the rain forest. A polar ice cap. When Frank Chiovaro and his band mates say they've played just about everywhere, they're just about right. And the five members of Brickfoot, a Baltimore-based, indie rock band, have the passport stamps to prove it.

For the past three years, Brickfoot has included, in addition to its regular gigs, several tours to exotic locales from the Caribbean to the Arctic Circle to perform for U.S troops. Sometime next week, at an undisclosed time and location, the band will board a plane bound for undisclosed spots in the Middle East where it will play a month of concerts for American troops stationed there. Tonight Brickfoot will play at Fletcher's in Fells Point for its last stateside concert before shipping off.

In the world of international touring, Brickfoot-style, souvenir T-shirts are free and food comes from a mess hall. Instead of traveling on Lear jets or lounging in hotel penthouses, band members go by cargo plane and sleep in tents. The biggest difference they've noticed at the military concerts? No beer.

"It's a testament to how horrible the music scene is here that, `Hey! We'll go to the war,'" lead vocalist Chiovaro says jokingly.

Truth be told, the band loves performing for the troops, he adds. "I've seen every corner of the world by doing this. I wouldn't trade it for the biggest record contract in the world."

The band members, according to Chiovaro, are "like brothers. We've been so close for so long, we finish each other's sentences, and we fight like siblings." That closeness is apparent in the band's seamlessly crafted music as well. Its style, says Chiovaro, "is very melodic with a lot of retro classic rock influences. But it also incorporates a lot of sounds from today's indie rock scene." When not playing together, band members work part time as salesmen, at an engineering company or at a toy store.

Their travels began in 2001, when Brickfoot - lead guitarist Chiovaro, vocalist Steve Silver, drummer Jay T. Hammen, bassist Gregory "Chipper" Wardrope and keyboardist Keith Duckworth - contacted Armed Forces Entertainment (AFE) based in the Pentagon under the Department of Defense.

Each band member's father had served in the military, so when the call from AFE came, the decision to tour was easy. Officially, their mission is to bring a bit of America to soldiers far from home. Sometimes Brickfoot takes that literally. "A lot of times, you'll find yourself giving away stuff," says Chiovaro. Once, on a Navy base, "these guys were leaving port the next day. They needed this special kind of cable. Without it they were going to have to go six months at sea without music. So I gave him one of ours and the guy started crying. He said, `You don't know what this means to us. ... '

" ... That was one of the coolest experiences ever, being able to provide music for a ship full of guys."

That attitude makes the band popular among troops and AFE personnel alike. "It's always best when you have that group that wants to meet the soldiers, airmen and Marines and wants to shake their hands and thank them for being away from their families," says Lt. Sergio Rios, AFE's circuit manager for Southwest Asia, who booked Brickfoot's coming tour.

Still, an ability to hang tough is important, too. "We have a constant flow of bands with promo packages in our offices," says Rios. "Only 20 percent get accepted. We don't have much time on our hands to be showing people the ropes."

To prepare the band for a specific tour, the AFE often puts Brickfoot members in touch with the last band to visit the same spot. "We call them up to ask how scared we should be, what we should bring, and we get to trade `war stories' with them," says Chiovaro. The band they talked to about the Middle East played through sandstorms and saw a mortar round fall 300 yards from the stage.

"We were in Guam in 2002 when a typhoon hit the island and we were stranded," he says. "We had to eat Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) for a few days. When you're hungry, those things are good."

For this trip, the band is packing Visine. "Because you're going to have sand in places you don't want sand. Also Wet Naps and baby wipes to get sand off your face and out of your eyes," says Chiovaro. "We also bring hammocks because we will be traveling in C-130 cargo planes, and it's the only way to get any sleep."

Not that sleep is guaranteed, even with a hammock in your rucksack. "If Brickfoot were a division of the Armed Forces I would have to say we'd be Marines, because we're always the first to go and the last to know. They tell us, `We're giving you an itinerary now, these are the places you're scheduled, but this could change at any minute. ... Iraqis don't necessarily care that we're playing."

But the troops do, says Chiovaro. "They are really the most appreciative audience ever."

Concert

What: Brickfoot's last U.S. concert before departing for the Middle East

Where: Fletcher's, 701 Bond St., Fells Point

When: Tonight. Doors open 9 p.m.

Tickets: $7-$10

Information: www.flet chersbar.com

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