USAF Academy band

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Rob Vitale (holding his clarinet), Master Sgt. Julia Boughton (with her flute) and military vet Chris Bonebrake (in possession of a tenor sax) at Telluride Town Park, where the USAF Concert Band will perform July 2. Admission is free; the music begins at 7 p.m. (Photo courtesy of Chris Bonebrake)

Their base is Colorado Springs — just a few short moments away from Telluride by supersonic jet.

Yet the 55 musicians that comprise the U.S. Air Force Academy Concert Band have never played Telluride before. Until soon, that is. “We’re a Colorado band,” said Master Sgt. Julia Boughton. “And we thought, we should perform in some more Colorado towns.”

On Friday, two members of the USAF Concert Band — Boughton, a flutist, and Staff Sgt. Rob Vitale, who plays the clarinet — were on tour in downtown Telluride along with Master Sgt. Janusz Masztalerz (the band’s sound engineer) in advance of a concert three weeks from now in Telluride Town Park.

They’d arrived in the box canyon the evening before not by jet — the U.S. military is in possession of the fastest flyers on earth, after all — but in the time-honored fashion of numerous hardscrabble creatives who’d come before them to mountain towns in advance of summer concerts.

Which is to say: they drove in on a van pockmarked by hailstones from Colorado thunderstorms. 

“They’re musicians for sure,” Chris Bonebrake said drily.

Bonebrake — a saxophonist, Mountain Village resident and a “former U.S. Army Bandsman” — helped get them here. The USAF Concert Band, under the command of Lt. Col. Daniel L. Price, will play Telluride on July 2, one of five communities selected for the band’s summer tour.

The tour, which goes from June 30 to July 4, also stops in Salida, Grand Junction, Montrose, and Dillon.

“The Telluride Town Council approved the performance for this year,” Bonebrake noted — and the three advance members of the USAF seemed to approve of the venue (indeed, Boughton hopes to return with her husband to the box canyon for vacation).

“The title of our performance is ‘America the Beautiful,’” Masztalerz said, gesturing at surrounding peaks. “What better setting than Telluride?”

In Town Park, the band will play a selection of “patriotic favorites and traditional marches” befitting an Independence Day celebration. They’ve invited all veterans who attend the 7 p.m. concert to sit up front. “There’s a big ‘foot stomp’ patriotic service medley at the end of the program, where we invite all vets to stand and be recognized for their service,” Vitale said. In between, this most versatile of ensembles will play Broadway classics, “a medley of country tunes,” including hits by Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney, and jazz.

“We’ll perform a tribute to Aretha Franklin,” Vitale added (the “Queen of Soul” passed away last August).

With that, he briefly broke into “Chain-Chain-Chain,” the first few, familiar notes of Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” followed by the letters “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

This year marks the American Legion’s centennial, and the USAF band has invited Bonebrake to guest conduct the “American Legion March Song.”

In short, “We have something for everyone” at this free, family-friendly concert, Boughton said.

All full-time enlisted military members, the band’s mission is “to educate, train and inspire men and women to be officers of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation.”

In Colorado, that mission involves performing in schools, teaching master classes and offering public concerts — in short, community outreach. Farther away from the West, the band members are, essentially, recruiting for the U.S. Air Force. Not many people necessarily associate the Air Force with music (Blue Angels roaring overhead and the smell of jet fuel spring more readily to mind). Yet in fact, there are 16 U.S. Air Force bands, and the U.S. Air Force Academy Band alone has recorded three albums, including “Wild Blue Country,” a selection of country songs, and “The Long Blue Line,” recorded as The Falconaires, the USAF’s jazz ensemble.

The Falconaires have performed at the Telluride Jazz Festival.

“All branches of the armed services have a musical program,” Vitale pointed out. “The U.S. military is the number one employer of musicians” in this country.

“We have many phenomenal musicians,” Masztalerz added. “But of course, you have to survive basic training.”