McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

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September 25, 2012

US Navy band earns waves of applause at McAlester venue

McALESTER — The U.S. Navy band Country Current sent cascades of musical notes ringing through the auditorium during the group’s Saturday night performance at Life Church in McAlester — earning waves of ovations from an enthusiastic audience.

An estimated 520 individuals attended the special concert, sponsored by the McAlester News-Capital, in conjunction with Life Church.

During the band’s performance, Country Current played everything from modern Nashville music, to more traditional country, bluegrass and even added a touch of Western swing.

Opening with Brad Paisley’s “Catch All the Fish,” the band offered its renditions of what Nashville has to offer these days, mixed with several original numbers written by members of the band.

Kenny Ray Horton, the band’s lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist, said he felt honored to visit McAlester, because country songstress Reba McEntire is from the area. McEntire was born in McAlester, grew up in Chockie and attended Kiowa Public Schools.

While Horton mentioned McEntire, the band went on to perform two songs popularized by a couple of other Oklahomans: Blake Shelton’s “Sunny in Seattle” and “Vince Gill’s “High Lonesome Sound.”

Speaking of that high lonesome sound, the band smoothly segued from hard-stomping contemporary country music numbers to bluegrass tunes, with the drummer and steel guitarist taking a break during the bluegrass numbers, and the other musicians sticking to acoustical instruments.

Highlights during the bluegrass section of the show included an exuberant rendition of the traditional “Roving Gambler” and the instrumental tune, “Old Ironsides” with fiddler and Chief Musician Patrick J. White ripping it up on the mandolin.

Horton also played an original song, “How Forever Ends,” a country weeper featuring a prominent steel guitar in the mix.

Showing the band could also handle Western swing with ease, the group swung into Ty England’s hit song "A Swing Like That,” featuring outstanding contributions from steel guitarist Patrick Gulle and electric guitarist Joseph Friedman, with White taking another spirited turn on the fiddle.

Friedman also crunched out an excellent lead on Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” another highlight of the night.

The evening’s most touching moment for many occurred when veterans who had served in the nation’s armed forces were asked to stand while the band played their respective military service songs.

Afterwards, News-Capital Publisher Amy Johns noted the number of veterans who attended the concert.

“There were lots of veterans in the audience, which was wonderful to see,” Johns said.

She also gave high marks to  Country Current’s performance.

“They were so good, and played a mix” of country music and bluegrass, she noted.

“Anytime we have the opportunity to bring musicians of this caliber to McAlester, we’re going to jump it,” Johns said.

“I appreciate the community coming out, and I hope they had a great time.”

Following the concert, banjoist and Senior Chief Musician Keith Arneson spoke warmly of the band’s McAlester reception.

“This was a good house — they were enthusiastic,” Arneson said. When the crowd is with you, it’s a lot easier to give a good performance, he added.

When the conversation turned to bluegrass and the fact that the legendary had Bill Monroe played in McAlester a number of times during the Sanders Family Bluegrass Festival years, Arneson spoke of what had been a personal career highlight for him.

While the band has appeared on stage with a number of well-known performers, Arneson considers one in particular a career highlight.

He said the group received a call in 1996 to perform at a bluegrass festival in Racine, Ky., the hometown of the legendary Bill Monroe, considered the father of bluegrass music.

Although Monroe was ill and was not scheduled to perform, he did have an honored seat where he could watch the other performers. The plans changed when Country Current performed, however.

Monroe took to the stage for one of his last performances to join Country Current on a couple of numbers.

“We played ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ and ‘Big Mon,’” Arneson recalled. He considers it an experience he’ll always remember.

Country Current is led by Arneson, of Waldorf, Md., on banjo, guitar and vocals, along with Leading Chief Petty Officer and Chief Musician White, of Williamsport, Md., who provided outstanding fiddle and mandolin, as well as harmonies, throughout the concert.

The rhythm section of  Jeremy K. Middleton, of Clarksville, Tenn., on electric bass, acoustic string bass, and vocals, and Christina M. Catalanotto, of Slidell, La., on drums, kept the group swinging during the upbeat country songs.

Christopher M. Trupe, of Reading, Pa., served as the band’s sound support technician, with a clear, pure sound delivered for the McAlester concert.

As audience members filed out of Life Church following the performance, local resident Vicki Ramm joined others in saying how much she enjoyed Country Current, and how she would like to see the group again.

“Do it again next year,” she suggested, with a big, big smile.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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