Article and photos by: Ryan Javier
DALLAS – September sixteenth was my day off and as such, I did what I love doing- I shot. I went my favorite neighborhood watering hole, the Gas Monkey Bar N Grill with the sole intention of shooting my friends’ band, for fun mind you, but once I realized the purpose of the evening and what was going on, there was no way that I wasn’t doing a story. Often times, impromptu reporting can be a burdensome chore; this time, however, it was an honor.
Of all the stories that have “fallen into my lap” over the course of my career, this has to be most meaningful- not simply because I am a veteran myself, but because I am an American.
The concert, as I found out, was a charity event benefitting our wounded veterans and service men and women.
Operation Rock the Troops (OTR) is a multi-faceted non-profit charity organization, founded by three-time Emmy award winner Matthew JC, whose aim is to give back to our soldiers through live entertainment and music education. The driving vehicle behind OTR is a band of expert musicians and performers, known collectively as the JS Allstars, which Matt assembled himself. Along with public events, the group has traveled to military bases the world over, performing over 1000 shows and has handed out thousands of free CD’s and mp3’s to our soldiers. OTR is not only dedicated to supporting active duty personnel, they also help our veterans.
When a civilian leaves their job, they go home pretty much in the same condition as when they began, aside from being maybe a little older and a little wiser. The same is not always true for our service men and women. Thousands of veterans ETS (discharge) from the service with life-altering impairments and disabilities, some obvious such as lost limbs and other conditions are not so obvious, such as PTSD. Often these issues, whether physical or emotional, can be mentally debilitating and demoralizing for our retuning heroes. That’s where OTR comes in. Donations collected by the JC Allstars and at their OTR performances are also used to assist vets.
In the case of this performance, guitarist and vocalist Christian Sly, put his hair on the auction block. Audience members bid on an opportunity to cut off each one Sly’s beloved dreadlocks. Over two thousand dollars was raised in a matter of minutes. Monies collected go to help vets with start-up businesses and setting them on the path towards financial independence.
Other organizations were present as well, including the Warrior Angels Foundation and Honor Courage Commitment Inc. Members of the group 22Kill were also at the show. Supporters wear a black ring, which they earn by doing twenty-two pushups, one for each of the twenty-two veterans that take their own lives, every single day. It was truly a sight to behold when the entire house dropped and “got some”, twenty-two times in a row.
Other bands lent a hand as well, performing and raffling off items on behalf on OTR and the lineup was momentous. Opening this heroic event was an acoustic showcase featuring six of north Texas’ best, performing unplugged. These outstanding musicians warmed up the audience, laying the groundwork for what would become an epic evening. Next up was the band Foreplay, whose carefully crafted set really got the crowd going. Foreplay never ever disappoints, but this was, hands-down their best performance that I have ever seen.
Directly after Foreplay, was the punk/ska/rock fusion stylings of Manny the Martyr, another personal favorite of mine. Manny totally destroyed; managing to raise the energy to a level previously considered unfathomable. Towards the end of their set, lead singer Jake Cravens took a moment to address the crowd. Four years ago, Craven’s brother heroically gave his life in Afghanistan and tonight would have been his thirty-sixth birthday. In his honor, Craven handed out dozens of balloons, each with a note memorializing the fallen solider, to members of the audience. On the count of three, everyone chanted “Happy Birthday” and released the balloons into the night sky above.
Following Manny was the modern rock band, Adakain, who were fresh off the heels of the release of their first single Hey Girl. By the time this story goes to press, the band will have released another single, We Crawl. Both songs will be on their upcoming album, Never Coming Home, which will be out on November sixth. Fans got a taste of what is to come as Adakain rocked, stomped and screamed their way through an amazingly stellar set.
After a brief interlude, which included a raffle and the auctioning off of Chris Sly’s dreads, a color guard contingent of USMC soldiers in full dress uniforms presented the Colors, overlaid with a guitar rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that was so moving and so heartfelt, Jimi Hendrix himself, would be proud. There was not a dry eye in the entire house.
The JC Allstars were up next and they put on one hell of a show. As I had just heard of the band an hour before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Well, let me tell you, these guys fucking ROCK! Not only did the live up to the hype, they performed beyond my wildest expectations. Accompanied by gorgeous models and dancers, The Allstars’ commanding stage presence along with the group’s extraordinary talent and showmanship was simply intoxicating. By the time the first song was played, I was a fan for life. The concert was taped for OTR’s reality show and this was one of the few times where producers didn’t have to encourage the crowd. Thanks to the righteousness and sheer talent of the JC Allstars, all the raw emotion and unbridled enthusiasm that poured from the fans was 100% au natural, no artificial encouragement needed.
Closing out this epic show was the Houston band, Vetted, who perhaps, received the warmest welcome of all from the audience. The first nationally recognized band made up entirely of wounded veterans, Vetted were the perfect choice for the headlining act, not only because they were the obvious obligatory choice, but because they are a kickass band. The evening could not have gone any better.
The concert was for a great cause; everybody was in high spirits throughout the entire show. The good vibes, the pride and the love in the house were all so palpable, that I couldn’t help but caught up in the excitement. It’s not all the time that one gets presented with an opportunity to report on a cause as meaningful and endearing as Operation Rock the Troops.
For show dates, tickets and more information on OTR, connect with group on Facebook and online.