This past summer, a military band called Sidewinder (part of the 571st Air Force Band, 131st Bomb Wing, Air National Guard) stole the collective heart of the web with its rendition of everyone’s favorite cover song, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Said rendition, naturally, also scored the band an O Music Awards nomination for “Best Fan Cover.”
As the awards loom ever nearer, we chatted with Officer in Charge Captain John Arata about what it feels like to go from playing for the troops to playing for the whole world — via the web.
First of all, how did you guys feel when you found out you were nominated for the award?
Well, we were pretty surprised because there was no contact from us, so the idea that it literally came from a fanbase without any application or any kind of promoting on our part was just a really exciting thing for us.
Can you tell me a little bit about how the band came to be?
Well, there have been military bands for as long as our country has been around, almost. Our band was founded in 1947. However, in 2004, we learned that we would begin to go to foreign locations in warzones. And at that time, the leader of our career field told us that we should not do the traditional John Philip Sousa or even ’40s, ’50s era Jazz music anymore. We should try to promote the most current music when we go overseas to play for troops, because they’re young people. They’re really your audience. And they want to hear stuff that’s on their iPods and things like that.
So in 2004 we formed Sidewinder and in 2006 they went to Iraq and other locations in the Middle East for the first time. And then, of course, we went to the Middle East for the second time in 2011, and we went to Afghanistan and a couple of other locations. I guess our rock band has been around for about seven years.
This particular cover got popular pretty quickly. Do you have any indication of why it was so viral?
Boy, I really don’t know. I think it’s like a lot of things in the music business; it just resonated with the right people in the right place at the right time, and we’re just really happy and fortunate to be a part of it.
Any particular reason why you chose that song?
Well, we really didn’t pick it. We have a whole set of current music that we play and the way the song got popular was an audience member recorded us and posted it to YouTube and so, again, it didn’t come from us. It was just a military airman on a break and he took a video of us.
He took several, but he really liked that one and two days later we had 135,000 hits and 11 days later we had a million. So it really wasn’t any active choice on our part; we just tried to include a whole bunch of stuff in our set and that particular one went crazy.
Are you personally a fan of Adele?
Oh, yeah. I would say we all are and we all enjoy all of the music in our set. And like anyone else, we all have our favorites. Some people in the band prefer more hip-hop, some people like pop, some people like hard rock. One of our members is a big country fan. We try to include a little of all of that.
Did you guys launch a YouTube channel after this?
We put most of our stuff up on our Facebook site.
So what instrument do you play?
I’m the blue fiddle player. I began violin in my school music program in the fourth grade and I just kept going. I have a college degree in music. Actually as Commander I’m not a normal member of the group, but when we deployed it became obvious that we were going to want some country stuff in our set.
Normally I play piano, but when we do performances that are unplugged like the one you saw, I can’t take the piano, so I try to play as much of the piano part on violin as I can. Then when we got ready to go to the desert I went to buy a violin — I didn’t want to take my personal instrument there — so we went to buy one and they had several different colors. Since I’m in the Air Force I figured blue would be a good choice.
When you were playing as a kid, did you ever think so many people would see you play?
I could have never imagined. But it’s just encouragement to all the kids to keep practicing and you never know where your music will take you.
By Brenna Ehrlich