MOSUL, Iraq — Charlie Wilson, solo recording artist and lead singer of the Gap Band, and the Gap Band treated Soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division as well as Soldiers from units throughout Forward Operating Base Marez, to an old school good time on Feb. 23, when the band brought the "Party Train" to Mosul, Iraq in a live concert.
One look at the size of the band and Wilson's entourage, with all their personal luggage and band equipment, and it was easy to see that making their first visit to Iraq was no small task. "It was an amazing task," Wilson said. "I'm just honored to be here; everybody in the band is so glad to be here."
Just hours after landing in Mosul, Charlie Wilson and the Gap Band looked refreshed and ready to entertain the culturally and generationally diverse audience eagerly awaiting the appearance of "Charlie."
Concert-goers enjoyed a two-hour show complete with energetic dancers and numerous wardrobe changes to include several changes of the famous "stunner hats" worn by Wilson, and designed by Eddie Tempro, Wilson's wardrobe designer.
For the 40-plus club, the first sound of the engine throttle in "Burn Rubber on Me" brought back memories of roller skating and Zodiac Tee's. Many concert-goers who "remember when" echoed the sentiment, "Those were the days."
"It was a nostalgic moment, reliving some of the house parties back at home – some of the summer parties. I started recalling some of my buddies and my cousins. I'm just speechless," said Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Stout, 215th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd HBCT, 1st Cav. Div.
Some of the more seasoned crowd even suggested that music from the '70s and early '80s was much less serious and more fun. With titles such as "You Dropped the Bomb on Me," "Oops Upside Your Head" and "Baby, Baba, Boogie," they may have a point.
Although the band is less well known by the younger generation, Wilson on the other hand is quite popular from his collaboration with other stars like Snoop Dog, The Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige, Will I Am, Justin Timberlake and Jamie Fox, just to name a few.
"I don't remember the Gap Band, but I know Charlie Wilson. It means a lot that Mr. Wilson would bring his family and the band here. It shows that he really supports the Troops. It's really refreshing to know that they are as appreciative of us as we are of them – it's a mutual appreciation", said Cpt. Shannon Meminger, 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd HBCT, 1st Cav. Div.
Appreciation for Charlie Wilson and the Gap Band for coming to Iraq was the theme of the night as concert-goers of varying ages expressed the same gratitude.
"I'm just ecstatic that they would come out and support the Troops like this – that's the number one reason why I will continue to buy his music. I wish we could get more musicians of his caliber to come and visit with Soldiers", said Warrant Officer Alphonso Glasper, 3rd STB, 3rd HBCT, 1st Cav. Div.
Sgt. 1st Class Dwight Hoffenden, Team Chief, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, reflected on the evening and added, "It really means a lot to me that they would come out here and put their lives on the line for us."
That gratitude was not one sided, commenting on what prompted him to come to Iraq with his band, Wilson explained that he wanted to give Troops a boost in morale. "I just love Troops. These guys and ladies are out here putting their life on the line – the least I can do is come and play for them," Wilson said.
Tempro and Aubrey Swann, background vocalist in the band, too conveyed that they and the entire band were simply honored to give back in this way. As Soldiers and civilians waited in line to receive an autographed photo of "Charlie," Swann stood watching with a grin he was hardly able to hold back.
"This is beautiful," Swann said.
"It was amazing – I remember the band and they still got it," said Sidney Batchelor, Food Service Lead at the Marez Dining Facility. One of the seasoned concert-goers who danced like there was no tomorrow, Batchelor admitted that he likes to party and said having Charlie Wilson and the Gap Band perform for them was awesome and a great stress relief.