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Air National Guard Band's upcoming Conyers concert could be its last

The Air National Guard Band of the South -- Sound Barrier, shown here playing on River Street in Savannah, Ga., is set to visit Conyers on March 30.

The Air National Guard Band of the South -- Sound Barrier, shown here playing on River Street in Savannah, Ga., is set to visit Conyers on March 30.

The Air National Guard Band of the South's performance on March 30 at the Rockdale Auditorium in Olde Town Conyers will no doubt be a rousing evening of entertainment, but the free concert will also have a bittersweet tone.

The ensemble that will play in Conyers -- known as Sound Barrier, the Band of the South's pop/rock group -- recently learned that the concerts it will host this year will be its last, as military budget cuts are bringing the music to a halt.

"This is exactly our 'Last Waltz,'" said Master Sgt. R. Alan Olson, who established Sound Barrier -- one of seven bands under the Band of the South umbrella -- 20 years ago and plays trumpet in the 12-piece band, which is under the direction of Technical Sgt. Michael Bielenberg.

"We're a traditional National Guard band for the Air Force, and about 12 months ago, the Air Force was reviewing its personnel and decided it needed extra slots. There have been budget problems for some time now due to federal limitations, and it couldn't really hire for those extra slots. So we were told they needed to find existing slots.

"Considering its mission and what was available, the National Guard program, as well as the active duty program, was examined and it was decided to cut the band program in half and we were one of the bands... that was cut."

Sound Barrier, which is based out of Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, has played about 50 concerts a year in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina for years, and had an ambitious final tour scheduled, but financial difficulties again reared their ugly heads.

"We were all excited to put together a final tour that was set to start in the Orlando area (on March 23)," said Olson, who also plays the French horn and bass. "Unfortunately, with sequestration, word came down that travel for what I call 'luxury items,' including military performances -- not just us, but for all services -- have been cut.

"It put a crimp in our plans, and we're trying to make lemonade out of lemons. We cancelled our tour and we're calling around areas local to Atlanta to see what we can put together. With Rockdale County, it's double-sweet for us because we understand there was a performance scheduled there by the (Air Force) Academy Band that was affected by the same cuts. So it's our pleasure to be able to make up for that."

Olson, an Ohio native who by day works in information security, said he's not exactly sure when Sound Barrier's swansong will be sung, but he hopes the group will be able to hold on until the summer.

"With these budget impacts, it's hard to say when we'll be finished," he said. "We had performances scheduled in Savannah for two days in May over the Memorial Day weekend and we're scheduled to be in West Palm Beach for the Fourth of July. They've had Fourth of July celebrations for 25 years and the sponsor told me they've never been able to get a military band.

"We were all excited about going down there and that would be our last performance. However, unless the travel budget issues are resolved, (Conyers) could very well be our last performance in the Atlanta area."

Despite the impending final encore, Olson said Sound Barrier -- which for its final tour has programmed a patriotic-themed concert featuring music from the 1970s, dance hits, beach favorites and soft rock -- is determined to exit in style, offering an expression of gratitude for many years of public support.

"We will absolutely go out with a bang," said Olson, who added that Sound Barrier was the first rock ensemble to be formed under the Air National Guard Band program. "We're weekend warriors and we all have day jobs, civilian jobs, and most of those jobs are related to music. We're all revved up for this and the band is sounding better than it ever has... It's going to be a heck of a show and these musicians are the cream of the crop. I think the audience will enjoy it."

Olson, who joined an active duty Army band out of high school and studied music at California-Northridge before joining the Air National Guard Band, said he and several band members are planning to retire from the Guard, but he'll have plenty of opportunities to scratch his musical itch.

"Although we have our civilian sides, we are all addicted, if you will, to music," he said. "In addition to my work with the Guard band, I run two other bands -- a big band called Big Band Atlanta and a group almost identical to Sound Barrier called Brookwood Split. We like and know each other so much and we trust each other's playing so much that Brookwood Split has four or five members from Sound Barrier.

"We musicians have a way of being resourceful and carrying on. We hope there will be another gig but there's always another rehearsal, which is what I always call 'musicians' bowling night.' Some guys go bowling, and musicians have rehearsals. We'll always have something to keep us satisfied."

For more information on the concert, visit www.conyersarts.org. For more information on Sound Barrier, visit http://www.bandofthesouth.ang.af.mil.