“Tops in Blue” performs the opening number Wednesday at Doc Stewart Park across from Cannon Air Force Base. “Tops in Blue” performed music melodies from various music decades and styles. Photo by Eric Kluth.
By Darrell Todd Maurina
Some members of the “Tops in Blue” Air Force entertainment troupe weren’t even born when retired Lt. Col. Jack Phillips started attending the group’s annual concert tour as a young service member in the early 1960s.
That didn’t stop him from enjoying the free concert presented Tuesday night in Doc Stewart Park, as he has done most years since retiring from the Air Force in 1980.
“It’s just very good entertainment; it shows a lot of the spirit that exists in the military,” said Phillips. “We just love the music and have seen it each year we can.”
According to Air Force promotional material, 2003 is the 50th year of a program that now recognizes 35 of the Air Force’s best contemporary amateur musicians.
Interested service members compete in base talent contests to become “expeditionary entertainers” performing before military personnel and their families during a nine-month tour of more than 100 locations around the world.
Its organizers began the group in 1953 to honor those with singing, dancing and instrumental talents since the Air Force had many ways to honor talented amateur athletes but few to honor talented amateur musicians.
The anniversary year brought many different musical eras to the stage, ranging from classic World War II tunes such as “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,” performed in modified military uniforms, to western songs, Latin rhythms, and Motown tunes — different musical styles that brought all ages from white-headed retirees to recently enlisted airmen to teen-age and preteen children of Air Force personnel.
Cindy Smith rocked to the rhythms of the music along with her niece, Candace Elliott, and said she has enjoyed the Tops in Blue program each year since her husband was first assigned to Cannon in 1996.
“You really get into it,” said Smith. “We try to support these events whenever we can.”
While many at the event have been coming for many years, others said they were pleased by their first time seeing Tops in Blue.
“The music has been good so far,” said Airman 1st Class Wesley O’Neil. “I like the upbeat stuff, not so much the slow stuff.”
Phillips said he was glad Cannon can sponsor an event drawing such a wide variety of people.
“It’s a wonderful show with really good talent,” Phillips said. “We have a lot of people without a military background who just come out to enjoy the show.”