09/29/09 — Meet the band

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Meet the band

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 29, 2009 1:46 PM

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Jim Heidenreich works the drums during the Mighty Saints of Soul's final rehearsal before the Blue Ribbon Jam. The band asked the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. if it could headline the benefit concert because each member believes in supporting the military.

Johnnie Byrd

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Randy Hignite

Danny Garner

The Blue Ribbon Jam was born at the foot of the steps leading to Goldsboro City Hall on a somber Thursday morning when hundreds of Wayne County residents gathered there to honor two men who gave their lives for their country.

Jim Heidenreich, a local businessman and drummer for The Mighty Saints of Soul, was one of the faces in the crowd.

"I went that morning and I heard about the Blue Ribbon Fund," he said. "The thought occurred to me that (the band) needed to do something for those guys."

So he picked up the phone and called Randy Hignite, the band's keyboard player.

"I said, 'We need to try and think about doing something,'" Heidenreich said.

The band had, after all, played numerous benefit concerts -- for cancer patients, accident victims and families displaced by fire.

And this particular cause -- to help raise money for the families left behind when the F-15E Strike Eagle manned by 336th Fighter Squadron Capt. Mark McDowell and Capt. Thomas Gramith crashed in Afghanistan July 17 -- touched their hearts.

It didn't take long for Heidenreich to put the event together in his head, and once he had, he contacted Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. executive director Julie Thompson and asked if one more Center Street Jam could be thrown in honor of the two Seymour Johnson Air Force Base airmen and their sacrifice.

Mrs. Thompson liked the idea, and met with Hal Tanner III, general manager of The Goldsboro News-Argus, and other newspaper staff members to iron out the details.

Within a few weeks, officials from the News-Argus and DGDC had gained enough support from the Goldsboro and Wayne County governments to make the benefit concert a reality.

And Sunday, a few days before thousands are expected to make their way downtown to show Seymour Johnson airmen just how much their service is appreciated, members of the event's four-piece headline act took a break from rehearsing Thursday's set list to talk about why they chose to donate their talents.

"I've thought to myself, 'What's the motivation a young kid has to go over there now?' So many people are so negative about it, and yet they are over there putting their lives on the line so we can have freedom," Heidenreich said. "People take that freedom for granted. It's ridiculous."

His band mates agree.

Each has a tie to the military -- a father who served in World War II, an uncle who was stationed at Seymour Johnson, even one who was an airman himself.

"We support pretty much any cause where there's a need, and as far as the military goes, we back our military," said Johnnie Byrd, the band's bass player and former U.S. airman. "They are going over there dying and risking their lives in two wars. ... I think everybody needs to be aware of that and support these boys. A lot of people in the country don't even realize that we're fighting two wars right now and the threats we have, so anything we can do, especially to support the security of our country and to support the young men and women who are fighting for us, we need to do it."

Hignite nodded his head and told a story about meeting a wounded U.S. troop who had just come home from the desert.

The young man, who lost both legs in combat, inspired him to write "America I Miss You," a new song the band might debut at the Blue Ribbon Jam.

"I met him and just saw how courageous and how powerful he was," Hignite said. "(The song) just kind of tells the heart of what that kid went through over there. ... You know, 'I want to go home, but I feel like I need to stay here.' That kind of thing."

The upcoming jam means something to lead guitarist Danny Garner, too.

His son is a member of the Air Force Reserve and he "grew up" playing music at Seymour Johnson.

"I've played on the base since I was 15 years old at all the clubs, you know? It's just like home to me," he said. "So to do something for them, it feels good."

The band is scheduled to begin playing at 6 p.m. in the Waynesborough House parking lot.

Admission is a $2 donation to the Blue Ribbon Fund, but members of The Mighty Saints of Soul hope and expect local residents will reach into their pockets for far more.

"There's a revival going on in America. You look at the days of Vietnam, everybody was anti-military," Hignite said. "Look at it now. I think there's been a revival. ... There's more of a pro-military feeling out there."