Actor Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band rocked The Villages on Sunday night in front of a packed-house crowd at Lake Sumter Landing.
Performing on a specially built stage on Lake Shore Drive facing the town square area, the 13-piece cover band opened shortly before 7 p.m. with the Christopher Cross smash hit “Ride Like the Wind” and never looked back.
Before it was all over – and to repeated rounds of applause from the several thousand screaming fans blanketing Lake Sumter Landing – the band had performed such hits as Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven,” Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” Santana’s “Smooth,” the Jackson’s “Shake Your Body Down to the Ground,” Miami Sound Machine’s “Conga” and “Sweet Home Chicago,” first recorded in 1936 by Robert Johnson and later made popular by such artists as Eric Clapton and the Blues Brothers. And that was just the tip of the iceberg as the adoring crowd kept singing along, dancing in the aisles and snapping photos of the historic occasion.
“I think it came out a great success,” said Marie Bogdonoff, founder and president of Villagers for Veterans, the group that brought Sinise and company to Florida’s Friendliest Hometown. “It’s just great to have him here,” added Bogdonoff, who also brought Sinise to The Villages in February for a book-signing event and said she had been working four years to make Sunday’s free concert a reality.
Sinise formed the 13-piece band in 2003 as an arm of the Gary Sinise Foundation. The goal was to entertain troops, perform at USO shows and raise money to help disabled veterans. The band is named for the character Sinise played in the 1994 blockbuster movie “Forrest Gump.”
“It’s so nice that he’s supporting the veterans,” Bogdonoff added. “And the veterans are supporting him as well.”
One of those veterans who was having a great time was 95-year-old Irving Locker, a World War II Army staff sergeant who stormed Utah Beach on D-Day, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped liberate the Gardelegen concentration camp.
“I think it’s wonderful that he’s giving up his time and doing this for the veterans,” said Locker, who attended the show with Bernice, his wife of 71 years. “The vets need all the help they can get and he’s doing it and it’s really wonderful,” added the Village of El Santiago resident, who in February was flown to Washington, D.C. and singled out by President Trump during his State of the Union address.
Disabled Army Sgt. Pam Kelly agreed. Villagers for Veterans is currently building Kelly a smart house on the Historic Side of The Villages and she was enjoying the show from the front row.
“This is wonderful that he brought his band here to support all the veterans, as well as The Villages itself,” she said. “The band is awesome and you couldn’t ask for better entertainment.”
Kelly, an Army medic who became a quadriplegic in 2002 while on active duty, recalled meeting Sinise during his February visit at the Savannah Center when he signed copies of his book titled “Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service.” She said he impressed her that day and he also made quite an impact on Sunday.
“Just like he is on the screen or what you see in interviews, he’s just a very gentle, sweet, nice man,” said Kelly, who this past November also enjoyed a flightless Honor Flight with Villagers for Veterans member Margueritte Desbrow as her guardian and in October got to meet rock legend George Thorogood during a fundraiser for her new house.
Meanwhile, near the back of town square across from City Fire, Villagers Linda King and Rick Pyle were thoroughly enjoying the show. They said they’d waited 30 minutes in line to buy drinks – and they’d gladly have waited 30 more if need be while enjoying the sounds of the Lt. Dan Band.
“It’s really a great show and the band is humongous,” Pyle said. “They did such a great job of organizing this whole shebang. You have (big) screens and the stage. It’s just unbelievable.”
King said she was quite impressed with Sinise.
“He’s an unbelievable person, with his foundation and everything that he does,” she said. “He’s got the world in his hands right now and I think it’s great.”
Fellow Villagers John and Gina Bennis agreed.
“He supports freedom, the military and all the first responders,” Gina said. “There’s no other American like him. I got his book last year and I was thrilled to read it.”
Nearby, Liz Flatte, of the Village of Mallory Square, was wearing a Navy hat in support of her niece and like the thousands of Villagers and area residents surrounding her, was taking in the show with a huge smile on her face.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s great to see everybody from The Villages out here. I’m having a great time.”
For his part, Sinise offered thanks to the many area residents who came out to see the show.
“Wow, what a great audience,” he said. “The generosity of the American people allows us to be able to sponsor a show like this so we can come and just say ‘thank you’ for serving our country. Honor, gratitude and rock & roll – that’s the band’s motto.”
The Lt. Dan Band’s next show is scheduled for Nov. 9 in Las Vegas and is being billed as a “Salute to the Troops.” Some of the other places the band has been or will go this year include Fort Huachuca, Luke Air Force Base and Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona; Camp Pendleton, Naval Medical Center San Diego and Naval Base Ventura in California; Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Tyndall Air Force Base, the Disabled American Veterans convention (Orlando) and the Snowball Express (serving the children of fallen veterans in Orlando) in Florida; Fort Benning and Fort Stewart in Georgia; Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada; Fort Belvoir and USO Little Creek in Virginia; and the Association of the United States Army in Washington, D.C.