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Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band rocked Luke AFB

Gary Sinise is a national treasure. No matter how many times his Lt. Dan Band has played in Arizona (dozens!), playing for the military "never gets old."
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Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band perform at a fundraiser. The Gary Sinise Foundation aims to bring awareness and support to wounded warriors and their families. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Marie A. Montez/Released)

Actor Gary Sinise and his 13-member Lt. Dan Band have performed in Arizona at least 15 times since the band’s founding in 2003. But the thrill of playing for military families, veterans and the first responder community — most recently on April 28, 2024, at Luke Air Force Base in Maricopa County — never gets old.

“I always love coming to Arizona,” Sinise, best known for playing Lt. Dan on the film Forrest Gump and Mac Taylor on the CBS series CSI: NY, told We Are The Mighty. “I have great memories here from the 80s when my parents lived in Cave Creek.”

The Lt. Dan Band performs at Luke AFB April 28, 2024. Photo: Crystal Kupper for We Are The Mighty.
The Lt. Dan Band performs at Luke AFB April 28, 2024. Photo: Crystal Kupper for We Are The Mighty.

Rock On

The Lt. Dan Band, including Sinise, its bass player, has put on nearly 600 concerts around the globe. The group performs covers from every modern era, including 1940s jazz standards up to contemporary pop chart-toppers. Approximately 600 desert concertgoers clapped and sang along at a hanger on Luke AFB’s flightline to hits like “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, a gigantic American flag draped behind the stage. “It was an amazing concert,” Air Force Airman 1st Class Josefa Villa said. “The band is so talented and really knows how to get everyone dancing.” That’s always the band’s goal. Sinise, who plays a Fender Jazz bass, calls himself “an amateur bass player in a band of professionals” who just loves watching fans have a good time. “This show is such a variety of different types of music, because that’s what the show is really about, so we can touch every demographic we’re playing for,” Sinise said. “I kind of like it all. I’m an old rocker from the 60s, so I like playing The Who’s songs, but I like playing contemporary tunes and country songs, too.”

On the Road with Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band

His band, comprised of professional musicians from around the country, can and does play it all. Kirk Garrison, a former airman who served from 1983 to 1992, is one of them. Besides his “normal” job as the Director of Jazz Studies at Elmhurst University in Illinois, Garrison also has played trumpet for the Lt. Dan Band since 2005. His first concert with the band was at Maxwell AFB in Alabama — his first duty station. “I don’t think anybody goes away without a smile on their face when we play,” he said. “We [band members] all have other things going on, like a couple of full-time college professors, some freelance musicians, but everybody’s pretty loyal to the band, and we all do our best to clear our calendars for it.”

Band practice and coordination often takes place virtually, with pre-concert jam sessions filling in the rest. Sometimes before a tour, the group rents recording studio space. But other than that, the musicians rely on their decades of experience and talent to perfect their nucleus of 75 to 80 songs, most picked by Sinise.

“It’s the best group of musicians out there,” Garrison said. “Sometimes with musicians, you run into egos, but that doesn’t happen here at all. We like to listen each other play, because everyone’s just so darn good.”

The Lt. Dan Band performs at Luke AFB April 28, 2024. Photo: Crystal Kupper for We Are The Mighty.
The Lt. Dan Band performs at Luke AFB April 28, 2024. Photo: Crystal Kupper for We Are The Mighty.

Service Before Self

The Lt. Dan Band, with its motto of, “Honor, gratitude and rock and roll,” came about as part of Sinise’s decades-long admiration for the military community. Similarly, since its founding in 2011, the Gary Sinise Foundation has raised over $300 million for Gold Star families, veterans, first responders and their families through a variety of programs and initiatives. “This is a service mission for me,” Sinise said. “I get a lot of great spiritual reward out of service work.”

That service includes not only Lt. Dan Band concerts, but also visiting wounded veterans in hospitals. Often, those visits are with amputees, like his character on Forrest Gump. “You go into a hospital and see broken people and families dealing with very hard things. Then you walk in the room and people start smiling,” Sinise said. “I always felt like when I left, I’d helped somebody. That made me want to go back and do it again.” And again and again and again, apparently. Though Sinise said his performance schedule has slowed down significantly — and that he jokingly asks himself while stretching out his 69-year-old back post-show how long he can keep playing with the band — his future still includes the Lt. Dan Band. One gig Sinise is especially looking forward to is at The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Forrest Gump in July.

The Lt. Dan Band performs at Luke AFB April 28, 2024. Photo: Crystal Kupper for We Are The Mighty.
The Lt. Dan Band performs at Luke AFB April 28, 2024. Photo: Crystal Kupper for We Are The Mighty.

“As long as it’s making a difference and I feel like I’m still able to do it, I’ll do it,” he said. “Right now, I’m not acting and don’t know if I’ll do it again, but the sort of joy I get from playing in front of big crowds of folks in the military or first responders — I get a lot of joy out of that.” His audiences certainly are grateful. Villa, the airman stationed at Luke, loved how the Lt. Dan Band chose to finish the concert with Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”

“Having many family members who have served before me, including my husband, Christian, it just really meant a lot that they closed with that song,” she said. “Knowing that Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band does this for us military people is amazing.”

For future concert dates, check out ltdanband.com.