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Maine National Guard band plays to international audience

VAN BUREN, Maine — Americans and Canadians alike enjoyed a concert by the 195th Maine Army National Guard Band at the Van Buren boat landing Friday afternoon.

With an eclectic and patriotic set of classic rock and pop with a few country and folk numbers, the band impressed a crowd of about two dozen Van Buren residents and a handful of eager onlookers on the Canadian bank of the St. John River, who honked and cheered after each song.

The border has been closed for well over a year now, but Van Buren Town Manager Nancy Troeger recalled that in the past, a lot of public cultural events were shared between Van Buren and its Canadian twin, St. Leonard, New Brunswick.

This show was just one on the band’s statewide tour — northern and southern groups split from the full 195th Band have been bouncing between concert venues across Maine. Last night the northern band played at the popular Caribou concert series Thursdays on Sweden. 

Staff Sergeant Chad Fournier performs “Spike” by Tom Petty. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

The ensemble split into branches last year to accommodate COVID-19 safety restrictions, Staff Sgt. Chad Fournier said. Fournier earned a cheer from the mostly-Acadian crowd when introduced himself with the traditional French pronunciation. His groovy rendition of Tom Petty’s “Spike” was also a hit.

Staff Sgt. Crystal Ryder gave the standout vocal performance of the afternoon with her version of “Feelin’ Good,” backed by the company’s stacked brass lineup — the Canadian car horns went wild after this one. Her stripped-back cover of The Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier” was another emotional highlight.

Arlene Beaulieu, who attended the concert with her husband, Harvey, said she was blown away by the size of the band and all the acoustic instruments they brought. 

“I was so glad we came down,” Beaulieu said.

Canadian onlookers were some of the most enthusiastic audience members at the 195th National Guard Band Concert. A handful of cars parked across the St. John River from the Van Buren Boat landing, honking and waving after songs. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

Also in the crowd was former Guardsman and retired U.S. Army Brigadier General John Levasseur. He was glad to see the Guard’s presence in Van Buren. When Levasseur was younger, the service helped him grow from his potato-farming roots to travel the country and the world with the military.

“The Army gave me the opportunity to learn all these different skill sets,” Levasseur said. “It was the adventure, it was the community, it was a lot of things.”

This is just the beginning of the holiday weekend for the band, which will head south to headline the Presque Isle Fourth of July festivities on Saturday. 

Canadian onlookers were some of the most enthusiastic audience members at the 195th National Guard Band Concert. A handful of cars parked across the St. John River from the Van Buren Boat landing, honking and waving after songs. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

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