Jennifer Batten performing with Aaron Kusterer and the Air Force Band on July, 2, 2010.
ON THE SURFACE, AARON KUSTERER
is no different than most guitarists. He has
his formative influences—Joe Satriani and
Steve Vai—and he’s a gear geek who wields
Buddy Blaze and Ibanez guitars (as well as
a Carvin acoustic), racks up a TC Electronic
G-Force, and plugs into a Randall RM4 head
loaded with Ecstasy, Plexi, Ultra XL, and
Clean modules. But his stage wear ain’t
exactly jeans, boots, and a t-shirt—it’s the
uniform of an Air Force Airman First Class.
Kusterer is a guitarist in the Air Force Band
of Mid-America group, Starlifter. Formed
in 1942, Starlifter has given thousands of
humanitarian and public concerts, and,
last year, performed with Jennifer Batten
onstage as a guest guitarist.
How do you join the Air Force Band?
There’s an auditions clerk you need
to see. The auditions typically involve
sight-reading, playing four tunes, and then
sitting in with several different bands—rock,
jazz, concert, etc. Obviously, you need to
be versatile, because, at some point, you’re
going to play everything. You can’t just be a
great rock player. Also, you typically don’t
enlist until you’re selected.
What happens when you first join?
You are given an overview of what is
expected of you, as well as some time to
get to know the book [charts]. Although, in
these bands, the musicianship is extremely
high, so there are seldom any musical surprises.
We operate at a very high opps tempo
[frequency of shows], so having the desire
to always learn and practice, and the ability
to roll with the punches are wonderful
attributes to have.
Unlike most civilian rock bands, Starlifter
doesn’t have an established lineup, right?
There are musicians assigned to specific
bands—although the members are sometimes
shuffled about if someone is sick, or
they move, or if we want to change things up
with new players. The group that played with
Jennifer is only one band from the unit. The
unit is about 40 people, and it goes from a
big concert band that includes almost everyone
to subdivisions such as a jazz band, two
rock bands, and a woodwind quintet.
As you play so many concerts, how do you
decide which rig to bring?
It’s totally up to me, but I have to be
practical. We can go from playing for a
small audience of 100 people up to a crowd
of 25,000 or more. So the rigs go from a
pedal or two on the floor to bringing all
the big stacks and racks and so on. And
when we travel on military flights, we are
only allowed a certain amount of space, so
that has to be factored in. It usually comes
down to asking yourself, “What can I get
away with taking? What can I do without?”
It must have been a thrill to perform with
It was absolutely incredible. She is so
easy to work with, and she’s really funny.
She’s like a mentor to me now.
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