DIYALA, Iraq – The notes sang through the speakers as the man’s hands danced up and down the keyboard, his voice penetrating the arid evening air. Two guitars wailed on either side of the man on the keyboard, a drummer pounding away behind them all. With a climactic finish, the pianist turned to address the crowd.
“It is an honor to be here with you this evening,” said Nathan Lee, a rock pianist and lead vocalist from Bangor, Penn. “We came here with a great deal of respect in our hearts for what you do for us.”
The musician and his band from Nashville, Tenn. played a show for 2nd Stryker Advise and Assist Brigade, 25th Infantry Division soldiers August 6 at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, Iraq. Soldiers gathered around the main stage to hear the band crank out songs from their album titled “Risk Everything.”
Nathan Lee possesses a unique sound, blending electric and bass guitar, drums and piano to produce melodic ballads like “Bring Down the Fire,” and upbeat, edgier tracks like “High Speed Low Drag.”
“It’s piano pop-rock,” Nathan Lee said. “I always call it Jersey rock because then it kind of dials it in for people.”
This Jersey rock has been rolling along for over 20 years, adapting and perfecting his style, drawing from life experiences to fuel his creative fire. Hard times, including living out of his car, have served to make Nathan Lee a stronger person and an artist that performs with conviction.
“I’ve been playing since I was 11, and decided to really go after it when I was 16, and I’m 35 now so it’s been a long road,” Nathan Lee said.
“I take from life, it depends on the day,” he said. “For me a lot of it is about the hard times, I’m definitely in that category that writes about the hard times and getting through it.”
Though the basis for the unique sound is centered around the piano and Nathan Lee’s vocals, it simply wouldn’t be possible without his bandmates’ artistic talents on their respective instruments. Joey Sanchez shreds the drums while Gregory Everett takes his cue on the electric guitar. Josiah Holland demonstrates his expertise on the bass guitar and lends backup vocals.
“We have been playing together for about a year and a half, and Greg jumped in because our other guitarist heard about the Blackhawk ride and said ‘No way!’” Nathan Lee laughed. “So we made a little switch and Greg jumped in to play with us.”
Though the band has been playing together for a year and a half, and Nathan Lee has been playing for over 20 years, this is the first time any of them have been able to play for troops overseas, something the leading man has been trying to coordinate for almost a decade.
“For nine years I’ve wanted to come out and play for troops, and it never worked until now,” Nathan Lee said. “And the way it all came together is Joey works with a company called Ultimate Ears and they were our sponsor for this run.”
“Ultimate Ears actually sponsored us and gave us 1,000 sets of earphones and copies of our album to give out to the troops,” said Joey Sanchez, the percussions specialist for the band.
The trip began in Minneapolis, Minn. where the band rehearsed their performance and tuned their instruments. Nathan Lee and company then boarded a flight and ultimately ended up at Camp Buehring in Kuwait where their Middle East tour began.
“I think it’s a total of a two-week run,” Nathan Lee said. “We started in Minneapolis to dial in the sound, then into Kuwait where we played a show for the troops there, and then it was about three days of ‘hurry up and wait.’ We’ve had about six hours of sleep in the last four days but we couldn’t be more excited to be here.”
The band wrapped up their performance, and as they began to pack their gear for the trip to Mosul, Iraq, for their next show, Lt. Col. Scott Murray, the battalion commander for 225 Brigade Support Battalion, 2SAAB, 25th ID, presented each member of the band with 25th ID hats and certificates of appreciation to commemorate the band’s performance at FOB Warhorse and to express the unit’s gratitude.
“On behalf of the soldiers, I’d like to express my personal appreciation for you guys coming out here,” said Lt. Col. Murray. “It says a lot about who you are and what you represent, and I’m truly honored to stand up here with you.”
Following the presentation of the certificates and an encore performance by the band, Nathan Lee autographed copies of their album containing all the songs they played throughout the evening, and reiterated his own gratitude for soldiers deployed in Iraq.
“We’re so grateful to be here playing for the soldiers, it means so much to us what you’re doing over,” he said.