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147th Army Band marks 100th year in Mitchell

Group, Corn Palace share decades of history

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Members of SGT Rock, a part of the 147th Army Band, performs Saturday at the Corn Palace Plaza in Mitchell. The band is marking 100 years of being stationed in Mitchell this year. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

It looked like a military operation Saturday in downtown Mitchell.

South Dakota National Guard members in uniform were moving about, moving equipment and coordinating personnel. They executed tests and prepared to proceed with their mission.

And then they took to the stage for their performance.

This particular unit of the South Dakota National Guard is the 147th Army Band, and they were playing a wide variety of music for several dozen audience members at the Corn Palace Plaza Outdoor Stage in an effort to celebrate both the 100th anniversary of the current Corn Palace building and the 100th anniversary of the 147th Army Band’s posting to Mitchell.

“Coincidentally, the (current) Corn Palace is celebrating its 100 years, as well, and at one time, the band trained in the armory that was adjacent to the Corn Palace,” Tim Storly, readiness NCO for 147th Army Band, told the Mitchell Republic prior to Saturday’s performances.

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Like the Corn Palace itself , the band traces its history even further back than 100 years.

The group was first formed as part of the Dakota Territory Militia and was known as the Second Regiment Band. It was based in Canton and took part in the Philippine Insurrection in 1898 and 1899 as part of the First South Dakota Infantry, United States Volunteers. The band underwent name changes and assignments, but continued to serve. It served at the Mexican border in 1916, activated for World War I in 1917 and served in France as part of the American Expeditionary Forces.

It served during World War II at stations that included Australia and continued to take part in assignments around the world over the recent decades up to and including Suriname in 2018. After being stationed in Canton, Brookings, Watertown, Redfield and Sioux Falls, the band was assigned to Mitchell in 1921, where it has remained headquartered ever since.

The band has undergone numerous changes over the years, and Saturday’s performances reflected that. While the roughly 40 members of the band auditioned on traditional concert instruments for the group, the music played at the Corn Palace Plaza ranged from rock, pop and country to classic rock, hip hop and rap.

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Members of the 147th Army Band were on hand Saturday at the Corn Palace Plaza for a musical performance. The band is marking 100 years of being stationed in Mitchell in 2021. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

The group made a conscious switch to more modern music in 2012 for many of its performances. It’s a change from traditional to modern that reflects the changing face of the National Guard, Storly said.

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“They’ve bought into performing, because we play music that is relevant. We have an average age of about 23 years old, so that’s the type of music we should be playing,” Storly said. “You can do something patriotic, but you’re also the face of the National Guard and at that point, reaching out to new recruits in the 17 to 35 year-old group. Therefore we play modern music, and we just love it.”

Three of the four subgroups of the band were scheduled to be on stage Saturday. SGT Rock, which features rock and pop music, Drive On, which features classic rock and country and FTX, which features hop-hop and rap. A fourth subgroup, Mission Essential Brass, was not on the bill.

The band also still performs traditional concert music for appropriate events, such as activation and welcome home ceremonies, but the bulk of their work centers around the more modern selections. The groups fulfill requests to play numerous events, including various town celebrations, soldier support events and school tours.

The band is stationed in Mitchell, but its members come from all over the country and converge when called upon to perform. Modern practicing means they often play together using online methods, something they had to embrace during the COVID-19 outbreak. And the switch to more modern music often has the musicians arranging their own versions of popular tunes, after finding online chord sheets for the music are often wrong.

There are obstacles to overcome, but the entire band is dedicated to its mission, Storly said. In fact, they are even working on aspects of their performance outside their musical abilities. That kind of focus on improving the work keeps many members motivated and engaged with the band.

“I do believe that’s why these people make these trips back to our unit. We take it so seriously. We hired a professional to work with the team this summer on entertainment concepts, like how to move on stage, how to use the microphone stand and when you’re arranging music, what should you think about?” Storly said.

SGT Rock took the stage a little past 2 p.m. Saturday, and launched into several rock tunes. To their left, the Corn Palace loomed into the sky. In front of them, an audience of relaxed music lovers lounged in the grass and offered enthusiastic rounds of applause. It was a relatively cool July afternoon, and visitors and locals listened to the sounds as they took a break from the 2nd Saturday downtown festivities.

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Members of the 147th Army Band performed at the Corn Palace Plaza Saturday afternoon as a way to mark 100 years of being stationed in Mitchell. The Corn Palace is also celebrating 100 years of its current building. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

It was a small but appreciative crowd, not quite the concert madness the Corn Palace experienced during the heady days of Lawrence Welk . But the 100-year connection between the building and the band made the Saturday show special in its own right, Storly said.

And the band plans to continue its work into the future, with a school tour next year, something the band hasn’t done since 2014. And it will continue to fulfill its duties when called upon for celebrations, ceremonies and other work, wherever they are called.

“It’s going to be fun to see them play,” Storly said.

Related Topics: MUSICCORN PALACE
Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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