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Philly band to rock Guantanamo troops into a new year

The raucous local band Fosterchild will be rocking in the New Year with a free show Friday night at the Windjammer Ballroom.

The raucous local band Fosterchild will be rocking in the New Year with a free show Friday night at the Windjammer Ballroom.

Don't recognize the venue? It's conveniently located. A short walk from Cuzco barracks. About a mile from the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

The Philadelphia foursome volunteered to fly to Cuba to perform for members of the Joint Task Force at the base.

"The admiral for the Navy wanted to do a big blowout on New Year's Eve," says Brian Quinn, Fosterchild's founder and guitarist. "We would have gone down there for a six-pack and a pizza."

The rockers are following in the audio tracks of Charlie Daniels, Jimmy Buffett, Bowling for Soup, Audioslave, and other well-known musicians who have played Gitmo.

Friday night our servicemen and women on the isolated base have a choice between American Idol runner-up Bo Bice at the Tiki Bar or Fosterchild at the Windjammer.

So how does a bar band with one independently produced CD and one EP to its name land the year's biggest party at the world's most infamous military installation?

It took some fierce lobbying from an old friend: an officer and a Philadelphian.

Performers who want to entertain the troops must first register with Armed Forces Entertainment, the office of the Department of Defense that arranges shows from Kosovo to Korea. "We submitted to go to the Middle East a few months ago," says Quinn. "You put up a bio, samples of the music, and live footage on the Armed Forces Entertainment database. But we hadn't heard anything back."

Then Northeast native Jason Duff got involved. He has known members of Fosterchild since he was a young DJ working the Delaware Valley.

"I've actually spent New Year's Eve with them a number of times already," says Duff. "They were the main band at Bootleggers in Woodlyn and I was the DJ."

At the same time Duff was spinning records, he was also studying for a doctorate in clinical psychology at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, teaching at Widener University, and working full time as a nurse practitioner.

Now at 36, he's a Navy lieutenant deployed as a psychologist at Guantanamo.

Duff was delighted when, out of the blue, he saw Fosterchild's name on a list of bands eligible to play the New Year's Eve shindig. He began urging his compatriots at Gitmo to vote for the group.

"As soon as I saw the name I started spreading the word: 'They're a great band. They put on a fabulous show,' " Duff says on the phone from Cuba.

He then put Fosterchild's manager in touch with the Navy's Morale, Welfare and Recreation office, which coordinates the performances at Guantanamo.

"We appreciate all of the bands who entertain . . . at overseas locations. These types of activities provide service members and their families with a sense of community wherever they are stationed," said Terence R. Peck, public affairs officer at the Cuban naval station, via e-mail.

Because of his long history with the group, Duff has a different reaction to seeing the musicians on foreign soil. "This is surreal and interesting and curious on many levels," he says. Fosterchild's members have been gung-ho to do something like this since they opened a show for Tantric at Fort Hood in Texas in 2008.

"It was a big crowd," says Quinn. "It's not like they were slam-dancing or moshing, but they definitely get into it."

Fosterchild subsequently donated a shipment of their CD, American Made, to the armed forces.

Months later in Washington, "a Marine who was on leave from Iraq came out to our show," recalls Danny Beissel, Fosterchild's Frankford-born singer. "He started thanking us, telling us that they were blasting our song 'Bulletproof' in the humvees when they drove into enemy territory."

The band flies down to Cuba on Thursday, connecting in Florida for a five-day stay that includes a tour of the detention camp.

There are commercial flights from Fort Lauderdale to Guantanamo five days a week, provided each passenger has a passport and the requisite Cuban clearance document.

The members of Fosterchild, who besides Quinn and Beissel are drummer and Mayfair native Bob Pirylis and bass player Mike Vlaanderen of Philadelphia, were also issued Geneva Convention cards for light reading on the trip.

Their old running partner, Duff, is hoping to entice the guys into playing some impromptu sets while they are on the base. "I hope they'll do some acoustic stuff somewhere," he says. "That's how we used to do it back in the day. Give Brian a guitar and Bobby something to bang on, and you've got a party."

The rockers will be bunking in officers' quarters while at Guantanamo, but they're not expecting special treatment.

Says Beissel, "I'm pretty sure we'd have to go through basic training before they'd salute us."