Gary Sinise's band headlines Winterfest in Lakewood Ranch

His Lt. Dan Band headlines a lineup of rock and country acts at Winterfest

mclear@bradenton.comMarch 27, 2014 

Gary Sinise is one of the country's best film, theater and television actors. But these days he's not acting, or even giving much thought to acting.

"I'm full time with my foundation now," Sinise said in a phone interview from his California home. "I don't really have much time for acting."

Sinise, who said he has a lot of military veterans in his family, founded the Gary Sinise Foundation in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to provide a range of services for military personnel. After 12 years of war, he said, America's military people need support more than ever before.

Civilians get to enjoy some of the foundation's work, too. This weekend, the Lt. Dan Band, the 12-piece group led by Sinise, will headline Winterfest, the new music festival at scheduled for Saturday in Lakewood Ranch.

"We're a cover band," he said. "We've gotten really good. We do a lot of different styles. When you're playing all hits, when you're playing songs that people are going to recognize and you're have a real high energy, people are going to respond."

The Lt. Dan Band, which is named after Sinise's character in "Forrest Gump," plays at a lot of military bases and veterans hospitals, and often entertains troops overseas. When the band plays at an event such as Winterfest, the money goes to the foundation.

Winterfest which organizers plan to turn into an annual event, was originally planned as a two-day event.

It's been condensed into one day, but it's a full day of some big names in rock, pop and country music, including Rick Derringer, Kansas, Ty Herndon, Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane Fame, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Bertie Higgins (whose "Key Largo" was a huge soft-rock hit), Billy Dean, Les Sabler and Eagles tribute band Hotel California, and Jeff Cook, a co-founder of the band Alabama.

A lot of the acts have a connection to the Bradenton area. Derringer lives in Manatee County, Balin was married to Tampa musician Karen Deal and performed often in Tampa clubs, Cook works with Bradenton's Del Couch Foundation, Higgins lives in Pinellas County and Rodney Justo, the singer for the Atlanta Rhythm Section, lives in Tampa.

"It's going to be a lot of fun for us," Justo said. "It's going to be like a reunion. I haven't seen Rick Derringer in 40 years. I knew him when he was in the McCoys. Bertie Higgins and I used to play together in the St. Petersburg Junior College band."

Justo was the original singer for Atlanta Rhythm Section, and has been in and out of the band several times over the years.

"This is my fourth time in the band," he said. "I got out of music and came back to Tampa to raise a family. I was working for a liquor distributor. I started at the very bottom, dusting bottles on the shelves at Winn-Dixie. I was afraid someone would recognize me."

Justo, who was a backup singer for Roy Orbison before Atlanta Rhythm Section formed, said that ARS now includes three original members, including the keyboard player and the bass player.

They'll be playing a one-hour set, which means they can pretty much perform nothing but Atlanta Rhythm Section hits.

Cook, on the other hand says he eschews the songs from his biggest band, Alabama.

"If I want to play Alabama music I'll play with Alabama," he said. "But I'm really tired of it."

His current band, he said, might play one or two Alabama songs, but they do all sorts of music, mostly covers of other artists' work.

"We try to play country, we try to play rock 'n' roll, and you put them together you get 'funtry' music," he said. "We might do Merle Haggard's 'Working Man's Blues' and then do 'Brick House' by the Commodores, the very next song."

Details: 10 a.m.-11 p.m. March 29, Premier Sports Campus, 5895 Post Blvd, Lakewood Ranch. Tickets: General admission, $26.87; VIP $104.49. Information:

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow

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