BRUNSWICK — Several years ago, Lynn Kinney started a band all because of meatloaf.

Not Meat Loaf, the singer-songwriter Kinney calls one of her favorites — the one whose “Bat out of Hell” is one of the best-selling albums of all time. No, Kinney got the idea for her band — the Volunteers Jazz Band — as she was driving through Brunswick and smelled meatloaf.

That scent evoked memories of sitting at a diner in northern Maine more than 50 years ago with a World War II veteran and Congressional Medal of Honor winner named Ed Dalhgren

Dalhgren, Kinney said, usually didn’t speak about his experience in combat. But one day that changed.

“I was home from the University of Maine, and every Saturday, Al’s Diner had a meatloaf special. One Saturday, I was talking to Eddy, one of my parents’ friends,” Kinney recalled. “He never talked about what he did in World War II. I don’t know if it was me or the meatloaf, but he decided to let loose and talk about all of the things that lived with him — and will live with me — forever.”

Kinney, 70, said on the day she drove through Brunswick in her 1973 Corvette with the tops off and smelled some meatloaf, it occurred to her that she should put a band together to honor Dalhgren and all the veterans of all the conflicts who leave home to serve their country.

“People who do that deserve huge recognition, so this was my way to do that,” Kinney said.

And so the Volunteers Jazz Band was born; Kinney joked that she couldn’t name the band Meatloaf because that name was taken.

So Kinney, who had just started playing the baritone sax about a year earlier, formed a band that includes professional musicians like world-renowned composer and pianist Jesse Feinberg, a teacher at the Portland Conservatory of Music; the director of the Bowdoin College Concert Band; and performers from local acts like Rustic Overtones and the Soul Sensations. The band also has music educators and members who’ve served in the Armed Services Bands.

Starting a band was never a part of Kinney’s thought process. She took piano lessons as a young girl and is a technology consultant by trade. She said she’s been a geek from day one, but smelled the meatloaf and remembered Dahlgren.

The band, which plays between 10 and 15 gigs each year, performs free of charge for veterans around the state at venues like VA Maine Healthcare System – Togus in Chelsea, which has its own 300-seat theater — and homes and facilities that serve Maine veterans. Kinney said the band also takes paying gigs and donates the proceeds to a local veterans organization.

“We have some amazing musicians that probably should’ve said no, but they didn’t, and they volunteer their services, and we’re so thankful for that,” Kinney said. “I have a master’s in project management, and I know that you approach something the right way, you’ll find success.”

Kinney said this is more than a band. It’s a team of musicians that bring their beliefs and talents to say thank you to those to whom we owe so much.

PLAYING FOR VETERANS, MAKING AN IMPACT
The band’s first gig at Togus cemented for band members what the group was going to be about, though Kinney said she couldn’t have predicted then how successful they would become years later.

She said live performance music has a lot of power, but especially when it’s being performed for people who can’t get out and hear it for themselves.

One gig from last year at Togus is especially meaningful to Kinney. The band has played in Togus’ main theater many times in the past, but last year the band played in one of the ward’s within the federal hospital complex.

“There were a lot of wheelchairs, and there was a guy parked in front of me who had his head down and wasn’t moving. And two or three songs in, I saw his toes starting to tap, and a few songs later, they were really starting to tap. Then I looked up, and he was looking at me. And he winked,” Kinney said. “It was a big deal because a nurse said he had shown no signs of life for the six months that he had been there. It was pretty darn cool.”

Feinberg is a son of a veteran, so when he heard what Kinney was planning several years ago, he thought it was a great opportunity to give back to the community and pay homage to those who have sacrificed for this country. Band member Ed Holt, however, had a different reaction.

“I thought that I’d love to play, but I didn’t think I was up for it,” he said. “I didn’t think I was good enough, and I still feel like I’m one of the weaker players in the group, mainly because I don’t improvise.”

Improvisation is a hallmark of a jazz band, and though Holt can read music and is an accomplished conductor, he said it’s a terrible weakness for someone in a jazz band if they can’t improvise.

“But I enjoy the music, and I enjoy the group, and I enjoy playing for the veterans, which is what it’s all about,” he said.

Playing in front of audiences at some of the world’s most famous venues is one thing, but Feinberg said it’s impossible to put a value on what it feels like to play to and get a reaction from veterans. He said it’s thrilling and rewarding to see how much we can change somebody’s life.

Feinberg and Kinney both mentioned what it was like playing for the Travis Mills Foundation at a fundraiser for and then the grand opening of the Veterans Family Retreat in Manchester. Feinberg said you could see how much the music was impacting the veterans their families and guests who were listening to the band’s performance.

Kinney would like the band to become more involved with Travis Mills, a retired Army staff sergeant who lost all four limbs after an explosion in Afghanistan in 2012.

“We’re kind of buds, now,” she said.

SHOWCASING THE BAND
When someone first hears about a band playing music for veterans, it’s easy to expect that the music performed would be patriotic the patriotic stylings of John Philip Sousa. But not this band. Kinney caters to the audience, people can expect to hear big band music from the ‘40s and early rock and roll, plus some pop, jazz, hard rock and funk.

Some of the songs the band’s favorites include “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger and “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King. Kinney said the band has used bagpipes on a few occasions and may do so again soon, and she is also tinkering with putting in some Metallica.

“Our opening piece is always ‘American Patrol’ by Glenn Miller, and we almost always close with ‘God Bless the U.S.A.,’” she said. “But it depends on who our audience is.”

Despite being a band of volunteers from varying musical backgrounds, audiences can expect to hear professional sound and from longtime musicians.

Feinberg — who graduated from Julliard at age 14 and is a former accompanist for the Boston Ballet — as a monster on the keys. Holt has been a part of the Volunteers for several years and John Morneau leads the concert band at Bowdoin.

The band gets together about once a month to rehearse, try out new music and put together a road map of improvisational solos that’ll be a part of their next performance.

“We don’t practice, because we don’t need to,” Kinney said. “We’re in a groove.”

The band played with 12 members in the Togus ward, and they typically have at least 10 people on stage all playing at the same time. When they played at the Frontier in Brunswick in September, a paying gig, the stage was expanded to fit the 13 people in the band. And there was $400 donated to a local veterans organization.

“We would love to hear from veterans organizations who’d be interested in scheduling a performance free of charge,” Kinney said. “We are also looking ahead to playing in larger venues to reach even more veterans.”

The band is busiest during the summer, Kinney said, and they spend the majority of the winter months rehearsing and introducing new music. She said they also try to visit veterans homes during the winter because veterans get a lot of attention during the holidays, but not as much during January and February and March.

For more information, contact Kinney at [email protected]