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Q&A: Famed national anthem singer Wayne Messmer to bring big band to Cantigny Park

The Wayne Messmer Big Band will perform at 3 p.m. Sept. 3 at Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton.
The Wayne Messmer Big Band will perform at 3 p.m. Sept. 3 at Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton.

WHEATON – Best known for singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at various sporting events, Wayne Messmer and his big band will perform at 3 p.m. Sept. 3 at Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton. The concert is free, but there is a $10 parking fee.

Suburban Life reporter Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to Messmer about the upcoming concert. The interview has been edited for length and style.

Schelkopf: I know that you and your big band will be coming to Cantigny. You will be doing songs from artists like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin. Is this music that you grew up on?

Messmer: Pretty much, yeah. And it's stuff that I really enjoy.

Schelkopf: And how have people been reacting to the band?

Messmer: They love it. Because it's cool. I was doing this before I was singing, "Oh, say can you see."

Schelkopf: Before the band starts, are you going to be singing the national anthem?

Messmer: Probably not. At this point, you kind of say, ''That's maybe what you know me for, but this is what you'll see tonight." ... But you never know. Because of the setting, I may very well do it. It's kind of a spontaneous decision.

Schelkopf: Because what if the crowd shouts out that they want you to sing the national anthem?

Messmer: Well, then you can't let them down.

Schelkopf: Speaking about that, a guess a couple of years ago you were closing in on singing the national anthem 5,000 times. Have you reached it?

Messmer: I'm really getting close. I'm trying to actually conserve a few performances to make sure that I hit it on a good date.

Schelkopf: Where would you like to hit that goal?

Messmer: Probably in front of 40,000 people at Wrigley Field.

Schelkopf: Are you close enough that you might actually make your goal if the Cubs make it to the World Series?

Messmer: It's getting that close. That would be fun.

Schelkopf: Speaking of that, I know that you will be singing the national anthem when the Cubs play at Wrigley Field on Sept. 11. Given the events of that day, will that be even more special to you?

Messmer: It definitely will be. I take the attitude of knowing what the national anthem truly means and what it means to the great majority of people. ... I think we all have memories of that day and the fear we had and how it did kind of swell some national pride and unity. That date will always be a special day in a very sad way. ... And when it came time to pick the dates in the year for the games, I immediately wanted to say yes to Sept. 11.

Schelkopf: What does the national anthem mean to you?

Messmer: It's a rally song. It's a call to action. My dad, who was a World War II veteran, he and I used to talk about it quite a bit. ... We all have the freedom to respond however we want during the national anthem. I choose respect. That's what I prefer. ... I often sing with my eyes closed because it would irritate me if I see people not respecting it.

Schelkopf: Did you ever imagine this is what you would be known for?

Messmer: Never. No. I had no idea what path this life was going to take me. ... I first started singing kind of spontaneously. I was doing a Loyola University hockey game, and the tape broke of the national anthem. So I said, I'll just sing it. ... So I did, and everybody was going, "Whoa." And then the opportunities just started to come.

Schelkopf: What do you think it is about your interpretation of the national anthem that people enjoy so much?

Messmer: Most people talk about the honesty and the emotion, more than anything else. I like to be the blue collar guy who just stands up and sings it the way it is supposed to be sung, with no gimmicks or tricks. ... I do it with respect.


If you go

WHAT: Outdoor Concerts: Wayne Messmer Big Band

WHEN: 3 p.m. Sept. 3

WHERE: Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton

COST: Free admission, $10 parking


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