This weekend, the Sag Harbor American Music Festival returns for its 10th season. Among the many acts scheduled to perform during the four-day festival will be The Resilient, a band whose members have overcome enormous odds to not only survive, but thrive through their music.
Drummer Juan “Dom” Dominguez, lead singer Tim Donley and guitarist Nate Kalwicki and are all veterans of the war in Afghanistan. All three are also amputees. Both Dominguez and Donley, former Marines, were injured by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — Dominguez lost his legs and his right arm (he plays drums with adaptive prosthetics) and Donley lost both legs and a portion of his right arm. Kalwicki, an Army infantryman, lost his right leg after being shot by a rogue Afghan soldier. Rounding out the band is Kalwicki’s brother, bass player Erik Kalwicki, and guitarist Greg Loman, a musician who met the veterans in 2012 while they were rehabilitating at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Loman was a volunteer teacher in Walter Reed’s MusiCorps program, which was started in 2007 by composer and pianist Arthur Bloom to help wounded veterans in their recovery.
The Resilient formed as a band in 2018 and now live scattered across the country. Ironically, it was Jim Durning, a Sag Harbor native, who was instrumental in bringing them here for the music festival.
Durning grew up in Sag Harbor — his family came to the village back in the 1930s when his grandfather took a job as general manager at the Bulova factory. Durning’s sister, Laurie, was once married to Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame, and it’s through him that Durning got involved in the music business. Though Durning’s sister and Waters have since divorced, back in 2010, he worked alongside Waters, his then brother-in-law, to develop the publicity and social media campaign for his three-year, worldwide concert tour of The Wall. Many of the songs Waters wrote for that 1980 Pink Floyd album deal with the scars of war, including his own. His grandfather died in WWI, and his father was killed in WWII while Waters was still an infant. Durning explains that Waters had long been interested in veterans and their causes, and invited them to performances of The Wall. But, Durning explains, when he learned that his music had been helpful in recovery for many of the veterans, Waters wanted to do more.
So they went to Walter Reed and recruited several musicians from the MusiCorps program and in 2013 invited them to perform in “Stand Up for Heroes,” an annual fundraising benefit hosted by the Bob Woodruff Foundation to support wounded veterans (Woodruff is the ABC News correspondent who suffered a traumatic brain injury from an IED attack while covering the war in Iraq in 2006). Calling themselves the MusiCorps Wounded Warrior Band, among the veterans selected to perform in the concert were Dominguez, Loman and Kalwicki, who appeared on stage with Waters at the Beacon Theatre and Madison Square Garden in New York City.
That experience and the positive feedback they received from their performance motivated the musicians to form The Resilient several years later. As the name implies, the focus is on perseverance and the band now gathers regularly at Donley’s handicapped accessible home in Pennsylvania to rehearse.
“The guys caught the bug and started doing things on their own,” explained Durning, who began working with The Resilient in 2019 and is now in the final stages of forming “The Reborn,” a nonprofit organization with a mission to help veterans struggling to adapt to life at home find hope and purpose. “They did covers, but then they started writing music more representative of their actual experience. They found something, their love for music. This is about bringing a message and helping veterans find optimism and hope through the music, which is not always rosy. They just have to bond with someone else. That shared experience allows them to talk it through.”
As a band, the members of The Resilient have discovered that music is a healing outlet. It’s a way for all people, especially veterans, to find connection, which Dominguez explains so many struggle with upon their return to civilian life.
“I feel there’s a disconnect,” he said. “Over there, you’re following in the exact footprints of the person in front so you don’t get blown up. You come back from that experience, and now you have to be a father, a husband and pay bills and do things you didn’t have to focus on. There’s really no decompression.
“The word ‘brotherhood’ applies to anybody in uniform. Even if you didn’t like the guy you will make sure he’s OK and safe,” Dominguez continued. “It’s an unspoken bond with everyone. You don’t leave anyone behind. So how do you replace that? The band is healthy outlet. A lot of veterans are just floating and don’t know what to do. A lot of civilians want to help and don’t know how. With Tim’s lyrics and messages, we can help get that conversation started and let people know we have to figure this gap out. Veterans have a lot of skills, and we have to focus on that good, motivating factor.
“It’s something we’ve all identified,” Kalwicki added. “Having a band gives us all a purpose, and we can work toward the same goal.”
For Donley, music had always been something he did for fun, rather than as a serious endeavor. But the opportunities he’s had with his band of brothers in recent years has encouraged him to take his music more seriously and pursue songwriting as well.
“Part of the draw of the music for us was we have things we want to say and we write our own music, our own lyrics and songs and try to connect and give,” Donley said. “The music is cathartic, and it allows that. For so long, guys deployed, whether they were injured or not. They’ve had their emotions on lockdown and are so disconnected from dealing with emotions and what’s going on around them.
“To reconnect those feelings is like regaining your humanity a bit, so you don’t feel like a robot,” he added.
Though Loman did not serve in the military, by working closely with his rehabilitating bandmates in the music program at Walter Reed, he came to understand their determination and the importance of bonding with a group of like-minded individuals.
“Veterans have a lot of skills, but what they have a lot of that civilians lack is discipline,” Loman said. “I realized while teaching them how much better they were getting — and quicker — doing what I was telling them. As a teacher, it was a challenge. I thought it would take them six months to get something down, not six days.
“This is a bridge. I think our band is a chance to illuminate that bridge,” Loman added. “The veterans have to accept help and guidance from the civilian side and civilians need to be open to accepting these people back into society. A lot of people don’t know how to help. I had a close friend who got me into the music program. It was an arduous, tedious process and it was hard to get the guys to respond to me at first.”
Now that the U.S. military has pulled out of Afghanistan after 20 years, leaving the Taliban in control of the country, veterans who served there have a lot of new emotion to process and many may be left wondering if their sacrifice was worth it in the end.
“It hurts to see how much pain and devastation there is,” Donley said. “I’ve had a number of people ask me, does it feel like a waste or everything is lost and it was all in vain? I don’t think it was. We made a difference for those people, we helped. We weren’t there for a patch of land. We were there to help the people find a measure of freedom, and they’ve gotten to experience a better life because of what we did. It can be difficult and it’s discouraging, but we did make a difference and it did matter.”
“We cared and we were trying to do the right thing,” Dominguez added. “I feel it was a disgrace — we didn’t do a proper withdrawal. But in that sense, no one should feel like it wasn’t worth it. Leadership didn’t do the job. I don’t believe the war is over. We basically negotiated with terrorists.”
When asked if, in a way, he feels like a pawn given all that has transpired in Afghanistan, Dominguez replied: “That’s funny, I have a pawn tattooed on my knuckles. When I was blown up, I felt like a pawn being moved on a chessboard. Then someone said on Facebook that when a pawn gets to the other side of the board, it becomes whatever it wants.”
Ultimately, the members of The Resilient are doing just that — forging their own path through music that shares a message of connection and songs they hope will help other veterans heal, whether their wounds are visible or not.
“For me, writing the lyrics and that side of things, I’m just writing from what’s going on in my head or from things these guys have said,” Donley noted. “Maybe we’ve discussed feelings we’ve had, I try to take that and put it in there.
“I don’t go explaining what my songs are about. It changes and takes on new meaning as time goes on,” he added. “You have to look at them through your own experience, maybe ask yourself questions, think about where your head is at, to try and get people to think and question and hopefully see that silver lining.”
The Resilient will perform in Sag Harbor’s Steinbeck Park at 6 p.m. on Sunday, September 26, as part of the Sag Harbor American Music Festival. The concert is free. The festival runs from September 23 to 26 at venues throughout Sag Harbor. For the complete schedule, visit sagharbormusic.org.