Local rocks for troops at Guantanamo Bay

Cassandra Delaney-Denver performs for troops at Naval base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Cassandra Delaney-Denver and her band, The Darlings, had a rare visit to the Naval base to perform for troops.

By Bridget Graham-Gungoren/Special to The Malibu Times

Performing for troops at one of the United State’s most secure, locked-down military bases could be a bit unnerving, but for Malibu resident and singer/songwriter Cassandra Delaney-Denver, entertaining soldiers at Guantanamo Bay, where Al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners are being held, it was a thrilling adventure.

Delaney-Denver performed at the Naval military base for 11,000 troops in December with her new band of four months, The Darlings, after an invite to participate in a Christmas show.

Delaney-Denver, who grew up in Australia and has lived in the United States for about 16 years, in Malibu for 10, identifies with the U.S. as home. “It was really special to be invited, and I am very proud,” Delaney-Denver said of her visit to the Naval base. “It opened our eyes to the hearts and heads to the people down there working for us.”

Delaney-Denver, who performs country rock and folk music, and labels it “psychedelic country,” said one of the highlights of the trip was spending time with the troops. She explains that many were on their way to Iraq, others would be staying in Cuba to “hold down the fort,” and others had just returned from Iraq and were on their way home.

“Some were excited to enter the war zone; they were intensely excited about supporting the country,” she said. She also met soldiers who didn’t want to be away from their families and talked about going home, but who all of them were very positive. “It was interesting because it was a place for different soldiers coming and going,” she said.

The band performed for more than an hour at the show, at which another invited band also performed. Spending three days with the troops, she described many other highlights during the trip, including the gift of an “amazing flag” from Commanding Officer Capt. Leslie McCoy, which had been flying over the command headquarters at Bulkeley Hall. Guantanamo Bay, which is owned by Cuba, is rented by the U.S. with a lifetime lease and is the only U.S. Naval Base on communist soil.

When she, the band of four, one photographer, one cameraman to film a documentary about the concert and trip, and her mother, Lorraine Delaney, along for support, first landed after three separate flights, they went through intense security measures before proceeding with the trip. After lining up in the hangar, dogs scrutinized them and all their luggage was checked. “It was very intense, the whole trip was intense, but yet it also felt like we were in the most protected place we could be,” Lorraine Delaney said.

The photographer and cameraman were pulled aside and given restrictions about what or what could not be captured on film in order not jeopardize security.

“We were treated very well,” Delaney-Denver said, “and they did their best to show us around.”

The itinerary included a meal in the mess hall with the troops, a boat tour around the bay, visits to the barracks and additional tours of the island. “The island has restaurants, fast food places, night clubs, schools and a shopping center for groceries, clothing and gifts,” Lorraine Delaney explained.

“We stayed in military housing; there are a lot of families, kids; it is a beautiful place,” Delaney-Denver said.

Their last evening there was spent at the home of McCoy, which included dinner and a “sing-around-the-piano” of Christmas songs with other friends and guests. “It was a beautiful house on the bay, and the weather was warm,” Lorraine Delaney said. After dinner and cocktails, the guests took a trip around the bay on McCoy’s cruiser ship. “Overall, the trip was an honor and meeting the people and soldiers that are working so hard for us was such an experience.”

Delaney-Denver, who was once married to singer and social activist John Denver, and is now raising their daughter, continues to be active with environmental and charitable organizations, and shares her music to promote causes. Having recently performed at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for the Los Angeles Family Housing Awards, she and the band members are now preparing to headline for the “Humanity Rocks” tour kicking off on Feb. 4, presented by Blue Planet Village, whose goal she quoted from its Web site, is to “transform the socio-economic and environmental conditions on the planet.”

In addition to her other fundraising for the rain forest and children’s causes, she also promotes the “John Denver Peace Cloth” project, which was started by fans of John Denver who weave together pieces of cloth to symbolize his mission of peace. Originally created for a United Nations demonstration in 2000, its popularity and contributions continue to grow with support from countries as far away as Australia and South Africa, and is almost 2,000 feet in length. The cloth can be seen at different charitable and peaceful demonstrations. After being contacted by the group, Delaney-Denver promotes and supports the project however she can. “It is such an amazing idea, and it’s important to promote good will,” she said.

Influenced by American country singers Tammy Wynette, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, Delaney-Denver originally sang and toured Australia with her mother, Lorraine, also a country singer; they called themselves the Delaneys.

Delaney-Denver also pursued an acting career and was cast in TV commercials, the British comedy series “Benny Hill,” and the mini-series “Vietnam,” which also starred Australian Nicole Kidman, and several movies. She has written more than 250 songs and her latest album, “Give It Up To Love,” recorded in Malibu, was honored in 2003 with the Los Angeles Music Awards “Complete Package Artist.”

More information about Cassandra Delaney-Denver can be found at www.cassandramusic.com; information about Humanity Rocks at www.humanityrocks.com; information about the John Denver Peace Cloth at www.johndenverpeacecloth.com