COLUMBUS, Ohio –
As Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime employees navigated new work-from-home schedules in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, one employee’s hobby made its online debut in a series of web videos. Her hobby? Being lead singer in a local band.
Jiwon Han, supplier operations research and analysis chief for the Business Process Support Directorate, along with her Top Priority bandmates Phil Davis, Brian Wise and Dick Bartholic, launched the Home Shelter video series to bring their love of music to all during the statewide shutdown. The band has been performing in and around the central Ohio area since the early 90s. The band has played in a variety of venues for audiences of all types with a program that includes a wide range of pop, oldies, classic rock and current favorites.
The group bills themselves as a serious hobby band, and as live music venues temporarily closed due to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, they managed to keep the beat going throughout.
Despite being unable to practice or play together in-person, each member recorded themselves performing a song, then combined the performances into one split screen video. Several made the rounds on social media in recent weeks.
“It really brought us together,” Han said.
The Top Priority Band has a long history with the Defense Supply Center Columbus. While Han is currently the only member working on DSCC, she is not the only musician to do so in its 30-year history. Founding member Gary Richmond retired from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service-Columbus. Additionally, the band performed at the groundbreaking for the DFAS-Columbus building more than 20 years ago.
The band formed in 1991, when Davis was looking for a guitar player. As an IT manager for the state of Ohio, Davis used music as a creative outlet. He grew up in a musical household outside Cleveland – his father taught orchestra – and played violin throughout his childhood. After moving to Central Ohio in 1979, he began playing electric bass guitar with a group of friends.
“I found that I really liked it a lot – music was an outlet,” Davis said.
That discovery led him to Gary Richmond, a DFAS-Columbus associate in the Directorate of Contract Entitlement who played guitar. The pair hit it off – both worked full-time jobs and looked to music to relieve stress and share their interests. Together, Davis and Richmond, who died in 2016, founded the Top Priority Band. Davis said the name comes from his many years working in the computer systems business where everything was always considered “top priority.” It’s sort of an ironic moniker, but also a true one that the band gets behind.
In addition to guitar and bass, the group added a drummer, with most members providing back-up vocals for various songs.
In July of 1996, the band performed at DFAS-Columbus’ Pre-Groundbreaking Celebration to a crowd of 2,500. Then-Site Director Charles Coffee wrote a letter of appreciation for their support in making the event a success – a letter the band keeps to this day.
Davis recalled how important it was to his bandmates to support the community in that way, and how much they enjoyed being part of such a historic event.
Several lead singers have come and gone over the years and in 2008, the band found themselves in need of a permanent lead singer.
Han had never been in a band before but has always enjoyed singing. The band’s flyer for a lead vocalist caught her eye at a local coffee shop and she decided to audition. Han laughed as she admitted she wasn’t the band’s first choice, but after their initial selection moved to Florida, Davis invited her to join.
Drummer Brian Wise joined the band in 2016 after their previous drummer departed. Wise, a heating and air-conditioning specialist, had played drums for nearly 30 years, getting his start as a teenager. With an experienced drummer once again, the group played at several local events including the annual Columbus Marathon where they cheered on runners with live music from their spot at mile marker 21.
But the reinvigorated band’s time was brief. Long-time guitarist Richmond died unexpectedly six months later.
“Gary was a brother, a friend and a musician,” Davis said. “There was a very big gap after his death.”
Top Priority took a year off following Richmond’s passing.
In 2018, Davis, now retired, brought the band members together once again to commence the search for a guitarist. Their search led them to Dick Bartholic.
“It was very difficult to find a replacement Gary – not just because of his musical talent,” Han said. “We were very fortunate to find [Bartholic].”
Bartholic, a retired Huntington Bank loan officer, had lived in Central Ohio since 1981 and played several instruments including the harmonica, wood flute and keyboards in addition to guitar.
“When people retire, a lot have no idea what they want to do. For me, I knew I wanted to get back into music,” Bartholic said.
Han said what she most enjoys about the band is that they don’t take themselves too seriously – it’s about making great music with a group of people you enjoy hanging out with and feeling like you’re part of something greater than yourself.
“Our band is mostly for fun – what we get out of it is the social aspect of being with close friends, making good music and working successfully on a project together,” Davis said. “That’s why I call us a ‘serious hobby band.’ We’re not a band that wants to play every weekend like it’s a job.”
Though the band is unsure when they will get to play in-person again, all said they will continue to enjoy finding creative ways to make music together while apart.
“I might have a crazy workday, and then come in and hang out with these guys for an hour and it changes my whole perspective – it puts me back in a good mood,” Wise said. “I can’t say enough about what it’s done for me.”