The lyrics and melodies of several top musicians are again wafting through NSA's cafeterias this summer. The workforce initiative, known as the Summer Concert Series, hits the right notes on two fronts: It offers employees a way to recharge on their lunch breaks and gives artists opportunities to connect with an appreciative audience. The concert series is sponsored by NSA's Civilian Welfare Fund (CWF).
On July 16, singer-songwriter Benton Blount showcased the artistry that has made him a successful contestant on NBC's "America's Got Talent." The stay-at-home dad said that knowing NSA is a military support organization made him a big fan of the agency.
"I've always been intrigued with the process of encryption and decoding," Blount said. "NSA is such a vital part of what our military and government do."
Dennis Bartko, a senior leader at the agency, tapped his feet and sang along as Blount performed on July 16.
"This is the third time I've seen Benton at NSA," Bartko said. "The first time he was outside in the courtyard, and that's where I first heard his song 'Carolina.' Now I've got him on my iPod, and I've been to several of his shows."
Bartko's musical interests go beyond listening. He's a member of the band CyberRocks!, comprised of NSA employees, who play both on and off campus, including this year at the annual Armed Forces Week Gala. In a way, Bartko said, CyberRocks! began because of Blount. At the first of Blount's NSA concerts, Bartko learned that another agency senior leader played guitar, and they formed the band.
Rich Fehle, an NSA staff officer, also plays in CyberRocks!. He's good friends with Blount, and came to support him at the summer concert.
"It's a neat opportunity for him, you know, the mysterious NSA thing," Fehle said. "How many artists can say, 'Hey, I played at the NSA'?"
Country music singer and Potomac, Md., native Maggie Rose played the second concert of the series in June. She said her experience playing at NSA was a lot less "sterile" than she thought it would be.
"I couldn't have been more wrong about my expectations," Rose said. "We had so much fun with the staff that was hosting us, and the hardworking audience was very receptive. It was certainly the most unique gig I have ever played."
Stephanie Heppding, CWF recreation and event coordinator and one of the hosting staff, said Rose's reaction is typical of artists invited to NSA.
"They're always very excited," Heppding said. "It's very unique. It's not a bar or outdoors – it's NSA."
Last year's summer concert series featured Blount, along with concerts from Edwin McCain and Lee DeWyze, American Idol's ninth season winner.
This year, Javier Colon, winner of the inaugural season of NBC's "The Voice," opened the summer with a May concert featuring his acoustic soul style.
"I was excited when I got the invite to perform at NSA. I know that the great folks there are working long hours keeping our country safe," Colon said. "Having the opportunity to bring my music to them was an honor."
Blount said he seizes every opportunity to talk about the great work NSA does to protect the nation.
"I've known from friends that this is a job you can't get a lot of glory for," Blount said. "Every time I go home after performing here, I try to put it out. I don't mind telling everyone I'm here supporting the organization."
Blount said he'd love to join the ranks of NSA employees as they defend the nation and secure the future, and has been eyeing the Georgia campus, close to his South Carolina home, for employment.
Meanwhile, Blount hopes to get lost in the rock and roll and drift away into the next round on "America's Got Talent."