By Dena O'Dell, Fort Riley Public AffairsMay 12, 2011
FORT RILEY, Kan. - "One of the most autobiographical songs I've ever written," was the way Aaron Lewis, country solo artist and lead singer of the rock band, "Staind," described his new single, "Country Boy."
The song, which debuted at No. 1 on the country music Billboard charts, was the last song he sang before a crowd of about 1,500 people in a concert April 30 at Marshall Army Airfield. Lewis also performed music from Staind and his new solo country EP, "Town Line."
"It still blows my mind when the realization hits every now and again," Lewis said about his collaboration for the song with country music artists Charlie Daniels and George Jones and about the song's chart-topping debut.
"To be a guy that's had a 13-year rock career that decided, you know, 'I would really like to make a country record and put that country record out' and have it debut No. 1 on the country Billboard charts is pretty unexpected," he said.
Lewis captured the crowd's attention with several No. 1 hits from Staind including, "It's Been a While," and "Tangled Up in You," in which he sang with Tiana Navarro, lead singer with the 1st Infantry Division Band's "Gunpowder and Lead." He also garnered laughter from the audience with a rendition of Kermit the Frog's "Rainbow Connection."
"It's very different from Staind," the artist said about his solo tour and his new country EP. "It's the acoustic approach - it's extremely loose. I never know what I am going to play. I just kind of go up there and wing it. I don't know - I feel like I am more comfortable. You definitely get to see a side of me that you don't normally get to see."
When asked if he thought the variation from rock to country would change the way people view his music, the singer joked, "either that or it will drive them away."
Lewis was at Fort Riley to film the reality TV show, "Huntin' With Heroes," a show he collaborated on with host Glen Simpson, a 24-year, three-time combat veteran turned outdoor TV field producer whom he met while they both worked on the reality hunting TV series, "Dream Season Celebrity."
The concept of Huntin' With Heroes is to showcase the lives of American Soldiers as they train, work, hunt and enjoy the outdoor lifestyle with the theme of "building resiliency through the outdoors."
The concert was the culminating event to the weeklong taping of episode one. The show is expected to air in summer 2012.
"Sitting in a tree stand, you have a lot of time to sit and reflect," Simpson said. "So I got to talking to Aaron about this show concept that I have had for the last four years. It was kind of like a perfect mix - the friendship we developed (when) we filmed "Dream Season Celebrity" with Drury Outdoors and our mutual appreciation for the military - it was a perfect fit, so we turned that friendship into a partnership."
Fort Riley was chosen as the site of the first episode because "what a better way to start a 'first' than with the 1st Infantry Division - the oldest division in the Army, the first into every combat zone that we have ever fought, and it just fit - it really did," Simpson said.
Both men said the show and the culminating concert was a way to say, 'thank you' to the Soldiers for all that they do.
"I think it's important that we show an appreciation to our Soldiers that have been asked to do so much, but given so little," Simpson said. "This is our way of saying 'thank you, we appreciate you, we're thinking about you every day,' and that in some way, we can help build their resiliency before a deployment, during a deployment or after a deployment."
"For me, it's a way to say, 'thank you,'" Lewis said. "Because of the schedule I have, I can't go overseas and play for the Soldiers where they're at often enough."
Lewis' concert was different than many of the concerts organized by Fort Riley's Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, according to Brad Carlton, recreation program manager, DFMWR.
"We had seating instead of having everyone stand, so it (gave) a kind of coffee-house feel to it," Carlton said. "This was a great opportunity for Soldiers and Families to see a national recording artist at a free MWR concert. He had the audience spellbound."
Aside from working on Huntin' With the Heroes and promoting "Town Line," Lewis also tours with USO and just completed a new album with Staind, which he describes as more like the band's album, "Dysfunction."
In addition to his music, Lewis and his wife, Vanessa, have three children, Zoe, 9, Nyla, almost 6, and Indie, 3. Lewis said he and his wife try to keep their children level-headed and away from the limelight.
"We certainly don't hide them from it, but their dad doesn't act very famous. Their dad's a pretty normal dude that is the substitute teacher of the music program at the school every now and again," Lewis said. "We try - I guess we even overly try - to not spoil those kids. Even though what surrounds them is spoiling them in a sense, they don't get anything without appreciating it. They go down and feed the chickens, goats (and) collect eggs. We haven't bought eggs for years. (We have) turkeys. We have an organic garden that we eat out of all summer long. I'm more country than people realize."
When the school district in their community closed their children's school, the couple took it upon themselves to raise the money to have it reopened.
"The school district that our town is a part of decided that it would be in the best interest of the students to take five elementary schools worth of kids and stuff them into two elementary schools ... That was completely and totally unacceptable to me," Lewis said. "So, when they closed the school on June 23, (2010), we finally got the keys back July 15, and from July 15 to Sept. 1, we restocked, restaffed, recurriculumed and re-opened that school without a hitch as a privately funded community school."
As for what the future holds for him, whether he is singing rock, country or another genre, Lewis said he has never been one to waste time worrying about the future.
"It's pointless," he said. "You can't control the future. You can't change the past. (You) might as well stay right where you are - life in the moment."