By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetMay 31, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga. " It was a packed house Sunday night at Wetherby Field. Thousands parked chairs and picnic blankets at Fort Benning’s concert site to watch country music star Toby Keith perform during a Memorial Day weekend tribute to the armed forces.
The show was courtesy of the Army Concert Tour, which brings high-profile artists to a handful of installations each year for a fraction of the cost they would command at other concert venues.
Fort Benning was one of seven selected for the 2011 concert series and one of two that garnered Keith, according to tour officials.
Keith declined to be interviewed but told The Oklahoman last week, “I can’t do anything but honor the people and families that have made all the sacrifices and go serve my country … I feel like it’s important to entertain ’em and give ’em a little mind break. It’s just become part of what we do.”
His 90-minute performance included crowd-pleasers such as “Talk About Me,” “Who’s Your Daddy” and “Whiskey For My Men, Beer For My Horses” and more patriotic ballads including “American Soldier.”
Up-and-coming bands Mockingbird Sun and Gloriana opened the show with upbeat country tunes.
Gloriana, known for its 2009 hit single “Wild at Heart,” won the Academy of Country Music’s Award for Top New Vocal Group in 2010.
The Luckie family from Greenville, Ala., drove several hours to attend their 10th Toby Keith concert. Jeff and daughters Jherri and Chandler said they like all types of country music, with their favorite artists being Keith, Kenny Chesney and Trace Adkins.
“You can relate to what it’s singing about " your life,” Jeff said.
The post’s commanding general recalled seeing Keith perform in Mosul, Iraq, while deployed from 2004-2005.
“It was 120 degrees and he did three concerts in one day. For two of them, we flew him by helicopter and he just took his guitar. He walks the walk. He talks about supporting the troops, and he really does,” Maj. Gen. Robert Brown said.
“That tells every one of these Soldiers, every one of their families, that folks really do care.”
Bridgett Siter, of the installation’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation office, said the post annually hosts two to three big-name entertainers. In the last year, Fort Benning has hosted Trace Adkins, Laura Bell Bundy and the U.S. Army Soldier Show.
“The great energy when an entertainer like Toby Keith comes reminds Soldiers of what they mean to the nation,” she said.
The Clinton, Okla., native completed his ninth USO/Armed Forces Entertainment Tour to the Middle East in April.
The son of an Army veteran, Keith has partnered with the United Service Organizations since 2002 to perform for nearly 160,000 service members overseas, according to a spokesperson.
In 2009, the Military Officers Association of America presented him with a distinguished service award for his ongoing support of troops and their families.