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Greenwood rides wave of patriotism
"If tomorrow all the things were gone I'd worked for all my life/And I had to start again with just my children and my wife/I'd thank my lucky stars to be living here today/'cause the flag still stands for freedom and they can't take that away ..."
That's all it took.
Everyone in the crowd at Friday's Lee Greenwood concert at the Fiesta Hotel-Casino was singing out loud, waving flags and weeping without shame or embarrassment. It was more than an hour into the show before Greenwood sang his patriotic anthem "God Bless the U.S.A.," and it was yet another moment when the country singer united Americans through song.
It was the start of a whirlwind weekend for Greenwood. Sunday, after another gig with his band in Arizona, he flew to New York to perform -- at Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's invitation -- as part of a memorial service for fallen firefighters at Yankee Stadium and he also sang "God Bless the U.S.A." before the start of a NASCAR race in Delaware.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the 18-year-old "God Bless the U.S.A." (which first became popular during the Gulf War) had re-emerged at No. 7 on the Billboard charts, while his 10-year-old "American Patriot" album flew to the top of the Amazon.com sales list and his 1996 "God Bless the U.S.A." CD was No. 5. Radio stations -- not just country ones, but also urban and rock -- repeatedly put his patriotic songs on the air.
Las Vegas is where the self-described "raspy tenor" spent his first 19 years in show business -- working tirelessly to become an overnight success -- and it's as close to home as he's going to come on this tour. After not visiting the city in nearly six years, Greenwood was greeted like a long-lost son by the crowd of 900. "We were an original sponsor of the concert, even before the terrorist attacks," said John Marks, program director of "New Country" KWNR-FM. "Last week, we spoke with executives of the Station Casinos group [which runs the Fiesta], and, instead, discussed turning the show into a Rally for America, a fund-raiser for our Clear Channels Relief Fund.
"The Station's folks didn't even have to think about it before saying, `Yes.'" Certainly, Greenwood had no objections to luring his true red-white-and-blue fans for what could inelegantly be described as an orgy of patriotism. Getting back to some semblance of normalcy is what America is all about right now, he counseled his flag-waving audience, and no one should feel guilty about having a good time.
"Mayor Giuliani said the best way to help New York is to come to the city, spend some money and see a show . . . do what you normally do," the Los Angeles-born singer had explained earlier Friday, during an interview in his hotel room. "We play a lot of these kinds of places -- in Gulfport and at Indian casinos -- and in the last week, we performed in Michigan, Iowa and at a Rockies baseball game. Professional athletes have had to go out and play their sport, but in the back of their minds -- as in the back of mine -- they have a fear about what's going to happen to us.
"We're either going to be bombed again, or we're going to go in and take them out. Either way, a lot of people are going to die.
Relieving people of stress
"Even if there wasn't a national crisis, one of the things I try to do anyway is relieve people of stress . . . make people feel good about themselves," Greenwood added. "In this situation, when I get to the part about the tragedy, `God Bless the U.S.A.' has a special meaning. It's the nation's anthem for recovery, and I feel a responsibility for that.
"One fan told me the other day that he feels secure when he hears `God Bless the U.S.A.' on the radio. And, that's what we want from the president . . . we want to know that the government is going to do the right thing."
It was fitting, then, that Greenwood's audience Friday night at the Fiesta -- a 15-minute drive outside of Las Vegas -- was willing to wait patiently throughout the first hour of the concert for anything even remotely patriotic. They understood that "God Bless the U.S.A." had to come at the climax of this show, and, anyway, they had already done their part by singing along with a recording of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" and the national anthem, and bowing their heads in a moment of silent prayer.
They even shared a collective laugh when the singer teased them into thinking he was about to do "the one song I had come here to sing," and launched instead into the commercial jingle, "McDonald's and You."
Greenwood managed to extend the drama even further when he passed the spotlight to guitarist Eric Horner, whose freshly minted "We Will Stand" has become one of the most downloaded songs on the Internet. The Kentucky native said he was inspired to write the ballad by the emotions displayed last week by his fiance, who lost her husband in a terrorist bombing in Beirut nearly 20 years ago.
After the concert, Greenwood -- author (in the '60s) of an anti-war song, "America" -- spent a good hour signing autographs on shirts, CD jackets, hats and photographs. Horner, too, would be deluged with requests for his signature.
Among those standing in line was a Las Vegas real-estate saleswoman, decked out in red, white and blue sequins from head to toe.
Flags a hot commodity
"You can't buy a flag in this city," said Judy Richard, standing alongside her two daughters, one of whom held a star-spangled doggie vest. "Why didn't people have flags before this? Why didn't they have this kind of spirit?
"I hope this spirit stays with us a long time."
Ten-year-old Amanda Riordan had sung "God Bless the U.S.A." at her school that morning and "got chills" when she heard Greenwood sing it live. Same thing with 13-year-old Ryan Conrad, who has an uncle stationed in Germany, and was brought to the concert by his dad, who refused to hold back tears when the crowd began chanting "U.S.A., U.S.A. . . ."
Greenwood, who closed his 2,000-seat showroom in eastern Tennessee last December to resume touring, now reluctantly spends a good deal of time on the road, away from his wife and two young sons.
With the winds of war about to blow, and records selling like flags at an American Legion convention, it could be a while before this patriot is allowed time to rest.