Country Music Artists Help New York Celebrate Veterans Day

Activities Continue in Advance of Tuesday's CMA Awards Show

NEW YORK — Darryl Worley, Montgomery Gentry and Trace Adkins were among the country artists helping New Yorkers celebrate Veterans Day during a series of activities Friday (Nov. 11).

However, judging from the reception to his guest appearances in New York this week, one of the most popular acts is a guy who’s not heard much on country radio these days — Charlie Daniels. Indeed, the young military veterans gathered outside the historic Roseland Ballroom following the American Freedom Festival were still talking about Daniels and the musical energy he still exhibits onstage.

The country musicians’ involvement in New York’s Veterans Day events coincide with the 39th annual CMA Awards show taking place Tuesday (Nov. 15) at Madison Square Garden.

The festival, which also featured Mark Wills, Keni Thomas and comic/political commentator Al Franken, highlighted a day of patriotic programs that began Friday morning during a ceremony at Madison Square Park. Thomas sang the national anthem, and Montgomery Gentry performed the song, “Didn’t I,” at the ceremony during which wreaths were placed on the Eternal Light monument in the park. The activities took place prior to the annual Veterans Day parade on Fifth Avenue. That afternoon, Adkins performed his hit single, “Arlington,” during a ceremony at the USS Intrepid at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

The American Freedom Festival began last year in Florida after Worley and his manager visited the Middle East on a USO tour. The concert benefits the American Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit organization that assists veterans wounded in action and the families of military personnel killed in action during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The festival, which attracted mainly veterans and several West Point cadets, leaned heavily toward country music, but it also featured performances by vocal powerhouse Michael Amante and a USO troupe from Manhattan, among others. During the troupe’s performance, it became clear that there were few seamen in the crowd when some good-natured boos erupted when the disco medley made it to the Village People’s “In the Navy.” The festival also included appearances by WWE wrestler John Bradshaw Layfield, actress Karri Turner and model-TV host Lee Ann Tweeden.

Thomas, a veteran of the U.S. Army’s Task Force Ranger assault unit, repeated his performance of the national anthem during the festival’s opening ceremonies and returned to sing “Circle on the Cross” and “Last Band of Brothers” from his debut album.

Wills increased the night’s momentum by opening with “And the Crowd Goes Wild.” After twice asking the time-honored question — “Are there any country fans here tonight?” — Wills probably regretted asking the follow-up, “How many of you out there are not country fans?” After a smattering of folks in the back of the hall yelled that they weren’t, Wills joked, “Tough!” Then he added, “I cleaned up what I was going to say because I saw a little girl over there.” In performing several of his older hits (“Don’t Laugh at Me,” “19 Somethin’,” “Jacob’s Ladder”) and a strong new one (“Hank”), Wills’ time onstage was a reminder of what a good singer he can be when he has the right material.

Daniels’ conservative views are well-known, but he kept the rhetoric to a minimum and had the crowd on its feet as soon as he grabbed his fiddle to hit the first notes of “The South’s Gonna Do It Again.” Backed by Worley’s band, Daniels also tore through “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and encored with “Long Haired Country Boy.” Given the fact that the audience went crazy during his guest appearance at Brooks & Dunn’s Thursday night (Nov. 10) show at Irving Plaza, Daniels could be a surprise player in the CMA’s efforts to attract younger listeners to country music.

As the night’s headliner, Worley opened with his recent hit, “Awful, Beautiful Life,” and followed it up with his first No. 1 single, “I Miss My Friend.” Worley spent much of his set reflecting on his visits to the Middle East, his appreciation of the troops and the motivation behind writing his most famous song, “Have You Forgotten.” And while his short segment of the show did emphasize his patriotism, including a performance of “POW 369,” Worley lightened up with the up-tempo “Was It Good for You?”

In other activities surrounding next week’s CMA Awards show, Montgomery Gentry and Tracy Lawrence appeared Friday night at B.B. King’s club near Broadway. Craig Morgan, Neal McCoy and newcomer John Stone will raise money for the USO during Saturday’s show at B.B. King’s.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.