I debated, at first, about posting this story. Then I decided I couldn’t not post it.
A couple of months back my Mom called me and asked if I had any interest in attending the Sean Hannity Freedom Alliance Concert. What a mouthful. I said sure, why not? But let me back up for a second.
Fox News and ABC Radio personality Sean Hannity needs no introduction. He’s a decent looking, strong-jawed dude who makes his living toeing the Republican Party line. His yearly series of concerts are exclusively benefits for charities that benefit United States soldiers. Even though I disagree with his politics 95% of the time I have a very hard time pooh-poohing anything that is for the benefit of soldiers. I’m not at all a fan of the current US administration and have had several political changes-of-heart in my life but military personnel have never caught the flak of my ire. So when I found out this concert was a benefit for war and military orphans I was, if not necessarily eager, certainly agreeable to going.
Let’s talk a little about Gwinnett County, GA. That’s where the thing was held and in the shiny, sparkly, dirt-never-touched-the-floor Gwinnett Arena. Parking is free if you get there early enough and, if not, you deal with a bunch of cops telling you to leave the area ASAP. Which is exactly what I encountered. Gwinnett County is a Republican stronghold in the state of Georgia so it makes sense to have this event here. Even though a sizable amount of all Americans, to one extent or another, “support our troops”, the most vocal (which does not necessarily equal active in this case) are the die-hard Republicans. But, damn, Gwinnett County is a place dead-set on having no identity of it’s own. It’s landscape is made up nearly entirely of mini-malls, generic shopping centers anchored by enormo-grocery stores and a million and one interchangeable bar-n-grill/neighborhood/family-oriented restaurants. It’s what James Kunstler calls “The Geography of Nowhere”. That is, were you to be dropped in the middle of it, there is no way of telling where you are. There’s probably a lot more that could be read into this but I’m tired and there’s more to tell so on we (ennui?) go…
Although I could probably go into multiple paragraphs on each of the following people, I won’t. But, this was the line-up of personalities and entertainers: Sean Hannity, Atlanta based “Libertarian” talk show host Neal Boortz, Newt Gingrich, The Charlie Daniels Band, Lee Greenwood, Larry The Cable Guy, Ron White, Suzanne Alexander, Montgomery Gentry, Rick-n-Bubba and…Colonel Oliver North.
The show went pretty much the way I expected it. People made introductions, Boortz and Hannity actually “sang” with The Charlie Daniels Band, Newt Gingrich heavily politicized the whole event by going off about illegal immigration (which is a complex issue, to be sure, but I found it shameful that Gingrich would use this opportunity to speak to the already-converted about an issue so divisive when the whole thing was supposed to be about soldiers), Lee Greenwood sang “Proud To Be An American” and Larry The Cable Guy told a bunch of jokes I’d be embarrassed to say to my grandparents but a couple he told about Rosie O’Donnell were kind of funny. I admit it.
Current country stars Montgomery Gentry played a too-long set that closed out the night and by that time, people were leaving by the hundreds. This band is just horrible. About as country as a rip-off quick lube center and as generic as a can that just says “beans” on it. My snob dander was up during their entire set until I looked behind me and saw a man around he age of 40 or so, who had the slightly glassy-eyed look and half-blank stare of someone who might have some developmental disabilities, sitting with an older man who I assume was his father. The 40-something guy was clapping along and singing with every song and totally into it. Even though I found it worthless, this music meant something to him. And that’s when my brain settled down and just sat for the rest of the show. It’s one thing for me to rag on a band but I try to never, ever rag on a bands fans. Why? Because, for whatever reason, I’m hoping they get from their music what I get from mine and, if that’s the case, then I can’t blame them for feeling a connection and taking those things I find worthless to heart. And if this dumbass modern country act provided one moment of escape and joy for that sad-looking man sitting behind me then I’m not going to say he’s an idiot for enjoying it.
When the show was over I realized that Oliver North was in the lobby autographing his books and taking pictures with people. I wasn’t going to spend the money on a book so I waited in line, was able to say a few words to him (mainly, “Hello” and “Goodbye”) and he signed my ticket stub. Since I had to park about a mile away from the venue, as had my Mom since we were coming from different sides of town, we walked through the parking lot remarking about what we had just seen. I remember at one point during the show turning to my Mom and asking, “Did we smoke pot earlier?” as we were both kind of realizing the innate surreality of seeing Gingrich, Hannity, Boortz, Oliver North and Larry The Cable Guy all one after another on the same stage.
When I got to my car I had to tell someone about what had just happened: I sent out four separate text messages that simply said “I just met Oliver North.” The four responses I got were: “No fucking way! Did you tell him he’s a Contra hugger?”, “No F’ing way!”, “Holy Shit!” and, possibly my favorite because I can hear him, that being Henry Ownings of Chunklet Magazine, saying it as I read it, “Was that thing sponsored by Halliburton?” (in actuality, the “Freedom Alliance” , who is the beneficiary of all these concerts was established by North and it’s mission statement is “to advance the American heritage of freedom by honoring and encouraging military service, defending the sovereignty of the United States and promoting a strong national defense” but the focus of the shows are, ostensibly, to support the organizations scholarship fund. Which is why I agreed to go.)
I think the whole reason I had to post this was because as music lovers, particularly indie-music lovers, we’re so attuned to the reflexive dismissal of entire swaths of the community at large. I do it, too. Don’t get me wrong…I have no love for Republican politics or modern country music. I have no love for entire, 3,000 space parking lots packed with SUVs or entire towns that allow, nay, encourage, their development into obliteration. But when I saw that man behind me standing up and clapping his hands and singing along like what he was seeing was the best thing he’d ever seen and singing along because he’d memorized the words I felt a lump in my throat.
And if sitting through miles of traffic, enduring horrendously long walks to the will-call window, dealing with a crowd who, most likely, has no interest in seriously debating important topical matters, etc. was the price I had to pay to be reminded that music, no matter how awful I find it, can render the hearts and exhilarate the souls of those who find value in it then I think I got a bargain.
(Plus, I got to hang out with my mom for the night and she’s as cool a lady as you will find. So there.)