It was some 30 years ago when I first caught a Charlie Daniels concert. He was the backup to the Marshall Tucker Band at the old Capital Centre outside Washington, D.C., and that night, he stole the show. When he finished his blazing set, the audience erupted and brought him back for an encore. When the Marshall Tucker Band finished their rather good performance, it made no difference -- the capacity crowd roared for yet another performance from Charlie Daniels.
It's a metaphor for his life. At a time when he should deservedly be disappearing into the shadows, he's back -- with the crowd roaring once again. Despite recovering from a stroke and nearing his 74th birthday, Charlie still plays about 100 concerts per year, including Sean Hannity's "Freedom Concerts" to benefit the children of our fallen and disabled U.S. soldiers through Ollie North's Freedom Alliance. So much has Charlie become ingrained in the "Freedom Concerts" (he performed in all eight shows this year) and in the effort to support our military worldwide that he deserves his own tribute. He is America's unsung singing hero.
It would be nice if patriotism were in style in the music industry. It is so in the country music universe, but in other circles, there is no quicker way to become a pop culture pariah than following this path. Months after 9/11, ABC anchor Peter Jennings scratched out country singer Toby Keith from an Independence Day special because his songs were deemed too "mean" in their anger at our attackers. NBC put on country singer Steve Earle to sing sympathetically about American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and his prayers for martyrdom. The Dixie Chicks publicly declared their embarrassment with President Bush for his declaration of war against terrorism and were hailed by the elites. That's what one does to earn accolades.
In recent years, I've come to know Charlie Daniels personally, enough so that I can say with confidence that this man just isn't looking for tributes. One gets the feeling that at his age, having accomplished so much, he just doesn't need them. He does it because he loves America and wants to honor the military by performing at the "unique and heartwarming" freedom concerts to entertain crowds full of "hard-working, God-fearing patriotic folks, the salt-of-the-earth middle Americans who have fought our wars, raised good citizens and kept the wheels of progress moving forward in this nation for over 200 years."
"Patriotism to me is always in style, but now -- especially now -- we need a little shot in the arm," he says.