Patriotism, country music by Ayla Brown, and rock and roll by Madison Rising made the Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) Defend Freedom Tour a treat for the spirit and the ears. The August 15 event in Las Vegas was the 20th stop on a 23-city tour designed to encourage participation in the organization focused on veterans affairs and a strong America. Terry Schappert, Green Beret and host of Warriors on The History Channel and Dude, You’re Screwed on Discovery, MC’ed the event.
Brown (daughter of former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and TV reporter Gail Huff) and Madison Rising provided entertainment between the speeches. Ayla, a finalist on American Idol in 2006, is a rising country star. Her album Heroes & Hometowns made it to number one on Amazon and number 51 on iTunes. You may have seen her perform with the Boston Pops on July 4 or singing the National Anthem at the 2013 Orange Bowl. She has performed for U.S. troops in seven countries.
Her performance at the Defend Freedom Tour was impressive. With a smile that lights up a room and a voice that can shake the walls, she performed patriotic favorites and songs she penned herself. Her tribute to women in the military, “Hero in Her Hometown,” is on its way to becoming an anthem for female vets.
Despite somewhat less than ideal acoustics in the room, her performance blew me away. Her voice combines the sweet, classical country twang of Dolly Parton or Patsy Cline with the vocal power of Carrie Underwood. Her rendition of “God Bless America” had the crowd on its feet, singing along.
Look out Carrie. You’ve got some competition.
CVA CEO Pete Hegseth introduced rockers Madison Rising. He pointed out how rock and roll was an iconic American genre. He highlighted its roots in jazz and country, its rebellious spirit, and I’ll do what I want attitude. “What could be more American than that?” he asked.
The crowd didn’t need the encouragement. They were ready to rock and Madison Rising did not disappoint. They began with their rock version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which brought them to public notice in 2012. Unlike the Jimi Hendrix version of the anthem, somewhat slow and bluesy, Madison Rising knows how to make “bombs bursting in air” an exciting guitar riff.
Their brand of rock focuses more on positive messages and thankfulness for America than you’ll find with many rockers. Their talent is unquestionable. They’ve opened concerts for a diverse roster of performers, including Weezer, Aerosmith, Steppenwolf, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kansas, and Toby Keith.
Giving in to the crowd, they kept on playing after their allotted time. I snuck out early, only because I had gotten up in the wee hours to drive to Vegas from LA that morning. My escape was serendipitous because I was lucky enough to run in to Ayla Brown in the hallway.
I learned that she had achieved a girlhood dream of singing at the Grand Ole Opry and had recently founded her own record company, Ambient Entertainment. Then I bought all of her albums.
Between the music, the CVA Defend Freedom Tour had some impressive speakers.
Captain Sean Parnell talked about his experiences fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. His platoon is still one of the most decorated units since 9/11.
Parnell recalled how 14 years ago he was a college student whose biggest problems were getting papers turned in on time and what beer he was going to drink that night. “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why,” he said.
He recalled rolling out of bed one morning, turning on the TV, and seeing a plane crash into the World Trade Center. “What impressed me most were the first responders,” he said, “who were running into the flames as others were running away. As you know, many of them never came out again.”
He continued, “The next day, I walked into a recruiting office.”
You can find Parnell’s experiences detailed in his book, Outlaw Platoon.
The most moving presentation came from Gold Star mother Karen Vaughn. Her late son Aaron was a member of Seal Team 6. “When his helicopter hit the ground,” she said, “I am sure that God scooped him up and I know someday I will see him again.”
As she told her story, there were tears, then cheers, in the audience.
She continued, “And just in case the NSA is listening, I have a message for the First Lady right now: I have always been proud of my country.”
After Aaron’s death in Afghanistan, Vaughn and her husband decided to dedicate their lives to aiding families of fallen military members and helping make veterans’ voices heard.