This weekend I concluded my study of the Music of Toby Keith by attending his live concert at Pine Knob.
The reason for this experience was to celebrate my dear friend Alisa’s 40th birthday, which coincided with the concert date. It turned out that the concert date also coincided with the final remnants of hurricane Ike slapping rain and wind across Michigan as it followed an unusual path Northeast after making landfall.
But a little blast of torrential rain isn’t enough to stop the party so there I was on the top of the muddy hill huddled under a large umbrella, peeking out of my Mickey Mouse rain poncho to observe the spectacle that is Country Music.
It all started with a projection screen showing a commercial for a Ford truck, and a trailer for a movie called “Beer for my Horses” both starring Toby Keith. Then an explosion of fireworks to reveal the man himself.
He proceeded to work through his repertoire of very famous songs that I had only recently heard for the first time. Rather quickly, eminent themes emerged. These would be: drinkin', cheatin', smokin', tokin', cussin’ and more drinkin'. It was kind of a double theme if you include the act of leaving the “g” off of participles. There were also frequent references to guns, trucks, hot chicks, and “Jeee-zus.” (That last one seems like a bit of an anomaly to me, but what do I know.)
Between the wind and the accent I found him difficult to understand, but he did introduce one song with something that ended with “and they can kiss my a**!” (Who?) He frequently encouraged everyone to obtain an alcoholic beverage, and at one point asked us all to hold them up in the air and sing along to yet another song celebrating the pleasures of alcohol. It was a lot like worship, but with more stagger in the sway. He did prove to us that he was aware of his geographic location by asking the audience if there were any rednecks in Michigan which We the Crowd affirmed with a resonating cheer.
Previous to this I was under the impression that the word “redneck” was a derogatory term and not very PC but here I was witnessing a joyous celebration of redneckity and all of the clichéd references usually associated with it.
There were fireworks throughout the concert which served well to refresh my state of alertness as the songs went on, until finally the lights turned off to signal the interval of screaming before the encore.
More fireworks ushered in a song that was accompanied by a video that could be best be described as an armed-forces recruitment tool. I wasn’t sure of exactly how that fit in with all of the cheatin, smokin, drinkin references except that maybe you get to use a gun to defend your right to do those things “raht here in the USA.” Then came a segway into a full-blown tribute to patriotism itself, all meant to make you feel just to be so proud to be an alcoholic - I mean American.
I went into this experience with the intention to learn and appreciate a form of music that I am unfamiliar with, because I believe that music can represent a culture in a way that quickly impresses the listener with an image of the people who embody it. I feel like I was successful in understanding the themes of the music of Toby Keith and his vast base of fans, but as a person who also considers myself a patriotic American, I’m not so sure that I would describe this particular genre as one that makes me proud.