America’s Singing Soldier
A Capitol Fourth celebrates its 40th anniversary special this summer, airing on PBS and hosted by John Stamos and Vanessa Williams. The July 4th program honors America’s 244th birthday uniting the nation with stories of heroism, patriotism, and fireworks with a star- studded slate of performances by John Fogerty, Patti LaBelle, Andy Grammer, Renée Fleming, The Temptations, Chrissy Metz, Kelli O’Hara, Trace Adkins, Yolanda Adams, Brantley Gilbert, Lauren Alaina, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Mandy Gonzalez, and the National Symphony Orchestra. This year, as Americans watch the fireworks again from their living rooms and troops tune in from around the world, A Capitol Fourth will also pay tribute to those on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19.
A Capitol Fourth has grown tremendously over four decades and has been one of the most successful programs on PBS, known for memorable moments over the years from Ray Charles, Dolly Parton, Aretha Franklin, John Williams, Stevie Wonder, Carole King, Kristin Chenoweth, Barry Manilow, Reba McEntire, Little Richard, Neil Diamond, The Beach Boys, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight, The Blues Brothers, Josh Groban, and so many other icons. Hamptons Monthly had the privilege of speaking with country music great Trace Adkins, who makes his second appearance on the show (this time performing “My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee”), and who graced the stage for the National Memorial Day Concert back in May, his fifth time. Adkins talked about visiting wounded soldiers and his support for America, a standout July 4 memory when he was 14, and his upcoming 25th anniversary as a recording artist.
On your new song “Mind On Fishin'” you say “you’d rather do the talking with the man upstairs when there’s no one else around.” Well, there is no one else around, right now at least. How have you been doing with the quarantine? Have you been taking some time creating, songwriting, with family, praying, fishing?
Oh wow, all of the above. I am very fortunate; I live an hour or so south of Nashville and
I live on a farm, and I’ve got a lot of acreage and I’ve been catching up on projects I’ve been procrastinating on for years. I’ve kind of been joking about it but not really: I need to get back on the road or I’m going to work myself to death. I haven’t done this much manual labor in 30 years. I’m clearing land, cutting timber, building structures, building roads, moving rocks, oh you name it. Living here where I live in Tennessee, that’s just how you live.
The only thing I’ve really missed is getting on the bus and doing shows and being with my band and my friends and enjoying making music. We’re working on a project now that’s occupying most of my creative time. Next year will be my 25th anniversary having a record deal. And then all the other back-breaking stuff I’m getting satisfied out here doing. And my kids, they’ve been around me, so not a whole lot has changed for me other than not getting on the bus.
You’ve got a timeless, beautiful hit song called “You’re Gonna Miss This.” What are you missing most right now?
Well, my mother is 78 years old and so, you know, trying to keep her as safe as
possible. My brother and I both have been associating with other people a little bit. But out of an abundance of caution, bless her heart, she’s been pretty much isolated, so that’s probably been the hardest thing.
You did it three years ago in front of The Capitol surrounded by an orchestra, a choir, and military folks and just again at the National Memorial Day Concert: you performed “Still a Soldier” on PBS with images of veterans, active- duty servicemen and -women, people embracing. It was extremely powerful and moving. Did you ever think this song would resonate the way it clearly has with fans?
Yeah, when we do that show in concert, usually we will recognize some veterans and it never ceases to amaze, but at the same time it really doesn’t surprise me, the reaction we get from the audience. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. People love veterans, and I knew that song would resonate with the vets because they
all feel that way. I’ve been to Bethesda and Walter Reed and I’ve visited soldiers who have fresh wounds and they can’t wait to get back to their unit. That’s at the top of their list, to get back, and it’s just amazing to me. But everybody else appreciates it too. I’ve been fortunate to record a few of those. I actually wrote a song that gets played every Sunday at Parris Island called “Semper Fi,” and they play it at church services every Sunday. I’m really, really proud of that.
It’s still summer whether we like it or not. What does July 4 and summer in America mean to you, and what was a moment in recent memory or far back in the past when you really appreciated your country and felt patriotic?
Well I’m old enough to remember 1976; I was 14 years old, it was our 200th birthday. There were stickers and flags, and I remember it was just amazing. I remember just the intense patriotism that everyone felt when I was in Louisiana back in my hometown. It seems now that it was a time of innocence, and I look back on it now with really warm memories and I remember it longingly. And then I thought about, well, I was one of the first artists anyway who went to Ground Zero around 9/11. I just went there to shake hands, and I remember a couple of feelings — one was helplessness. I felt absolutely ridiculous just shaking hands, and it made me feel ashamed that I should be there with a hardhat and helping. I thought it was patriotism but I think it was just plain old anger. I love a chance to get that feeling when I perform the National Anthem; I have done a lot of them: NFL, MLB, NHL, NASCAR. I remember singing the National Anthem during a World Series game and the jets went over me, so that was pretty intense too.
The United States is in serious turmoil at the moment, but July 4 is one of the few times during the year that people come together. They unite, put aside differences, and pray for the good within all of us. Your music has such a comforting quality, between your storytelling and your vocals. Why did you want to take part in A Capitol Fourth this year even when you are not live and in person in D.C.?
I’m a patriot at heart, and I’m just unapologetically not afraid to show my colors, and I’ll always stand up for the flag and be involved in those kinds of things.