Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Alison Krauss Play White House


Brad Paisley photo by David McClister, courtesy of Arista Nashville.

July 22, 2009 — When Brad Paisley wound up a 70-minute concert in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday, he did so in spectacularly appropriate fashion.

Brad performed "Welcome To The Future," a song about America’s social and technological advances inspired on Election Day when Brad experienced the fervor of Times Square celebrants in the wake of President Barack Obama’s historic victory. Brad was promoting his Play CD, released that same day.

"I had a record out," Brad said to the President on Tuesday. "I’m sure you were busy."

The final verse, with references to Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, demonstrates the change in the nation’s attitudes by contrasting a burning cross with the election of the nation’s first African-American Commander in Chief. Brad closed his eyes tightly as he worked his way through that verse, likely mustering extra focus to keep from breaking down as he sang about a new chapter in U.S. history to the very man who represents it.

Brad was not alone in his performance. Alison Krauss + Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas opened the show, and Charley Pride — who broke down his own set of racial barriers as the first black man fully accepted as a country singer — delivered three songs as well.

The concert will be presented as part of a GAC special, airing Saturday, August 15 at 9 p.m., though it was streamed live in its entirety via the Internet through the White House website. The event took place a day before Obama was slated to address the nation about his health care plan, and — like the plan itself — the feed came with its own issues. The screen blacked out on occasion, the picture would freeze periodically while the sound continued, and sometimes the entire production halted entirely. The future still has issues that need worked out.

Brad and Charley each dedicated a song to the President and the First Lady. Charley offered his 1981 remake of Harold Dorman’s "Mountain Of Love." Brad turned in "Then," with the song’s inspiration — wife Kimberly Williams-Paisley — smiling proudly at a table in the audience.

Union Station’s acoustic format provided a nice tie to country’s White House history. The Coon Creek Girls, an all-female string band, played in the East Room for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and England’s first couple, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth I, in June 70 years ago. Since then, the first residence has hosted performances by the likes of Tammy Wynette, Alabama, Marty Robbins, Phil Vassar, Martina McBride and Buck Owens, whose signature red, white and blue guitar was mirrored Tuesday by an all-American colored bass on the White House stage.

There among portraits of Theodore Roosevelt and George Washington, country has had its connections to history. Johnny Cash dared to sing an anti-war song, "What Is Truth," when he performed for President Nixon in 1970 at the height of the Vietnam War. Merle Haggard likewise sang there in 1973 on a day in which Nixon’s associates were embroiled in Watergate-related maneuvers.

Brad, Charley and Union Station — three essential members of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry — added their voices to the march of history, bringing an indigenous American art form to the center of the nation’s politics even as the world and society is changing. Welcome indeed to the future.

The set list Tuesday at the White House:
• Alison Krauss + Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas: "Let Me Touch You For Awhile," "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow," "Ghost In This House," "Every Time You Say Goodbye."

• Charley Pride: "Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone," "Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’," "Mountain Of Love."

• Brad Paisley: "American Saturday Night," "Then," "Whiskey Lullaby" (with Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas), "Welcome To The Future."