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24 March 2017
Toby Keith was a loud political voice in the Bush years. What about the Trump era?

(photo by Wayne Brezinka for The Washington Post)

Written by Emily Yar and published on on March 23, 2017

NASHVILLE — Shortly after country singer Toby Keith performed at President Trump’s inauguration concert in January, his phone lit up with text messages. Many entertainers were terrified to get anywhere near Washington, but according to Keith, several had regrets about turning down the invitation to perform for the controversial new commander in chief.

“I’m not naming names, but there’s a bunch of people that . . . were committed, and they backed out due to pressure,” Keith, 55, said recently during an onstage Q&A at the Country Radio Seminar (CRS) in Nashville. “Then they all texted me afterward and said, ‘Every guy would like to be you, standing up there.’ ” Excuses ranged from “Our camp wouldn’t let us” to “We just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it.”

Keith, on the other hand, never considered canceling on Trump. “I don’t apologize for performing for our country or military,” he said at the time, pointing out that he had played events for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. His message was clear. This was about America, not party lines.

Still, Keith is undeniably linked with politics. He’s known as the country star whose post-Sept. 11 patriotic anthem “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” famously includes the line, “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.” Throw in his feud with the Dixie Chicks, particularly after Natalie Maines criticized Bush right before the Iraq War, and Keith became one of the prominent celebrity voices in the last Republican administration. So now, as we embark on a GOP era unlike any other and most country singers are staying quiet, what is the state of Toby Keith?

By all accounts, there’s every reason to believe that Keith will approach the Trump years just as he has every other significant point in his career, political or otherwise: By doing absolutely whatever he wants, and what he feels works for his brand. That’s what he did shortly after he arrived in Nashville from Oklahoma in the early 1990s. Decades later, as one of the richest singers in the music industry, it’s still working.

Not only is he savvier than those who disregard him as just the “roughneck, boot in your ass” guy, as one friend put it, he has a sharp instinct about how his fan base will react. As a result, he didn’t drop out of the inauguration, despite people telling him that he should.

“If you don’t succumb to that kind of pressure, you’ll always come out stronger. Your fans will love you more, your friends will love you more, your peers will respect you more,” Keith said at CRS, under a hat and sunglasses. “At the end of the day, you just get another notch on your gun belt.”

To read the complete article complete with video clips, vintage photos of Toby, and other content, cllck here!



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