{mosimage}For almost six years, the soldiers and airmen who call Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base home have been in a continual state of deployment. Fayetteville and its surrounding communities have gotten into the rhythm of deployments. They have watched their neighbors and friends pack their rucks and leave to defend our nation; and in the interim, helped watch over the families left behind. And in some small, private ways, they’ve welcomed their neighbors home upon their return.
    On Saturday, May 10, the Braxton Bragg Chapter of the Association of the United States Army, or AUSA, is holding a very large, very public Welcome Home Heroes party at Festival Park, and you’re invited.
The party, one part pure patriotism and the other part pure country, features country music sensation Lonestar. The event is free and open to the public.
    The brain child of Fayetteville music men Terry Shea and Morris Cardenas, the concert has been months in the making. Shea and Cardenas grew up in Fayetteville and take great pride in calling themselves military brats. One night, while talking about news reports concerning the care of wounded soldiers, the idea of doing something to honor the city’s veterans started getting kicked around. As the conversation began to take root in their minds, their thoughts obviously turned to what they know best – music.
    To give the idea wings, they knew they were going to have to find a partner, and that’s when AUSA came into the picture. Cardenas explained that putting on an event the size and magnitude of the upcoming concert takes a lot of people and a lot of organizational skills. They knew they could find it within the ranks of the AUSA membership. They first approached Col. (Ret.) Jim White, an AUSA member who heads up the Wounded Warrior program for the association, with the idea.
    White grabbed the idea and ran with it. “He called us and said, ‘I want to do this thing,’” recalled Cardenas.     “We could not have made this happen without him.”
    “Col. White heard our vision and supported it,” said Shea. “He told us it cost just a little more to go first class, and that’s what he wanted for the troops. Whenever we would get in a rut, he would motivate the troops and get us going.”
    Other than cutting through the paperwork required to use Festival Park, the biggest thing the group had to tackle was finding a band. Both Cardenas and Shea had ideas about what kind of musicians they wanted to play, but wanting doesn’t always make it so. A couple of times they thought they were close with musicians like John Rich and Charlie Daniels but other commitments caused conflicts. They hit the jackpot when they started pursuing Lonestar.
    “The guys in Lonestar do so much for the troops,” explained Shea. “We went after them because of their involvement with the troops. If you look on their Web site, you’ll see all of the military awards they have received for their efforts. They are very in tune with what it is we are doing here. They are with us in wanting to honor our service members, and that’s what is going to make this show so exciting.”
You only have to mention the word troops to Lonestar lead guitarist Michael Britt to get his attention. Britt, along with Keech Rainwater and Dean Sams, are the original members of the band that formed in Nashville in 1992.
    “We can’t wait to get there to Fayetteville,” said Britt, in a recent telephone interview. “That’s going to be a fun show. We love playing for the troops. Knowing this is a welcome home for the soldiers who have been serving those 12 to 15 month deployments make it even more important and a lot bigger.”
    The band is looking forward to doing a USO tour sometime in the future, but see this as an opportunity to say thanks to the soldiers here at home. “We are huge supporters of the military,” said Britt.
In the opening days of the war, the band’s song I’m Already There captured the spirit of families who are separated. The song written about the band’s travels touched a special place in the hearts of deployed soldiers and their families. “When we recorded that song, it wasn’t with soldiers in mind, we were talking about our own separations from our families while we toured, but we are proud that it meant something to our military families,” he said. “Our soldiers are out there risking their lives and their families are here – they truly are the unsung heroes of our nation.”
    He said the show will have special meaning to the band’s new front man Cody Collins because his sister recently joined the Marines. “It’s going to be a very special event and memory for him,” said Britt.
Britt and his wife are both actively involved in the “Adopt a Platoon” program. “For the last four years we’ve participated in that program,” said Britt. “We’ll head out to the store and buy a lot of stuff and box it up and send it over to the soldiers. We have sent a huge amount of packages overseas. It’s a big commitment, but we think it’s very worthwhile.”
    So while the concert will give the band an opportunity to offer its thanks to the troops, it will also give them a chance to introduce Collins, who took the place of former front man Richie McDonald, and introduce a new, edgier sound for the band.
    Britt said the band had been pigeonholed as the “poster boy family band” after a string of hits like Mr. Mom, My Front Porch Looking In and Amazed. The songs written by McDonald were the type of songs the band’s former record label pushed them to record. But they were not in keeping with what the other members of the band wanted to do. “All along there was some internal fighting,” acknowledged Britt. “There was conflict because that wasn’t what the rest of us wanted to put out, but it was what Richey wanted.”
He said McDonald’s style was more relaxed, while his band mates wanted to put out the kind of music they first started playing when they came together – music with more of a rock edge. “As John Rich (of Big and Rich and a former band member) used to say, ‘It’s country music delivered through a shotgun,’” said Britt.
    Last year, McDonald left the band, opening the door for the band to change direction and embrace the music they had long been wanting to record.
    Britt said that the band hopes the new music’s edgier sound won’t alienate their fans, and asks that they give it a chance. A single, hitting the airwaves now, Le Me Love You, is getting positive play and reviews from fans. A new album is also in the works. “We mainly want to get people to see us and hear us,” he said. “For a while, we were not enjoying what we were doing. But now, we are having fun playing, it’s actually like being a teenager in a garage band.”
    But Britt said long-time fans don’t have to worry about hearing their favorites. The band will perform the majority of their hits during the concert, but don’t expect to hear Mr. Mom.
    "That song was about Richey’s family, and it seems insincere to play it,” said Britt. “We don’t want Cody to imitate Richey – we want him to be Cody. And we think people are going to like that.”
    The afternoon’s events will kick off at Festival Park at 2 p.m., with a parachute jump by the 82nd Airborne Sport Parachute Club, patriotic music by choirs and speeches from military leaders and local community leaders. At 5 p.m. Cardenas’ band, Borderland, will take the stage and will play until 6:30 p.m.
    “We’re really excited about opening for Lonestar,” said Cardenas. “We see this as an opportunity to give something back to the community and to our troops.”
He noted that it was even more special because the band’s drummer, Cornell Young, is a retired Special Forces soldiers. “We’re going to put on the best show we can as our gift to the soldiers,” he said.
Lonestar will hit the stage at 7 p.m. “We want all of our soldiers to come out and we want local residents to come out and show their support of our troops,” said Shea. “It’s going to be a great night for Fayetteville.”

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