REVIEW: GILL, RASCAL FLATTS CAP PATRIOT WEEKEND
CATOOSA – The Owasso-based Folds of Honor Foundation capped a weekend of Memorial Day Weekend events on Monday with a gala, tribute and concert by the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.
The day began with a celebrity golf tournament and carried into a fundraising and tribute dinner at the casino.
Oklahoma musician Vince Gill has participated every year for several years, and this one was no different. This time around, though, he was a guest of honor, said foundation founder Dan Rooney.
“For this to be an Okahoma organization – heck yeah, it’s exciting. I love to see Okies shine,” Gill said after being presented with the Corporal Brock Bucklin Patriot Award. He accepted to an audience of several thousand inside the Hard Rock’s grand Sequoyah Ballroom.
The Folds of Honor Foundation was established in 2007 by Rooney, a former F-16 fighter pilot and PGA pro, to provide scholarships for family members of servicemen and women.
More than 6,500 scholarships have been awarded, with more than 1,000 more to be named in coming months.
One recipient is Amber Jones, wife of Staff Sgt. John Jones. She is headed back to college to pursue a degree in international global tourism and marketing with help from Folds of Honor.
Sgt. Jones was grievously injured while serving his second tour in Iraq in 2005. Jones is a 1996 Edmond Memorial High School graduate who joined the Marines. He had 60 days left in his tour when he was injured by a bomb.
His wife gave up her teaching career to nurse her husband back to health. After 32 surgeries, he now walks tall and proud, unaided, on prosthetic legs. He also stays at home nights and watches their four kids so she can finish school in Colorado, where they now live.
“My wife gave up so much for me. Now, finally I can help provide for my family and my wife can accomplish her dreams with me. I would not be here today if it wasn’t for Folds of Honor. … We’re where we are today thanks to them.”
Gill agreed. “What better gift can there be for the people and the families who serve our country? The greatest gift we can give to these people, their spouses and families is a future. We can give them an education.”
Which is why, after years of charity work, Gill said Monday’s award means more to him “than any Grammy. This, today, celebrates the human condition. This is an award that relates to me as a human being. This foundation celebrates all of us as free people, living in the greatest, freest country.
“As long as Dan Rooney’s around, I’ll be here with Folds of Honor,” Gill said.
He spoke about 16-year-old friend Nathanial Mack, a scholarship recipient whom he met at least year’s golf tournament. Mack’s father, Master Sgt. Kenneth N. Mack, was killed by a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq in 2007.
“I saw Nate again this year. I thought last year was possibly the best six hours I’ve ever spent with anyone. It was so rewarding. Nate was the bravest, brightest, most inspiring person I’ve met. To spend that time with him again this year really taught me how important it is that we all support each other.”
It’s a mission that swept Rascal Flatts into its fold, as well. The band took time from its arena- and world-spanning “Changed” tour to make an intimate performance for the cause at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, too. All the night’s proceeds went to the Oklahoma-based nonprofit.
After a long day on the Patriot Golf Club course in Owasso, the band was fresh and energetic for what Picher native and Flatts guitarist Joe Don Rooney called a “homecoming show.” Band mates Gary LeVox and Jay DeMarcus had a capacity crowd of nearly 2,500 people clapping, standing and singing with local fans, golf celebrities, military personnel and their families, dressed in everything from Marine uniforms to tuxedos and everything in between.
Their intimate set was more like a honky tonk party than anything else – a very rare treat for their Oklahoma fans.
Tunes included “Stand,” “Me and My Gang,” “Summer Nights,” “Bless the Broken Road,” “Banjo,” “Unstoppable,” “Lean on Me,” and “My Wish.”
But what really mattered was, believe it or not, the from-the-heart stage banter.
DeMarcus and LeVox – both sunburned from an afternoon on the golf course – joked with fans.
They also apologized for their sub-par golf skills, then thanked the foundation for inviting them to participate.
Getting serious, DeMarcus held up an arm and pointed to his wrist as he told fans about the fan he met backstage at a concert who was being called into active duty. The young man gave him a bracelet.
A year later, he met the boy’s mother, only to learn he had died in combat. “I never take this bracelet off. Never. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, every American who works so hard for each of us, I really can’t thank you enough.”
An a cappella version of “The Star Spangled Banner” followed, with every man and woman on their feet, hands over hearts, singing along. It was a chill-inducingly intimate moment with the superstar country act.
“We can’t tell ya enough,” guitarist Rooney added.
“Freedom. … Freedom! We get to play music for a living and for you tonight because of what you do … all you servicemen and women out there. Thank you.”