TAMPA — You had to be 21 or older to get into Lee Greenwood's show Monday at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, but to be honest, they would have been safe setting the bar at 50. At one point, the enduring country star — a.k.a. the self-proclaimed "American Patriot" — tried to start a story: "I just got a text before I came onstage." Pause and realization. "Do y'all know what a text is?"
Not sure if that was a joke. The few hundred fans in the Hard Rock Cafe didn't really laugh or, you know, make noise. But that's okay. The happy mix of local fans, military veterans and soggy castaways from the political gathering down the street were saving their energy for the red, white and blue stuff, including That Song, the one Ronald Reagan made the official anthem of the 1984 Republican National Convention, an RNC staple ever since.
Backed by a five-piece band, Greenwood, 69, chugged through a likable, and politics-free, 75-minute set of dusty Nashville hits before finally firing up the star-spangled stuff for his final three songs.
And then, finally, the overwrought synth gushed in and Greenwood launched into conservative rallying cry God Bless the U.S.A., which was released in '84 but has remarkably skyrocketed back up the charts several times over the decades, including 1991 and 2001, two times of great national distress.
Regardless, Greenwood sang that sucker as if he were singing it for the first time, solemn and straight. The throng stood and clapped and waved and cried. And oh my did they sing along as if their lives depended on it.
Before he left the stage, Greenwood said, "This may be the most important election in U.S. history. Get out and vote."
After the show, I asked Lee's wife, Kim, if her singing husband would ever, if asked, perform that song at the Democratic National Convention, too. The former Miss Tennessee flashed a pageant grin and said, "I can't answer that question, but Lee always says he wrote that song for all Americans."
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.