Photo by Pete Vonder Haar
Though we almost weren't. In what might be considered a surprise move to those unfamiliar with the right's penchant for holding "town hall meetings" with none but carefully vetted sycophants in attendance, it was decided that the only media outlet allowed access to the concert would be KTRH, the local radio home of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Hannity himself. My Houston Press badge wasn't worth the cardboard it was taped to. Luckily(?), they weren't doing background checks on ticket buyers, so after awkwardly stashing my camera lens down my pants, I was given access to the Promised Land.
One thing you'll notice as soon as you go through the gate at a Freedom Concert is the number of cops, both real and rented. This was, at least in part, thanks to the presence of both Governor Rick Perry and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (who never actually shared a stage, more's the pity). However, hearing the unending stream of paranoid rhetoric from the host and guests, and seeing the number of anti-Obama/pro-gun t-shirts wandering around, one almost got the impression they were expecting some kind of jackbooted government incursion. For all their martial bluster, conservatives can be quite the scaredy-cats.
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Buying a beer to assuage my guilt at missing the Oliver North book signing, I headed to the lawn to catch the end of Greenwood's set. Had I know his would be one of the most energetic of the evening, I'd have paced my drinking, but I needed something to cool my...patriotic ardor.
Hannity introduced Rick Perry next. Decked out entirely in black, he hit the stage like Johnny Cash's certified public accountant brother. The bold references to ignoring Washington directives on health care and asserting the rights of the state of Texas went down well with the overwhelmingly white and middle-aged crowd, most of whom were probably unaware Perry's rejection of $2 billion in stimulus money will force the Texas Workforce Commission to borrow money from the federal government to cover unemployment benefits.
Then again, why should they care? Only lazy people get laid off.
Charlie Daniels was next, and we were left to contemplate (not for the first time) when exactly he morphed from the peace-loving, dope-smoking protagonist of 1973's "Uneasy Rider" into the right wing, gay-bashing douchebag of "Uneasy Rider '88." Even with his undeniable redneck credentials, it was obvious the crowd was getting a little restless during the a few of the band's extended jam sessions. Someone in the crowd was actually heard to complain, "We're missing Matlock for this?"
After a rousing rendition of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" -- and who could've predicted he'd play that? -- Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson came out to congratulate the state of Texas for providing more active-duty military than any other state. A sobering sentiment, and a reminder of the concert's ostensible purpose. Lost on the audience, however, was the sinister feedback loop involved in soliciting donations for the children of dead/disabled soldiers while simultaneously agitating to send more troops into harm's way.
To this point, I'd done a decent job of either talking my way past/dodging Pavilion security, but with tensions reaching their peak (thanks no doubt to the imminent arrival of Christian singer Michael W. Smith) my luck ran out. Corralled by someone in a red polo shirt denoting actual authority (as opposed to the powder blue tops sported by part-timers), I was told I'd need to check my camera or leave the premises. Hardly the forcible eviction that makes for a great ending, but I should probably be happy I made my escape before Billy Ray Cyrus's set, which reportedly inflamed the dormant libidos of those present to such an extent the entire Pavilion descended into a riotous bacchanal the likes of which haven't been seen since the reign of Caligula.
Or Clinton, whoever.
For a slideshow of this epic event, click here.