For Pat Kelley of Springfield, it began with an email, one of the many passed around by friends and family trying to understand the Iraq War. Kelley’s nephew Shaun read the message, an attempt to describe the life of a soldier, and it touched a nerve.
“He responded to it courteously but strongly,” says Kelley. Shaun, a Marine veteran of the first Gulf conflict, is usually taciturn about his wartime experience, so Pat called him.
“I don’t know who writes these things,” Shaun told his uncle, “but they don’t know what they’re talking about. This is what it’s really like.”
Pat Kelley listened, but not just as a family member. The Springfield car dealer is also a budding songwriter. Recently, he’d started working with Bucky Jones, who wrote country hits for Lee Greenwood, Crystal Gayle, Charlie Pride and several others.
In First Lieutenant USMC S h a u n K e l l e y’s words, Pat heard a story that he knew needed to be told.
So he picked up his guitar and pen, and came up with “Did You Think of Me Today?” It’s a song about the rigors of military life – long nights, tasteless MRE food, desert sand and “socks so damp, they’re part of my skin.”
It was also a reminder to not let their sacrifices become lost in our busy lives:
“Did you think of me today?
Are you proud of who I am?
It’s your freedom that I’m fighting for in this foreign land.”
Now it’s the lead single from “For the Heroes,” a compilation CD released by Nashville-based Bruce Allen Music, and the centerpiece of a country music concert scheduled for August 16 at Twin State Speedway in Claremont.
The show features all the Nashville performers from the record, including Mike Kidd, the young singer who recorded Kelley’s song, along with three others set for Kidd’s debut album. The day will have a local flavor, with sets from area bands Little Memphis (led by Claremont native Dan LaPorte ) and High Ground.
Local singer Kyla Beardsley will sing the National Anthem, something she did last year at Fenway Park .
Other performers appearing at “For The Heroes” include Heather Necole, Nathan Neff, Charis, Ashley Leigh, and Elisha & Deana Shelton. The musicians, along with label head Bruce Allen, will meet fans and sign autographs the day of the show at Kelley Sales & Service in Springfield.
Brendon Thomas, who normally specializes in atmospheric rock with foreverinmotion, will also play a short set. “It could be a fun change of pace rockin’ the country scene,” says Thomas, who will be joined by Meagan LeBlanc for a performance of the Johnny Cash/June Carter Cash hit “Jackson.”
LeBlanc is the daughter of Jane Eno, a sales rep at “The Wolf,” the West Lebanon radio station sponsoring the show. Pat Kelley is quick to praise the station for its’ support. “They have been instrumental in their efforts to make this promotion a success,” he says, also thanking Dennis Fleury for making his racetrack available for the show.
A Newport country station has also helped with “For the Heroes.” WCNL Program Director Steve Smith interviewed Kelley on the air, and thinks “Did You Think of Me Today?” is a great song. Smith also added the Little Memphis CD, “Let Me Down Easy,” to the station’s play list.
“One of the flag men at the Speedway gave it to me,” says Smith. “It’s really good.”
Admission to the show is free for anyone serving in the military, as well as the people Kelley calls “local heroes” – police, fire and rescue workers.
“At times, the service men and women are entertained while on duty, but this event gives them the opportunity to enjoy and share our show with their family and friends,” says Bruce Allen. “It’s also a chance for the community to show their appreciation and support.”
“This is for all of our soldiers,” says Pat Kelley. “I think we have to step back, regardless of our politics or whether or not we believe in the war, and really understand what kind of sacrifice these folks are making for us every single day.”
“Honor the troops,” he says. “I think the honor is by saying, ‘we know you’re there, we know the sacrifice you’re making, and we appreciate it.’”
And, of course, by providing them with some good American music when they come home.