Country star Aaron Tippin gives veterans a musical valentine at Ypsilanti show Sunday
Tippin, whose songs are known for their patriotic and working-class themes, played the free show for a crowd of around 1,500. Many of those in the audience who had been in the military wore the insignias of their units on their clothing. Small American flags handed out by volunteers were everywhere. There were as many older folks in the audience as there were young children.
Prior to the concert, the soft-spoken Tippin visited patients at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Ann Arbor. His local appearance helped the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System kick off a series of events to celebrate the National Salute to Veterans Week. The local “Valentines for Veterans” concert was one of 16 such events nationwide.
Backstage before the show, Tippin chatted and posed for photos with veterans and their families, including around 30 American Gold Star Mothers, an organization of moms who have lost a son or daughter in the service of our country.
“It’s means a lot to us to see the veterans treated correctly,” said Carol Johnson, the group’s area president, whose son was lost in Iraq six years ago. “They weren’t all fortunate enough to come home. We’ve got to take special care of the ones who did.”
On stage, Tippin, backed by a tight five-piece band, offered an energetic set that began with “Ready to Rock” and frequently had the crowd on its feet. The set list also included “You’ve Got to Stand For Something,” “My Blue Angel,” “I Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way,” There Ain't Nothin' Wrong with the Radio,” "That's as Close as I'll Get to Loving You” and “Honky Tonk Superman.”
While performing his hit "Working Man's Ph.D.," Tippin assembled a bicycle on stage and presented it to two representatives of the U.S. Marine Corps as the first donation for their Christmas 2013 Toys for Tots drive.
Tippin, who did not serve in the military, said his commitment to veterans comes courtesy his father, who was in the U.S. Air Force.
“My dad, he’s a major patriot in my eyes,” Tippin told AnnArbor.com backstage. “He always believed in appreciation for those in the service. That stuck with me. My career began with Bob Hope, so entertaining the troops is just what I’ve done for 23 years. It’s just what I do.”
Before the music began, the Pledge of Allegiance was led by Purple Heart recipient Matthew Drake. In opening remarks, U.S. Rep. John D. Dingell, a World War II veteran, said he was proud to be a member of “the greatest generation, but as I look around, I realize we were followed by another great generation.”
Sgt. Samir Awadallah, a recruiter for the U.S. Marine Corps in Ypsilanti, said Tippin’s commitment to the military is something special. “Just the fact that there are still people out there who actually care about the military despite everything that’s been going on that are willing to go out there and publicly support us is just amazing,” he said.
Vietnam veteran Marty Solvberg from Ypsilanti, who brought a T-shirt for Tippin to sign, said he is glad to see that attitudes towards veterans have improved since he served.
“When I came home, we didn’t have stuff like this. We were not treated that well when we came home. I’m grateful for the way people are supporting the military these days. It’s wonderful,” he said.
Sheila Thomas of Livonia, who served as a parachute rigger and was stationed at Fort Bragg and in Germany, was a volunteer at the show. She said she's also happy that shows like the one Sunday reflect changing attitudes.
“(The Vietnam veterans) didn’t get what they deserved when they came back," she said. "Now people perceive (military service) in a total different way than they used to. That’s a huge change. I think if more people like (Tippin) get involved, we will be in a better place. That’s all we need to do — come together and work as one.”
Derek Atkinson, public affairs officer for the local VA, said the free concert was made possible thanks to support from several companies and groups, among them the Foundation for American Veterans and automotive parts manufacturing company Delphi.
This was the first such concert the Ann Arbor VA, which provides health care services to veterans in southern Michigan and northern Ohio, has hosted. The concert was also presented in partnership with Student Veterans of America at Eastern Michigan University.