Country Stars Play the White House

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

“Something’s going right if there’s a banjo in the White House.” That’s what bluegrassy singer/fiddler Alison Krauss had to say after her inaugural show at the Obama residence. On Tuesday, Krauss and her band, Union Station, played to a packed crowd of high school students from Tennessee and Virginia. Country stars Brad Paisley and Charlie Pride filled out the bill in the East Room.

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“Something’s going right if there’s a banjo in the White House.” That’s what bluegrass singer/fiddler Alison Krauss had to say after her inaugural show at the Obama residence. On Tuesday, Krauss and her band, Union Station, played to a packed crowd of high school students from Tennessee and Virginia. Country stars Brad Paisley and Charlie Pride filled out the bill in the East Room.

A part of the White House Summer Music series, this “Country Music Celebration” was by no means the first of its kind. Franklin D. Roosevelt enjoyed a show from the Coon Creek Girls back in 1939. Since then, artists ranging from Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley to Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley have visited presidents in the White House.

President Obama was more than happy to receive his newest guests. He told the New York Times, “I know folks think I’m a city boy, but I do appreciate listening to country music. It’s about folks telling their life story the best way they know how.”

Though focused on country music, the concert represented a diverse range of artists. “They grabbed the contemporary popular chart,” Paisley said of himself. “They grabbed the artistic bluegrass side,” he continued, referring to Alison Krauss and her band. “And then they grabbed the legend side,” he concluded, speaking of Mr. Pride.

Charlie Pride, who has performed for Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, was happy to be back at the White House. “It’s always an honor,” said the singer, who has long fought to dissolve racial tensions in country music. He called Obama “a very blessed man and a brilliant mind,” and went on to say, “there’s a similarity in what he has done and what I went through.”

Paisley, too, sang praises for the President. He performed his patriotic hit, “American Saturday Night” and another called “Welcome to the Future.” Written in New York on election night, the tune was appropriate for the occasion. Paisely “wanted to encompass this big theme of how far we’ve come in a song.” Reeling in the excitement of playing the tune for the President, he gushed, “The dream of a songwriter is to write some account of a current event like that, and then deliver it for the person that’s responsible for the current event.”

Alison Krauss and Union Station took the opportunity to showcase some new material, as well as some tunes from the Coen Brothers’ 2000 flick, O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Guitarist Dan Tyminski took over lead vocals for “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow.” An American Songwriter video exclusive on Summer NAMM, which includes an interview with Tyminski, can be viewed here.

After the concert, Krauss and Paisley had a Q&A session with members of  the audience. Among the attendees was a group of students from the W.O. Smith/Nashville Community School of Music. The school’s executive director, Jonah Rabinowitz, said the students were “awed by the opportunity to see our nation’s capital and to visit the White House for this special music education program.”

The show was broadcast on whitehouse.gov and on the Great American Country TV network. Footage can be viewed below:

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