Lee Greenwood: It's a "Mistake" for Performers to Bail on Trump's Inauguration (Q&A)

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"We just can’t be deterred by the underlying gossip and focus on the event itself," says the country artist.

When Lee Greenwood takes the stage at the Lincoln Memorial this Thursday for Donald Trump's high profile pre-inaugural concert, it'll be the fourth time that the country artist performs for an incoming Republican administration. 

This time around, there's a perception that many name-brand Hollywood acts have refused to perform during Inauguration Week in order to avoid "normalizing" a president-elect that has been anything but normal so far. 

Greenwood dismisses that narrative. Not only will he be playing at Trump's "Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration," he also will perform at the dinner for incoming Vice President Mike Pence. 

As he preps for his appearances, Greenwood spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about what's the same, and different, about playing at this President's celebrations. (This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.) 

What was the reasoning behind accepting an offer to perform at the official Trump celebration concert?

It’s not just about the Trump event, it’s about the change of power in D.C. This is our fourth inauguration. I think whenever you’re asked to do a Congressional appearance, I think it’s in bad taste to say, “No.” It’s not political. I consider it a great honor and prestige of being able to sing the song I wrote in 1983 at the Lincoln Memorial. It will be a wonderful moment for my career, but also for the citizens who will be watching it on television worldwide.

What type of feedback have you been hearing since the announcement came out on Friday morning?

Tremendous, positive feedback from everybody through my website, Facebook posts, whatever. There’s a few naysayers who are disappointed the election didn’t go their way. But, without being political, and that’s what we’re trying to push aside, is this is not political, this is basically about the change in power. America has spoken. We have a new president-elect, and we’re going to support him.

This is your fourth time playing a Presidential inauguration — you’ve played for three other Republican administrations (George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan). Do you think performing at this one is like the others, or different?

Well, how it makes it different is social media. Particularly, because President-elect Trump has been using social media as a way to actually reach out to the American people. And it’s kind of odd. In years past, that was not a factor. So there is an awful lot more congested conversation, I think, because of social media. But we just can’t be deterred by the underlying gossip and focus on the event itself, which is the change in power between one President and the next.

Jennifer Holliday, another headliner at Trump’s pre-inaugural concert, canceled her appearance after criticism from her fans. What do you think about that?

I think that’s a mistake. And, I think, sadly, that she would buckle under that kind of minority approach. Because it probably is. The nation spoke resoundingly to elect this President. For her to buckle under, to social media, again, she’s thinking that’s going to make an impact on her career. And it certainly won’t.

You’re going to sing for the President, my gosh. I didn’t work the campaign, she didn’t work the campaign. This is basically an invitation to go to Washington, D.C., and be a part of this celebration. I’m sorry she made that choice. It doesn’t influence what I do or, I think, many of the other performers who will be there.

There’s going to be a lot of activity, both protests and shows of support, for the president-elect on the National Mall this week. Are you going to go to any of the demonstrations?

You know what, you surprised me with that kind of conversation. I didn’t think there were going to be any demonstrations. No, I won’t, if there are such. Our schedule is full, I’ll be singing at the Vice President’s dinner and, of course, the Mall performance and watching the swearing in. That’s the focus of why I’m going to D.C.

What are you looking forward to about the performance on the Lincoln Memorial?

You know, I’ve done this once before, for Herbert Walker Bush, at the Lincoln Memorial. And when you step out between those pedestals and look at the throngs of people on the Mall all the way to the Capitol, it’s a surreal moment. And I’ve had those moments before, in big events, such as the playoff games, Super Bowl and so forth where you have thousands and thousands of people.

But, in this particular instance, even in this particular election, which is very different than any one we’ve ever had — I believe that’s true. I know I’ll be moved by it and a lot of my friends will be there, and I’ll be singing right after the Frontmen [of Country] — which is a great group of singers who are all personal friends of mine. It’ll be a great time to celebrate, and that’s what I’m looking forward to most.

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