CLOSE

Cyndi Lauper, Robert Hunter and Toby Keith were among the music legends inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on Thursday, with Zac Brown playing a tribute to fellow inductees, the Grateful Dead. (June 19) AP

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

In his 25-year career as a popular country musician, Toby Keith has built a career around two symbols that have defined his music: the American flag and the red Solo cup. 

Both received fervorous applause when they appeared onstage throughout Keith's set at the Iowa State Fair Grandstand on Monday night. 

A video montage opened the concert, depicting Keith performing on various USO tours over his career, which has been deeply entwined with the United States military. 

Over the course of his hour and 40 minute performance, Keith held court over the raucous outdoor crowd with the countenance of a fun-loving uncle, complete with an easy demeanor and mischievous expression.

A lifetime of practicing what he's long preached revealed itself in the way his shirt unbuttoned to reveal tanned skin stretched by middle age with his belly pushing gently against his navy shirt. 

With the air of a seasoned showman, Keith acted as a guide to his own litany of hits. The crowd jostled against the stage barricade, singing every word as he took them on a tour of his catalog's heights. 

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

'I'll play Des Moines on a Monday'

A few songs into his set, Keith recounted how the concert planners had told him they could give him the Monday slot at the State Fair.

"I'll play Des Moines on a Monday," he said, a smirk pushing against the side of his square goatee.

The anecdote was a wink to the crowd, comprised of devoted fans either growing into the depths of middle age, having lived through his rise to mainstay status on the country chart, alongside a younger generation that had grown up on his established hits. 

More: Iowa State Fair concerts: Here's every artist playing the Grandstand

As a bright sun began to set just as the overcast day had started to clear, Keith's tour opener, Jimmie Allen, a relative newcomer whose single "Best Shot" recently peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard country charts, set the mood. 

Along with his own hit and a collection of songs from his debut album, the Delaware-born songwriter sang covers of songs from the late '90s and early 2000s, along with his own renditions of Lil Nas X's ubiquitous "Old Town Road" and Lady Gaga's Oscar-winning "Shallow."

'The world is bats--- crazy right now'

Despite a career and identity marked by an unwavering commitment to the United States military along with its ongoing conflicts, Keith withheld any specific political comments.

Remarking that "the world is bats--- crazy right now" during a transition between songs was the closest he came to addressing any of the contemporary issues in the country today. 

Instead, Keith's patriotism focused on the individual soldiers themselves. Early in his performance, he raised his red Solo cup in a toast to firefighters, law enforcement and military personnel on the State Fair's Veterans Day. 

Though he performed at President Donald Trump's inauguration festivities after backlash caused other artists to drop out, Keith didn't mention his name during his Des Moines concert. Instead, he focused on a sense of community built around the idea of being an American, and he made clear that part of this was having the right to a good time. 

The performance, which included turn-of-the-century chart-toppers like "I Should've Been a Cowboy," "How Do You Like Me Now," "Beer for My Horses," and, of course, the banjo-inflected "Red Solo Cup," was met with breathless singalongs.

Inspired, many fans in the upper area of the Grandstand left their seats to dance along the concrete, beer in hand, until they were gently guided back to their seats by an usher. 

The final song of the regular set, "A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action," even included a detour into a Ted Nugent cover, allowing his Easy Money Band to show off its chops and to honor one Keith's musical and political forebearers. 

'Never apologize for being a patriot'

After formally ending his set for a moment, Keith returned to the stage for an encore highlighting his devotion to a vision of America. 

The three colors of the American flag shown out from the screen behind Keith, the crowd below him and even the Ferris wheel on the midway nearby as he broke into renditions of his songs "American Soldier" and "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)."

The latter, a song Keith wrote in the aftermath of 9/11 and recorded at the behest of former national security adviser James Jones, is a song of patriotic retribution and nationalistic rancor, the origin of now-famous lines like "And you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A/ 'Cause we`ll put a boot in your ass, it`s the American way."

Nearly two decades after Keith wrote this song, as the American war the song predicts continues to endure, the song is still met as a call to arms with great enthusiasm. 

"Never apologize for being a patriot" were Keith's departing words. 

The red, white and blue lights went out and a fireworks display erupted to the side of the Grandstand. A restless crowd ignored the signs asking them to stay in their seats until the fireworks ended and began to move towards the exit. 

Smoke from the fireworks display drifted out across the midway. Chants erupted among the dispersing crowd: "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" 

Toby Keith Iowa State Fair set list:

Aaron Calvin covers trending news for the Register. Reach him at acalvin@registermedia.com or 515-556-9097.

Your subscription makes work like this possible. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/entertainment/music/2019/08/13/toby-keith-brings-patriotism-partying-iowa-state-fair-grandstand-veterans-setlist-songs-music-show/1994553001/