Let me tell you a story about how once upon a time a major country radio station in Chicago partnered with one of the largest cable networks to show their support for this nation’s military veterans. For the last four years, US99 – “Chicago’s Hottest Country Station” – has hosted it’s annual Stars and Strings – A Concert for Veterans event at the historic Chicago Theater in downtown Chicago to honor the brave men and women of our military, with a portion of the proceeds going to benefit Folds of Honor.
Folds of Honor is an organization that provides educational support to spouses and children of America’s Fallen Soldiers. Every year fans look forward to the announcement to find out which country music stars would be performing acoustically on this very special night in November. That is, until this year, anyway. Early Monday morning on September 30th fans tuned into US99 via their car radio or Facebook Live while on their way to work or school because they knew this was the day was the day the Stars and Strings lineup would be announced.
What’s normally a lineup of anywhere between 10 and 12 performers was cut down to only six this year. There were no big names in the lineup either, which normally wouldn’t bother me personally because I fully believe in supporting up and coming artists and giving them more attention. However, considering the lineup history of Stars and Strings, needless to say I’m not surprised that so many fans were disappointed by this year’s lineup, which consists of Kane Brown, Chris Janson, Scotty McCreery, Lindsay Ell, and Seaforth.
To be honest, if the lack of star-studded lineup was the only disappointing factor about the 2019 Stars and Strings announcement, you wouldn’t be reading this article right now. Unfortunately, though, the number of artists in the lineup wasn’t the only change made for this year’s concert. When an event such as Stars and Strings is advertised and presented as a concert for veterans, it only makes sense to hold the event as close to Veterans Day as possible, which is exactly what has happened for the last four years. This year, though, Stars and Strings will be held on December 8th.
Along with the lineup and date change also comes a venue change, which felt like the biggest letdown of the entire announcement. Instead of the intimate atmosphere of the Chicago Theater, Stars and Strings will now be treated like any other normal concert and held at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. As US99 announced Wednesday morning, this year’s concert will be “larger and louder” than previous years.
For the record, it was after last year’s Stars and Strings Concert when I began to notice the focus of the event begin to shift. Last year was also the first year CBS was no longer apart of the event. My initial reaction when I saw all of these changes to this year’s Stars and Strings concert was disbelief. I couldn’t comprehend how they could justify changing the date of a concert that’s meant to honor our military veterans and active duty members from November to December considering Veterans Day is in November. I didn’t understand why they thought switching an event as special as this from a venue like the Chicago Theater to a place where hockey games are held was appropriate. Making changes like these for an event such as Stars and Strings sends two messages.
The first message is that the people in charge don’t really care about our military men and women, because if they did then they would understand the significance of keeping the focus of the event on the people the event is meant to honor. The second message is that by making these changes, they appear to only care about selling tickets and filling seats. Why else would you switch to a larger venue like the Allstate Arena? Sure, they could try and say it’s because there’s such a high demand for tickets to this particular show. But what they fail to understand is the reason there’s such a high demand for Stars and Strings.
For many fans, the reason Stars and Strings is so appealing is because it’s some of the biggest stars in country music at one of the most intimate and historic venues in Chicago performing acoustic for a cause that means so much to so many people.
Anyone who attended Stars and Strings in 2015 and 2016 will remember just how truly remarkable the event was. There were country artists performing writers round style with their acoustic guitars telling the stories and meanings behind some of the most powerful country songs this generation has heard. Those artists sat on their stools and expressed their deepest gratitude for the courageous men and women who have and continue to fight for this country’s freedom. Some of those artists, like many in the audience, come from military families, so they know and understand the sacrifice that’s made when you have a loved one who is overseas.
They also understand that our veterans aren’t the same when they return home, so they explain the importance of showing our appreciation for our military men and women because so few do. I understand that by moving the concert to a larger venue, it means more tickets can be sold, which in turn means more money can be given to Folds of Honor. However, moving the venue and changing the date only strips Stars and Strings of everything that made it the most anticipated and significant event of the year. If hosting this event was truly about creating a memorable evening for our military veterans and their families, then US99 would think long and hard before they made changes like they did this year. I don’t work in radio, nor do I have experience planning corporate events.
I do have family members who were in the military, though, and I know what it’s like to worry in fear that your loved one might not make it back home. I also understand what it’s like to watch a loved one suffer from PTSD because they’re fighting an internal battle the rest of the world can’t possibly understand.
So when there’s an event like Stars and Strings that’s meant to honor military veterans, their families, and active duty military members as well, then I whole heartedly believe every decision made about the event should be done with only the interest of those the event is meant for. Forget about ticket sales and filling seats and trying to please the casual music fan.
I said this after attending last year’s Stars and Strings event because it felt as if it had truly lost its sense of purpose then, and I’ll say it again now. Choose artists who will want to come and perform songs that hold special meaning already and will resonate with those in attendance who believe in supporting our military. Choose artists who have the utmost respect and gratitude for our military and for our first responders. Keep Stars and Strings on or as close to Veterans Day as possible. Do not change the venue for Stars and Strings to some large arena just because you want to accommodate more people.
Keep the event where it’s been for the last four years because there is nothing like sitting in the Chicago Theater when it’s eerily quiet because everyone in the audience is captivated by an artist like Justin Moore singing a song like, “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away” or Brantley Gilbert telling the heartbreakingly true stories that inspired “One Hell of an Amen,” or Gary Allen singing “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain).”
I’m not the only fan who was upset by the news of this new “Larger and Louder” Stars and Strings concert, either. Others left endless comments on US99’s Facebook page expressing the reason they won’t be attending this year’s event for the same reasons I’ve explained above, only for those comments to be deleted soon after by the station. Whether US99 wants to acknowledge it or not, the fans have spoken and I think the message is clear. Do not mess with an event that has become a tradition for so many over the last four years and holds such significance to those who do support our military veterans and active duty members. Sometimes there’s no need for the lights and smoke or glitz and glamour to make something better. Sometimes it’s best to keep things simple and let the music do the talking. When it comes to Stars and Strings, this is one of those times.