Craig Morgan isn’t one to sing about politics. As the country star, Army veteran and former sheriff’s deputy put it during a recent conversation with GO! Magazine: “I just try to record hit songs.”
But still, Morgan and his crew have been fielding questions from audience members on the second part of his American Stories Tour, which hits the Deschutes County Fairgrounds on Thursday. Questions such as: What do they think about the NFL players kneeling in protest of racial violence around the country? Or, what’s their response to the most recent mass shooting that killed 58 people at a country-music festival in Las Vegas?
“People are very much interested in our thoughts and our opinions on the current events, especially how it relates to country music,” Morgan said from a tour stop in Knoxville, Tennessee. “… I will say with everything that’s happened and that does happen, I think that the country-music format is a greater template for the opinions of the American people. It’s obvious that country music’s king and has been for a long time, and I think that’s because the majority of this country thinks and feels that way — the way that our music represents.”
That brings Morgan to another phenomenon he’s experienced on the road. Though many would say there’s plenty of evidence of a divided America in the news, on the street — and indeed, in the audience questions Morgan fields on a nightly basis — Morgan hasn’t seen it. In fact, he’d argue he’s seen the opposite.
“And I’m not just talking about at a country concert; I’m talking about walking through a mall and talking to people,” he said. “If you look at the demographics at the show in Vegas where the shooting took place, you had every race, religion and creed out there, and that is not separation. If anything, that’s unity. The problem is the mainstream media, in my opinion, wishes to incite separation because it’s better for them. That’s my honest opinion. And when you hear all these screamers and yellers — that’s a small portion. The problem is, when people yell, they get more attention. It’s that old term, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
“… That doesn’t mean we don’t have disagreements,” Morgan continued. “We cover the spectrum within my band and crew. I’ve got guys that are far left and guys that are far right, and yet, ironically, we all manage to get along just wonderfully. We love each other, we care for each other, we just disagree on some issues, and that’s the way this country is. It’s what makes it great.”
The “That’s What I Love About Sunday” and “Redneck Yacht Club” singer has been delving deep into what it means to be an American these days with the American Stories Tour, which began last year and was revived for this fall. The variety-show format of the tour features Morgan performing acoustically alongside returning musicians such as Third Day frontman Mac Powell, Marla Cannon-Goodman, Tate Stevens and Morgan’s daughter, Aly Beaird; and also includes guests such as Taya Kyle, the widow of Chris Kyle of “American Sniper” fame; and Army veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Clinton Romesha, author of “Red Platoon.” (Morgan wouldn’t say who the featured guests would be in Redmond.)
“The difference is we’re not just singing; we’re telling stories. The show references everything from politics and religion to the songs and the impact that the songs have and so on and so forth,” Morgan said. “It’s really about my guests. When we do these shows, I bring out — every weekend run is a different songwriter and a different military profile person.”
The tour has also partnered with national nonprofit Operation Finally Home, which provides mortgage-free homes to veterans and their families. Morgan became involved with the group last year when he helped them give away a home at one of his concerts. The nonprofit’s president, Dan Wallrath, is on the road with the tour to help give away homes at various stops, Morgan said. While no homes have been given to veterans in Oregon or indeed the Pacific Northwest as a whole, Morgan said this tour could change that.
“It’s difficult for them to do it all over the country … but I think we’re gonna see more of it due to this tour,” Morgan said. “In fact, we were just in Maryland, and we ran across a veteran who was having some issues, and I had the great fortune of introducing him to the president of Operation Finally Home, and I think they are in the works to get this young man a home. So we’re really blessed and humbled to be a part of that.”
Having served in the Army and in the Army Reserves for a total of 17 years, Morgan’s deep concern for veterans’ issues has helped define his career. He often performs on military bases and in USO tours, and he received the USO Merit Award in 2006.
Today, Morgan balances his music career with his philanthropic activities and a well-known love of the outdoors. His Outdoor Channel show “Craig Morgan All Access Outdoors” aired its eighth season this summer, including a full-episode tribute to Morgan’s son Jerry Greer, who died while tubing on Kentucky Lake last year.
He’s also branched out musically and lyrically on his seventh studio album, “A Whole Lot More to Me,” his first album since 2012’s “This Ole Boy.” In an interview with Rolling Stone Country last year, Morgan said he was inspired after visiting New York City for the first time: “So after I had the experience of going to New York City for the first time and realizing it was nothing like I’d expected, I realized that other people had the same perceptions about me. I wanted to try to break that mold.”
To that end, many songs — especially the title track; the ballad “Nowhere Without You”; and the duet with Powell, “Hearts I Leave Behind” — find the singer incorporating elements of classic R&B, soul and gospel alongside Morgan’s usual modern-country twang.
“My wife says I’m in the wrong genre, that I should be singing R&B,” Morgan said. “I love music that tells a story, but as important as the story, I love when it allows the singer to sing and deliver that story. I think that’s the true essence of a hit song, when you take a great story, a great melody, and it’s delivered in such a way that that artist feels it and shares that emotion of that song.”