Tuesday, 28 Mar 2023

Im a little hard to pin down: country star Brad Paisley becomes unlikely Ukraine advocate

Im a little hard to pin down: country star Brad Paisley becomes unlikely Ukraine advocate

Im a little hard to pin down: country star Brad Paisley becomes unlikely Ukraine advocate

Wearing white cowboy hat, black suit and black tie, country singer and guitar virtuoso Brad Paisley strode on stage in the East Room of the White House before a bipartisan audience.

It was a Saturday night and, fittingly, he began the 40-minute set playing his hit song American Saturday Night - but with an amended lyric. "I had to change the second line because it mentioned Russia, and I don't do that any more," he explained.When Paisley delivered its substitute - "There's a Ukrainian flag hanging up behind the bar" - no one applauded louder than Joe Biden in the front row.It was a moment that illustrated Paisley's engagement with Ukraine's fight for survival and, before a gathering of governors from blue and red states, his efforts to bridge political divides. The 50-year-old from West Virginia, a three-time Grammy winner, describes himself as hard to categorise but optimistic that America can move beyond what has been called a cold civil war.

That night last month at the White House, Paisley compelled Spencer Cox, the Republican governor of Utah and an amateur musician, to join him in a duet. He also performed a new song, Same Here, marking the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking by phone Nashville, Tennessee, Paisley recalls: "You had most of the states represented and you had all sides. I could see it in the room: let's not lose what this is saying because it works. Face to face, left to right, it works. That's the thing about something like this: when you put it out there, it's going to be uncomfortable, but that's OK. Art can be uncomfortable. I welcome the discussion."

The commercial release of Same Here features a voiceover from the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, speaking proudly about his country and people. Paisley's royalties for the track will be donated to the United24 crowdfunding effort to help build housing for thousands of displaced Ukrainians whose homes were destroyed in the war.

He describes the song - the first from his new album, Son of the Mountains - as an expression of empathy. "It's about anybody who longs for freedom. Around this time last year, when I was seeing all this begin to happen, I was moved by the images of people fleeing - mothers, daughters, grandmothers crossing the border, all huddled in the backseat of a car, fleeing for their lives as the husband stayed behind to fight.

"It's unlike anything I've seen in my lifetime. It's unlike anything any of us have seen in our lifetimes. It just felt so helpless to watch this and be a witness to this with nothing we could do. Maybe the most exciting thing for me in having this out is the idea that this is going to help rebuild homes for people, and it's also raising some awareness."

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