As the virus shut down large chunks of life, Michael Colbert was sure of two things.
Yes, there would still be Memorial Day, even without some of the parades and picnics and such.
And the night before that, there would be the annual “National Memorial Day Concert” (shown here from a previous year); that’s at 8 and 9:30 p.m. May 24 on most PBS stations. “We need to have our rituals,” Colbert said.
At the first such concert, 30 years ago, he was a college student carrying a Diet Pepsi and notes for his dad (producer Jerry Colbert, who died in 2017). Now he’s producing an event that draws a massive crowd … until this year, when concerts were canceled.
“You adapt,” Colbert said. “You need to.” So crews – “very small ones” – shot social-distance bits.
That’s why Trace Adkins was standing on a Washington, D.C., rooftop. “It was really cool and inspiring,” Adkins said. “You could look down at the city and the Capitol …. It was surreal, too” with so little activity in sight.
Adkins brings an emotional moment, Colbert said. “As we leave the bugler playing ‘Taps,’ Trace is singing: ‘If the sun comes up without me tomorrow/If I leave this world tonight ….’”
That’s what the event pushes for – passionate lyrics and strong voices from several genres.
This year, it has singers known for country (Adkins) … classical (“the great Renee Fleming singing ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’”) … and gospel (CeCe Winans with “a fabulous version of ‘Lean on Me,’ which is really appropriate now”).
And from Broadway, it has two Tony-winners (Cynthia Erivo doing “Hero,” Kelli O’Hara doing “Fire and Rain”) plus Tony-nominee Christopher Jackson doing the National Anthem.
That last one offers one sign of change: Usually, the Anthem is accompanied by the massive sound of the National Symphony; this year, it will be a cappella.
Members of the Symphony will be there at times, Colbert said, but “they’ll be very spread-out.” Some others – Army, Navy and Air Force choral groups – will be in scenes rerun from previous years. Some tributes will be rerun, but there will also be new ones.
One has the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the Pentagon steps, with Gen. Mark Milley stepping forward to speak. And yes, Colbert said, there’s social distancing. “The steps of the Pemtagon are very big.”
All of this is at a time of crisis, which military people are used to. So is Adkins.
By his own count, he’s had five near-death experiences. “I’ve always tended to be a little accident-prone,” he understated in his memoir (“A Personal Stand,” Villard, 2007).
One was when his second wife shot him, with the bullet going through both lungs and his heart. He still considers himself a lucky guy. “This career has afforded me opportunities very few people have,” he said, with “a Louisiana farmhand” having several trips to the Capitol and the White House.
Adkins is a guys’-guy who has been surrounded by females – four wives (he’s married to actress Victoria Pratt) and five daughters. “I had five daughters because I kept trying to have a son. I finally said, ‘OK, God, I get it.’”
With daughters, he said, “I mostly work security. I follow them around and carry things and pay for things ….I used to be fairly intimidating. Being 6-6, 250 – that helps with the dating picture.”
And girls bring an advantage, he said. “They don’t tear up your stuff as much. My two brothers and I tore up everything our father had. We broke all his tools.”
That reflects one of his most emotional songs: In “You’re Gonna Miss This,” an older guy tells a harried mom that she’ll recall these years fondly. Adkins asks his daughters not to be in his line of sight when he sings it;“I would never get through it.”
It might be a perfect song for our times. Isolated with restles family? Some day, we’re gonna miss this.