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Sonia Leigh, a country music singer, serenades the words of “My Name Is Money” to the crowd of the North Carolina Country Music Freedom Festival at the Deppe Agriculture and Music Pavilion in Maysville, N.C., Sept. 24. The festival, which included a day-long concert of various country music notables, was in support of the upcoming Corpsmen Memorial to be constructed in front of the planned Museum of the Marine, with all proceeds going toward the memorial foundation.

Photo by Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

North Carolina Freedom Festival: Country artists croom for Corpsmen Memorial

24 Sep 2011 | Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

The rain fell in sheets down from an overcast sky, slowly filling his near-empty beer can. He bowed his head to shield his cigarette under his black cowboy hat and took a long drag, exhaling the smoke through his nose. He was soaked right down to his mud-caked cowboy boots, yet the only thing that shone brighter than his large Texas belt buckle was his love for country music - live country music.

“Hell, this ain’t so bad,” he said before downing the remainder of his beer. “I’m doing pretty damn good,” and, while chuckling, added, “for the shape I’m in.”

Before Sept. 24, no one might have attributed country music to Navy corpsmen, but after the dreary Saturday, spirits weren’t dampened when a star-studded lineup of country music artists came out to Maysville, N.C. to perform at the North Carolina Country Music Freedom Festival at the Deppe Agriculture and Music Pavilion.

“So what if the weather’s bad, this is the real deal,” said Tonya Lee, a military spouse in attendance. “Sure, it’s raining and there are some other events going on at the same time, but it’s their loss if they didn’t come here!”

At the site that hosted the well-received Noon to Moon concert last year, the country music freedom festival did more than deliver first-class country music to the masses. It was also there to represent and raise funds for the upcoming corpsmen Memorial, a bronzed tribute to the service and sacrifice of all Navy Corpsmen, past and present.

In January 2008, the Corpsmen Memorial Foundation was established with the goal of creating a monument to honor the brave sailors who willingly walk through the gates of hell to aid a wounded Marine.

The total needed for the groundbreaking and construction is $500,000, and with the donations for the memorial being received at a moderate pace, organizers hoped the concert would boost fundraising - yet the weather had other ideas.

“We’ve been making strides in our fundraising efforts and we thought this would finish it off,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Matthew DesChamps, command senior chief of 2nd Dental Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group. “While we still may have not reached our goal, the word is definitely out about the memorial. Between now and next year’s golf tournament, there will be a few fundraising events here and there, and this concert will hopefully encourage max participation in the future.”

Rows of food and merchandise vendors lined the perimeter of the concert grounds as the audience was entertained by such country artists as Aaron Kelly, season nine American Idol Top 5 contestant, Sonia Leigh and Brett Eldredge. Although the crowd was sparse due to the weather, it did not affect the singers from belting out their heartfelt songs like they were at the Grand Ole Opry.

In terms of military support, however, the genre with the strongest sense of pride and admiration seems to come from that of country music; something that Eldredge has grown up with his whole life.

“Back in my hometown, there is a huge Army reserve unit, so growing up I’ve always known it to be important to give back to the troops,” said Eldredge. “I always do whatever I can to show my appreciation, which is the big reason why I’m here today. Whenever my agents can work it out, I want to go overseas to play for the guys on the front lines, because I just can’t thank them enough to know that they’re out there having our backs and keeping us free.”

As the sun sank over the horizon, anticipation steadily grew for the final act of the night - that of the chart-topping country superstar Joe Nichols. Coming onto the stage and meeting a fanfare of shouting and raised beers, Nichols wasted no time in moving the crowd with such songs as “Gimme That Girl” and the military favorite “The Shape I’m In,” plus a few new songs to be released on his new CD in the coming months.

When Nichols struck the final chord, he had concluded a full day of non-stop country music at its best, live and in support of the troops. Those in attendance left with a greater feel and love for the music that hits home for many, yet the main purpose of the concert wasn’t lost as the fundraising for the Corpsmen Memorial came that much closer to completion. What better way to not only honor those men and women who risk their very lives being the angels of mercy on the battlefield to Marines while also taking in some of the greats of country music.

“A lot of people might not know exactly what goes into keeping them free, and some might even forget the sacrifices made,” said Eldredge. “We can’t forget - I certainly won’t.”