Under the Radar

Army Veteran Craig Morgan Brings His Music to BaseFEST

BaseFEST (powered by USAA) kicks off another year of concerts on military bases on Saturday, May 12, at Fort Bliss, TX. Army veteran and country star Craig Morgan will be appearing with Dustin Lynch, Lindsay Ell, Carlton Zeus and Ha Ha Tonka.

BaseFEST features a rotating roster of talent. Future shows will be at Naval Station Mayport, FL (June 2nd), Camp Lejeune, NC (July 4th) and Twentynine Palms, CA (September 22nd). Check the BaseFEST website for exact lineups.

Craig Morgan's music career took off in the early 2000s and he had a #1 hit in 2005 with "That's What I Love About Sunday." His family just launched a TV show called "Morgan Family Strong" on the UP! network. Craig talked with us about his military service, his work with the USO, music and the family TV show.

How did you get involved with BASFEST and what do you have planned for the show at Fort Bliss?

I was invited.  When we come to these shows, we do the same show no matter where we go, for the most part.  

When we play on a military installation or near one, I feel like I have an advantage over most entertainers.  It’s a little easier for me because I understand the military language better than most, having served for so long. 

Tell us about your military career.

I had almost 11 years of active duty and almost 7 years of active reserve time after that before I walked away because my music was doing so well.  I loved it.  I was a 13 Fox Fire Support Specialist, finished with the rank of staff sergeant promotable to E7.  I had the great opportunity to be with the 82nd, the 101st, Ranger Regiment.  I did a lot of stuff as a fire support guy.

Guessing from the ages of your kids, you started a family while you were still active duty military.

Oh, yeah.  My two oldest children remember the military as much as they remember the music.  

Your wife's had two of the toughest spouse jobs I could think of, being married to an active duty military person and being married to a touring musician.

I think she enjoyed being married to a soldier more than she enjoys being married to a singer.  I say that kind of half-jokingly but half-seriously. We loved our tenure in the military.  The friends that we had then, we still have today.  It was a very important part of our life. Three of our children were born while I was in the service, so it was a big part of our life.  

Craig Morgan and Jon Stewart visit sailors aboard the USS Carney (DDG 64) forward deployed at Rota Naval Station, Spain.

You just got back from a whirlwind around-the-world USO Spring Tour with Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Paul Selva, NBA star Rip Hamilton, Jon Stewart, chef Robert Irvine and UFC fighters Max Holloway and Paige VanZant. That trip sounds intense.    

That Vice Chairman around the world tour is one of the more demanding USO shows that we do just because of the time restraints.  We’re limited in the areas that we go in.  Some days we do two shows in one day in two different areas, so there's a lot of flying, a lot of traveling, but it’s also some of the most rewarding that we do. 

Your music career took off in the years after 9/11. You were coming in with a different perspective on the state of the world than a lot of people in Nashville.  Did you think about performing as a way of continuing your service?

Well, I was still in the active reserves.  Unfortunately, the unit that I was assigned to did not deploy, as much as I wanted it to.  They did deploy here in the states.  We didn’t get to go overseas, so I was a little disappointed.

I definitely had a different perspective than people in my music business.  I was watching the news every day, talking to friends. I was still in the reserves, so I still had means of communication with people that the average citizen doesn't.

You've got a new reality show "Morgan Family Strong" on the UP! network. So many of those shows are all about nastiness and manufactured conflict. It feels like you're trying to do something that’s an alternative and, in a way, it feels closer to peoples’ real lives.

I have a great family who deals with a lot of the same stuff that every other family in the world deals with, regardless of their occupation. In my family, we don’t create drama. There's enough bad stuff going on in the world. This show really just highlights our life. It’s really about us trying to run this business with me being who I am.  That’s the funny part.  

Was it hard to open up your life to TV cameras?

Not for me.  It’s more difficult for my wife sometimes.  She's a lot more protective than I am.  I'm kind of an open book, I don’t really care.  As long as it doesn’t hurt my family, I don’t really think about it or care about it too much.  I don’t care what people think about me.  I say I don’t.  I care to the degree that I can affect that.  Outside of what I can affect, though, if I can't change their mind, I can't change their mind.  You know if they think one thing, that’s the great thing about this nation.  So outside of that, I don’t really care.  

Things have really changed in Nashville over the past decade or so. The city's grown and there seem to be a lot of music business folks who've moved there from New York or LA. Have you felt any change in dealing with the business?

That may be your understatement of the interview.  I will say that the change is not due to the influx of people from New York and LA.  The reason people are moving to Nashville from New York and LA is because they no longer want to live in that type of an environment.  The political stature there is just terrible.  That’s why the people are moving here, because they like the freedom, they like the comfort, the kindness.  It’s a lot different in this part of the world.  That’s why they move here.  

Their influx has not impacted the business.  What's impacted the business is social media.  That’s what's changing the business.  In fact, it’s changing the way record labels operate, managers, everything.  It’s really turned it on its head and I think we’re going to see even greater changes in the next three years.  The business as we know it will be non-existent.

You seem to have a knack for those changes in a way that a lot of your contemporaries don’t. It’s tough sometimes to watch people who just want to sing and write songs try to deal with all this other stuff. 

I don’t know that I have any better handle on it than anybody else.  I just try to go with the flow.  The one thing that I find most important is that, still even today, and maybe even more so today, it’s about the song, it’s about the music.  As long as you're singing and writing and producing great music, you're gonna have some success.  It’s just that simple.  

People are having success regardless of record label, regardless of management, booking.  There are guys who are having success without any of those things.  That gives me great joy because it just clarifies that it’s about the music.

Back to BASEFEST. Have you played on Fort Bliss before or spent time in southwest Texas?

I've been to Fort Bliss a few times.  I don’t know that we've performed there.  For some reason I feel like we have, but I've been to Fort Bliss, for sure. 

We'll be playing the usual set. Sometimes we may do a few things a little different, depending on the crowd. We let the crowd dictate our show. They're the ones that pay the money and spend the time and effort to just come see us, so we want to do what they want us to do.  And usually it’s about the hits, quite honestly.

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