When John Rich met Travis Mills, he welled up with respect and gratitude. Mills, who lost both arms and legs as a United States Army staff sergeant of the 82nd Airborne Division, now dedicates his time to assisting returning veterans who might be struggling to readjust at home — a process Mills calls “recalibrating.”
“I was just blown away with who [Travis Mills] is, what he's been through. When you use the word ‘sacrifice,’ I would say he's probably the embodiment of that word, a guy that's left his arms and his legs overseas, fighting on behalf of freedom.”
On Nov. 12 at the Lorain Palace Theatre, Rich will blaze through Northeast Ohio alongside some of the American heroes whose sacrifices the event seeks to honor. All proceeds benefit the Travis Mills Foundation — dedicated to caring for post-9/11 veterans and their families.
"To have them on — they're supporting me and the Travis Mills Foundation — was absolutely incredible," Founder Travis Mills says. "And it was really good night [last year]. John Rich does put on one heck of a show, and I was just grateful to be there and humbled by the experience that people would come together and support the work that we do with the Travis Mills foundation."
Leading up to the concert, we caught up with the Big & Rich star to chat about Mills, patriotism and their connection to country music.
Cleveland Magazine: How did you get involved with the foundation and what was that first event like?
John Rich: When I got into [Travis Mills’] foundation he said, ‘I like to get veterans out here that are having difficulty and help recalibrate them: body, mind and soul.’ And who better to help recalibrate a struggling veteran than a guy who's lost his limbs overseas and understands it better than anybody. I was really inspired by that. And I came to the Lorain Palace last year and played the show, we had a packed house. He came out and spoke, we had an auction, we did all kinds of cool stuff, and (we) raised a tremendous amount of money. And it went over so well that we decided, ‘You know what? Let's do it again.’ I'm looking forward to getting back up there. I think this year will be even bigger than last.
CM: Any hope of this becoming a yearly event?
JR: I think right now we're playing it by ear. I think other artists are now paying attention to what [Travis] has done. I've turned a lot of people on to him. I think you would have no shortage of great talent that would want to complete that event year after year. But it's an honor to be involved in it and help get it up off the ground like we are. And what's more important for civilians, regular American citizens, than supporting guys like that? I mean, without those guys we have a much different world out there. And this is everybody's chance to come and be a part of something bigger than themselves.
CM: Country music is often associated with events like these. What is the relationship between the genre and support for the U.S. military?
JR: A lot of the guys and girls that are serving in the military come from very blue-collar backgrounds. You know, they're not affluent families most of the time. They're hardworking types of people and a lot of those people listen to country music — a lot of them do. And I think a lot of our artists grow up in families like that and have a healthy respect for men and women who served the country. There hasn't been a draft since Vietnam, so anybody since Vietnam that you meet that has served in the military, they volunteered their service. I mean, what a powerful thing. You take the use of your life, the prime of your life, you could do anything you want to do with it — you decide to serve in the U.S. military. It's to be applauded and is to be respected.
CM: With a sizable country fanbase here in Ohio, what’s it been like when you’ve come through?
JR: Ohio has always been a very strong fanbase for Big & Rich. And for me, I think … there’s so many patriotic, hardworking people. And they also like to have a lot of fun in your state, so when we show up to play a show, it's big energy. It's loud. It's rowdy. But there’s — especially for a show like this one on Nov. 12 — a strong sense of patriotism and duty as citizens, as civilians, to do our part and reciprocate back to these great men and women like Travis Mills.
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