It’s about to be the Charlie Daniels Band’s last song at the Saturday night country music show celebrating the National Rifle Association in Dallas, Texas, where the NRA is staging its annual convention. The audience is anxiously wondering if he’ll play “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” But before that (inevitably) happens, Wayne LaPierre, the Executive Vice President of the NRA, and NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, interrupt to jump onstage and gush over Daniels. They’re visibly starstruck, and it’s not hard to see why. His set has been phenomenal. At 81-years-old, his fiddle playing, guitar skills and singing are breathtaking and he remains a great showman.
“Charlie, you’re a national treasure,” LaPierre exclaims. “We want to present you with the finest … firearm ever commissioned. The patterns were chosen by Charlton Heston.” LaPierre whips out a pistol emblazoned in gold.
Daniels thanks them. “I’m gonna treasure this all my life and when I’m gone, my son will treasure it,” Daniels says. He adds that he cut his teeth on guns. “I am disgusted by the way guns are viewed by a lot of people in this country. It’s damn stupid,” Daniels tells the crowd. “If it weren’t for the NRA, we wouldn’t have any guns.” Daniels says he rarely gets involved in politics, but adds, “Go out and vote in November and vote your conscience!”
The opening chords of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” sound, and Daniels and Travis Tritt, who performed earlier, deliver a rousing rendition. Loesch and LaPierre are onstage, dancing and clapping. When the song ends, Daniels finishes, kisses his fiddle and runs off. The giant screen switches over to a video of people shooting guns. The crowd shuffles out: they are mostly white, mostly on the older side. There are quite a few MAGA hats, and at least one person is proudly sporting an Infowars baseball cap.
Before this final crowd-pleaser, Daniels doesn’t talk that much about the NRA or guns during his show, presented in part by a company called Gallery of Guns. Instead, he gives respect to the military and veterans and tells entertaining stories about his life, from when he was five-years-old and had to share a phone line with all the people in his family, to more recently, when his son (“Who is much smarter than me”) forced him to get with the times by joining Twitter. His outspoken and, yes, political tweets – like a daily reminder that “Benghazi ain’t going away!” – have had mixed results. “I’ve been called stuff … for all you folks who call me a redneck and a hillbilly, I say thank you!”
In a tweet earlier this month, Daniels doubled down on his support of the Second Amendment. “If you politicians think the snowflakes and crying booth crowd were hard to deal with when they get ‘Offended’ wait until you have to deal with the rednecks and people who actually work for a living when you try to take their guns away. KATIE BAR THE DOOR!!”
But Daniels remains one of the few vocal supporters of the NRA in country music. As mass shootings have piled up, the more mainstream (and younger) country stars have quietly begun to distance themselves from the organization. As Rolling Stone has previously reported, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton disappeared from the NRA Country website after the Sandy Hook shooting. That year, the Academy of Country Music halted its NRA Country skeet-shoot competition. After the October 1st Route 91 Harvest festival massacre in Las Vegas, where 58 people were killed and 500 wounded during a Jason Aldean performance, the departures accelerated: Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett and Luke Combs noted they were no longer affiliated with the NRA. As Rolling Stone dissected in March, a revamped version of the NRA Country website is curiously bare of country artists.
While most Nashville stars have mainly kept quiet on the issue, Rosanne Cash has only continued to raise her voice. In October, Cash wrote an op-ed in The New York Times calling on country musicians to stand up to the NRA. “The laws the NRA would pass are a threat to you, your fans, and to the concerts and festivals we enjoy,” she wrote, noting that every time she speaks out for gun control, she receives a cascade of threats.
“There’s always plenty of the garden-variety ‘your dad would be ashamed of you’ sexist nonsense,” she wrote, “along with the much more menacing threats to my family and personal safety.”
Perhaps Daniels didn’t read it. As part of his show this weekend at the NRA convention, the Country Music Hall of Fame member chose to play a cover written by Rosanne’s father – Johnny’s Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”