Musicians spend much of the year playing ticketed shows for fans around the world. In between, a few will find time to do a free one for troops stationed in military bases abroad. When that isn't possible, others will welcome the soldiers home with similar concerts back in the United States. In honor of Memorial Day, here are 10 such performances from the past 25 years.
If you've ever wanted to see Barack and Michelle groove to bachata, this one's for you. Last November, the first family hosted Mary J. Blige, Common, John Fogerty, Willie Nelson, Romeo Santos and three active-duty musicians for a Veterans Day jam on their front lawn. Watch the entire concert above, and make sure to stick around until the big finish, which involves the president joining the artists for a performance of "On the Road Again."
Another highlight: when Bronx chart-topper Romeo Santos mimics the motions of his accompanying violinist and blesses her with a modified version of his signature adlib – "She's nasty!"
A few days after the White House event, 100,000 people gathered on National Mall for the free Concert for Valor, which peaked when Metallica rocked a 20-minute set on a stage full of head-banging soldiers. Jack Black prepared the rest of the crowd by promising "a favorite of our troops – no, not Tenacious D," and the band followed with "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Master of Puppets" and "Enter Sandman." "We finally get to play for our heroes," said singer James Hetfield. Other performers that night included Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Carrie Underwood and John Fogerty, whose rendition of "Fortunate Son" led to a minor controversy. A high-quality recording of Metallica's set can be found here.
Whitney Houston sported everything from a full ball gown to an Air Force jumpsuit when she visited Norfolk's navy base for a 1991 concert celebrating the return of Gulf War troops. The singer opened with the U.S. national anthem but quickly transitioned into "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," then "Saving All My Love for You." Later, she even added some soul to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The full show was released on DVD in 2002, and selections appeared on last year's Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances.
When Blink-182 performed aboard the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier stationed in Kuwait Harbour, the three-piece not only played 16 songs for U.S. servicemen, it experimented with a new lineup. On "What's My Age Again," Travis Barker was swapped for a drummer from the crowd, and the guy literally didn't miss a beat. He even added a couple of his own special touches, closing the song by standing over the kit and pounding the cymbals in unison.
In Katy Perry's "Part of Me" video, the singer responds to a boyfriend's infidelity by cutting her hair and joining the Marines. Rash? Perhaps. But the plot had been foreshadowed when she and Nicki Minaj teamed up for the more light-hearted pop hit "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" at the VH1 Divas Salute the Troops taping in San Diego. Minaj's blonde wig pushes military-style flat-tops to their gravitational limit.
Toby Keith entered the 2005 ACM Awards as the defending Entertainer of the Year, but the country star declined to attend the ceremony. Instead, he performed his new single, "As Good As I Once Was," surrounded by American soldiers at an undisclosed location in Iraq, and video was streamed back for broadcast in the States. Singer Craig Morgan, himself an veteran, offered an introduction.
Over the years, Kuwait's Camp Arifjan has hosted performances by O.A.R., Candlebox and 5 Finger Death Punch. In November of 2010, Paramore joined that list, flying in after a string of shows in the U.K. "We're here because we want to play a rock show and support our troops," said singer Hayley Williams. "This is something every band dreams of doing." They expressed their gratitude by supplementing their usual set list with a fitting cover: Foo Fighters' "My Hero."
Janet Jackson, Clint Black, Pamela Anderson, Kathy Griffin and short-lived Pussycat Dolls protégés Girlicious, all sharing a bill at San Diego's Camp Pendleton? Sounds like military appreciation concert recorded in late 2008. Performances for America United: In Support of Our Troops ranged from emotional (Joe Nichols singing "The Impossible") to fun (Jessica Simpson singing "These Boots Are Made for Walking"), but it was Jackson's set — which featured her hit "Rhythm Nation" and enthusiastic military-themed choreography — that stole the show.
Kid Rock is an overseas regular. In one of his most notable USO performance, the Detroit native sang John Mellencamp's "Pink Houses" with Zac Brown and Kellie Pickler at a Christmas concert in Iraq. Above, watch him take some Air Force reserves to Northern Michigan with a performance of "All Summer Long." The video's uploader remembers the set as "a nice escape from the daily BS."
In 2008, the Ying Yang Twins visited the Middle East for shows that paired their club anthems with Gabriel Iglesias' impression-heavy comedy. YouTube clips suggest that they made the desert camps even hotter – surely plenty of sweat dropped down and fell – and the people at Kunsan Air Base showed their support by letting the Twins pretend to shoot a large machine gun. The duo would later channel their patriotism into a two-song (studio) EP, The Wildout USO Tour.