‘Small-town flavor’ to savor

Country music singer Lee Greenwood, the Firefighters Marshal for this year's Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, speaks during a media interview Friday. Rich Cooley/Daily

To country music fans, Lee Greenwood might very well exemplify patriotism.

The longtime singer-songwriter made his first-ever trek to Winchester for the 88th Apple Blossom Festival as the Grand Marshal for the Firefighter’s Parade on Friday.

Greenwood said that the first thing he noticed about the festival was the youth involvement — from the standpoint of area American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts.

“That became immediately obvious to me, that the Apple Blossom Festival integrated the younger generation into what they are doing,” Greenwood said. “That’s honoring the city … which means agricultural.”

Greenwood said that also means “getting the young people involved so that they understand community and unity.”

In fact, Greenwood said the festival and the Winchester area “is Americana at its best” and has “an old-town flavor” to it.

Greenwood explained, “If you think about America back in the 1900s, so many towns looked like this.

“I even went to see Patsy Cline’s old house, and the street was much wider than I thought it would be,” Greenwood said. “That street has obviously been wide for a long time. That’s good foresight.”

History and patriotism have been a big part of Greenwood’s career since the release of his hit song, “God Bless the USA,” in 1984. Since then, it has been a staple at many sporting events and political campaigns.

At the moment, Greenwood is gearing up for the release of his third book entitled “Proud to Be An American.” Set for a May 25 release, “Proud to Be An American” will be Greenwood’s first children’s book.

The book will feature illustrations by Nashville, Tennessee artist Amanda Sekulow alongside the lyrics to “God Bless the USA.”

“We didn’t call it ‘God Bless the USA’ because I wanted it to be … a reason for people to buy a book to have their kids be proud of their citizenship,” Greenwood explained.

Greenwood added that the book’s creation stemmed from a void he noticed as he and his wife were teaching their sons to read.

“I couldn’t find a patriotic book to read to my kids,” he said, “I thought, ‘maybe it’s time in this next generation we give our 2-10 year-olds a book that they can read and relate to.”

Like his previous books, “Proud to Be an American” comes complete with a free download of “God Bless the USA.” Greenwood said he decided to re-record the song for the seventh time.

Greenwood noted that this version of the song “is a little bit softer” and “more mellow” than how fans typically hear it. “I mean, I sing at stadiums … and when I go with that track, it’s really up and in-your-face.”

With the release of this book, Greenwood said, “I think it’s time that we instruct the next generation on the reason to be patriotic.”

Greenwood said that he believes that to “build a patriotic feeling” across the country, “we really have to start with this next generation and build from the ground up.”

Greenwood is also the national ambassador for a nonprofit organization called Helping a Hero that, according to its website, is dedicated to “empowering … severely wounded veterans” that return from overseas combat.

As ambassador for this organization, Greenwood said his role is to “just bring awareness to the fact that we have so many wounded warriors. We need to take care of them.”

For the parade, Greenwood said he was excited to be Grand Marshal and that the role actually brought back memories of Sept. 11.

“I went to New York [City] three times after the attack on America in 2001,” Greenwood said. “I’m a fan of firefighters.”

He also noted, as the news conference was ending, that the hard part about this parade or any parade is attempting to hold a smile the entire length of the drive. “You don’t smile all the time, because those muscles get tired,” he said.

For his stay in Winchester, Greenwood expressed that he was excited to meet “more people who, I think, represent the city and the state of Virginia.”

“I just love being here in this kind of small-town environment,” Greenwood said. “Everybody’s extremely friendly.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com