War and peace come full circle for COD student journalist and Iraq War veteran at Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, Calif.
by Raymond Bondad
As I sat in the U.S. Army recruiting station in Azusa on Sept. 11, 2001, I knew my life was in for a change. I enlisted in the Army in 2002, shortly after Osama bin Laden masterminded the 9/11 attacks, and deployed to Iraq in 2005. That’s when my love affair with country music began.
While in Iraq, patriotic songs such as “American Soldier” and “Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue” spoke to this young guy from L.A. who grew up listening to rap, rhythm and blues, and Spanish music.
I was excited to cover the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio for Coachella Unincorporated, a student media outlet in the Eastern Coachella Valley. Little did I know country music would speak to me as strongly as it did in Iraq.
The whole Stagecoach experience was overwhelming and would culminate with a great finale — and not only a musical one.
Just walking in toward the Main Stage, I was in awe amid a sea of tanned flesh and cowboy hats.
Singing ‘Purple Rain’
Women wore country-style attire, ranging from those emulating Daisy Duke to those wearing almost nothing. Men were styled in cowboy boots, jeans and cowboy hats. I was consumed by the excitement and energy of the festival, seemingly powered by fans double-fisting everything offered by the bottomless beer gardens.
On Saturday, I heard good music by Steel Magnolia and Chris Young, but Darius Rucker made my night. Rucker is an awesome performer who played his hits, along with country classics. He ended his set by taking us back to spring of 1984 with Prince’s “Purple Rain.” When I heard that first strum, my heart smiled from ear to ear. I’m really big on Prince and almost cried while singing along with Rucker.
On Sunday, my fiancée and I indulged in barbecue and cowboy hat shopping. We enjoyed the consumption of Hillbilly Popsicles (juicy pickles on a stick), frozen lemonade and Waffleman ice cream. The singer my fiancée was excited to see was my former imaginary fiancée, Carrie Under-wood. Underwood performed her hits and even did a cover medley of “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith and “Par-adise City” by Guns N’ Roses.
The bin Laden news
But it was what happened at the end of the night that reminded me how country music can unite people. At the end of Underwood’s performance, news of Osama bin Laden’s death spread across the crowd as people received text messages and alerts. Chants of “USA” and “We killed Osama!” consumed the Empire Polo Grounds.
A venue filled with Republicans and Democrats, and veterans such as myself, became a venue filled with one party: Americans.
To me, the message about bin Laden’s death was very personal.
My younger brother is a wounded Iraq War veteran and earned a Purple Heart. I spent nearly a year in Iraq and yet the only close friend I lost in the war was my sanity.
I looked at my roommate, also a combat veteran, and said, “I guess our time spent in combat has served its purpose and we no longer have reason to deploy.”
News of bin Laden’s death was a great finale to Stagecoach and hopefully, to our chapter in Iraq. My message to the American public is: Thank God for our freedom, but only after you thank a veteran.
Reprinted with permission from Coachella Unincorporated. This article was first published in The Desert Sun.