INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The endeavor to book country music star Billy Ray Cyrus for performances Friday and Saturday during Red, White and Tahoe Blue began a full year ago.
Brandon Friesen — the Grammy-nominated music producer who plays guitar in Cyrus’ band — attended the 2013 Independence Day celebration in Incline, where he met RWTB Chairman Jim Smith and saw how well the events were attended.
“The fireworks display was really something special; it was really something else to see in such a beautiful part of the world, and overall it seemed like a good family celebration,” Friesen said.
After various conversations — and in the aftermath of the tragic shooting at Sparks Middle School last October that claimed the life of eighth-grade math teacher Michael Landsberry — the singer agreed to perform this weekend.
“We discovered that Billy Ray had a kindred interest in not only performing here, but he had reached out to us to see if he could provide a tribute to Michael, as he had read about the incident at Sparks Middle School,” Smith said.
Cyrus’ concert Saturday night from 7-9 p.m. at the Village Green will be dedicated to Landsberry and his family. His widow, Sharon Landsberry, will attend the three-day event as a guest of the festival and will be honored at the concert.
Aside from his services as an educator, Landsberry was a veteran Marine, a member of the Nevada Army National Guard and a devoted husband and father.
The 45-year-old was hailed as a hero for trying to talk 12-year-old Jose Reyes into turning over a semi-automatic handgun before the youth shot him in the chest as students arrived for class on Oct. 21, 2013.
Two other students were wounded in the shooting that ended when Reyes turned the gun on himself.
“This tragedy is one we’ll all struggle to understand,” Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said. “What is conclusive is (Landsberry’s) selfless acts to give his life so others might live ... By his actions, he has inspired us all to do all we can for our fellow man.”
‘IT WAS ALL BILLY’S IDEA’
The incident struck Cyrus closely, Friesen said. The country singer is a family man who is very tuned into gun violence and school violence, he said, and lends support and resources when he can to military families and victims of gun violence.
“When I mentioned the Tahoe show, the first thing he said was, ‘can we reach out to the family,’” Friesen recalled. “He asked if he could do a few special things for the family … It was all Billy’s idea to do this.”
While Saturday’s concert is a family affair that will likely feature the smash hit “Achy Breaky Heart” and other songs, Friesen and Smith said the emotional highlight will be the Landsberry dedication and Cyrus’ performance of “Some Gave All.”
The song is the last track on his 1992 debut album of the same name, and is a tribute to veterans, fallen heroes and military men and women.
It’s anchored by the hook, “And if you ever think of me, think of all your liberties and recall, some gave all,” and it earned Cyrus the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s Bob Hope Award for excellence in entertainment.
“I can tell you, ‘Some Gave All’ was the song that got Billy his first record deal,” Friesen said. “It wasn’t ‘Achy Breaky Heart,’ as many tend to believe.”
Prior to Saturday’s show, Cyrus will perform a special symphonic version of “Some Gave All” with the Reno Philharmonic during the orchestra’s concert from 8-10 p.m. at the Village Green.
“When we play that song on stage, I have a pretty good view of the front 40 or 30 rows or so … you realize how powerful that song is,” Freisen said. “There are a lot of tears, a lot of emotion. You can tell that there are fans of Billy’s who probably had family in the military.”
A SUCCESSFUL CAREER
“Some Gave All” was Cyrus’ most successful album, certified nine-times platinum. It still ranks as the top-ranking debut album by a male country artist; it stayed 43 weeks in the top 10, topped only by the 1991 album “Ropin’ the Wind” by Garth Brooks.
In all, he’s had eight top-10 singles on the Billboard Country Songs chart, enjoying his best success in the early and mid-90s. Other popular songs include “Could’ve Been Me,” “In the Heart of a Woman” and his cover of Lee Hazelwood’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin.’”
The Flatwoods, Ky., native is also known for his acting, starring in the television show “Doc” from 2001 to 2004. In 2005, he co-starred in the Disney Channel series “Hannah Montana” with his daughter, pop singer Miley Cyrus, until 2011.
While Cyrus will have family at Lake Tahoe for the holiday weekend, it’s unknown if Miley will make the trip.
“Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter Miley recorded the song ‘Ready, Set, Don’t Go’ in 2007,” Smith said. “It’d be great if they performed, but at this point we don’t have any confirmation that she’ll be here.”
This marks the third consecutive year Red, White and Tahoe Blue will host an outdoor concert at the Village Green. In 2012, San Francisco 80s cover band Tainted Love performed, followed by a twin bill in 2013 featuring Pablo Cruise and The Elvin Bishop Band.
Saturday’s concert figures to be the best yet, Friesen said.
“We’re all really looking forward to it — it’s going to be a special show for us, and all of us invited our extended family, including Billy. He’s not just going to perform and leave; we’re going to spend a few days there “ Friesen said, before adding with a laugh: “We want get to know the local natives — and the local wildlife.”
Ticket packages are available for the eighth annual festival and the Cyrus concerts at www.redwhitetahoeblue.org.
“ I can tell you, ‘Some Gave All,’ was the song that got Billy his record deal. It wasn’t ‘Achy Breaky Heart,’ as many tend to believe.”
Grammy-nominated music producer; guitarist for Billy Ray Cyrus band