Sean Patrick Mcgraw


ACM’s Part III

The hang at the MGM was pretty cool; guys from Toby’s band were there, lot’s of other people that I’ve worked with, our new friends John and Dustin Frey and a wild-and-crazy table of policemen’s wives on a girls night out, waiting for their husbands to finish a relay marathon run at night through the desert. But for Saturday a night in Vegas I turned in early. The next morning I was scheduled to perform the National Anthem bright and early at the NHRA event out at Vegas Speedway and on the chance that someone might be listening I didn’t want to show up in rough shape (although I’m sure in Vegas that must happen once in awhile).

So I behaved myself and set the alarm and got up with plenty of time to make myself presentable before my ride came to pick me up at 9:45 am. Aubrey from the NHRA was already waiting for Lizzie and Hilary and me and she’s just this real nice girl from Georgia and we get to know her a lil on the ride; she’s been here two years, moved here for this job, love’s this job, we’re gonna have a good time today, etc…and there’s no trafiic on the interstate whatsoever so we make it out to the track in no time at all and we’re introduced to a whole bunch of people who’s names and job titles I don’t remember but they’re all real nice and thanking me for coming out and it’s “have you ever been to a drag race before?” “No, I have not.” “Well, you’re in for a treat, be prepared to be amazed.” And I’m lead around to the starting line and told where I stand when I sing and on of the NHRA guys is like “Now it’s real important that you don’t go over time with this.” Okay. “And it’s real important that you’re not under-time with this either…” Okay. And I realize the dude is messing with me. “When you’re almost to ‘Home of the Brave’, you’ll see an F-16 fighter jet off on the horizon and the pilot will get instructions from another pilot here on the ground as to whether he should throttle up or throttle down…we want him to be over your head just as your finishing.”
We all go hang out up in the track tower while we wait for start time. Aubrey hands us off to Jared, an enthusiastic coworker just out of school from North Carolina. One way or another Jared and I get started on quoting every line we know from “Talledega Nights,” which never gets old, I don’t know why, and it never fails to make the girls roll their eyes at why guys find that shit funny.
Before you know it it’s time to get the races going and we head down to the starting line and I’m introduced to the track chaplain and a few more folks and the chaplain takes the mic and says a prayer and blesses the track and hands the mic to me and I start in:

“Oh say can you see..”

And It’s always a little nerve-wracking at the start of the Anthem. You have to start pretty much as low as you can sing if you want to be able to hit the notes at the end gracefully. No worries, I’m pretty sure by the time I hit “twilight’s last gleaming” that I’m in the right key for me and about the time I get to “flag was still there” I can see the fighter jet in the distance and it’s getting closer and I start to hurry up just a little and at word “brave” the F-16 is directly overhead and then it’s the sound of that jet angine and the roar of the crowd and I wave and turn around to walk off and


This top fuel dragster does a burn out right behind that made involuntarily jump about a half a foot in the air. Holy CRAP are those things LOUD and the Jared is about doubled over laughing at me.

“Dude, you should have seen the look on your face!,” he says.

“I didn’t know THAT was coming!,” I say.

“That was only a burnout.”

Indeed, an actual race–as I would witness a minute later is waaay louder and it’s over in a flash and it is just cool as hell.

THAT was an awesome experience. Thanks ACM’s! Thanks NHRA!



My wife has told me on more than one occasion that I’m spoiled.

“People always buy you the best birthday presents”


“Your sisters always get you the best Christmas presents.”


“I always get you the nicest clothes.”

YES Dear, you DO.

But so far as being spoiled I have defended against this accusation with the fact that I work long hours, take a lot of crappy gigs, get very little sleep sometimes, and nothing I ever got was gotten easy. I believe that.

But as for being spoiled? I‘d have said NO. Not me.

And then I have weekends like this last…and It’s hard top say I’m not.

I was supposed to be in Key West this last weekend. That wouldn’t have sucked either; but it would have been to work and when I play a gig like Cowboy Bills I play afternoon shifts in addition to the ones at night with the band and it usually adds up to over forty hours of actual singing in week. For someone who’s ever swung a hammer (and I have) for a living that might still sound like living on easy street. But to someone who’s never put their vocal chords to work like that I say “try it.” It ain’t easy and chances are you’ll blow out your pipes about half way through. I’ve done that and had no choice but to keep on chugging and it was painful.


But my Key West plans got shelved when my management confirmed me a bike— a Harley–for the “Chairmans Ride,” a small annual bike rally that the ACM’s put on that is hosted by Country’s Montgomery Gentry. Now if you’re thinking I’m spoiled because my Job sends me out on Harley ride-–well, you’re RIGHT.

I got down to the back entrance of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas Saturday morning not knowing what bike they were gonna put me on, not knowing who I’d know-–if anybody–in the ride, not really positive that I had bike to ride. Jeff Yapp (from my label) had backed out of making the trip at the last minute and I was thinking “there goes my cycle…” And when I went over to Ricky Kelly(owns Harley Dealership in Columbia TN, procures bikes for this event, rode way oui in front of me at Sturgis last year, figured he wouldn’t remember me) and said “Hey.” Ricky’s like “Hey Sean, how’ve ya been, bike?? What bike? Were we supposed to find a bike for you? I don’t think we have one…maybe someone ‘ll let you ride on the “bitch seat….” Starts laughing. “Na man, we got you a bike, it’ right over there.” And the bike was a sweet-looking silver Fat Boy with a springer front end.
That totally didn’t suck.

It takes awhile to assemble everybody, for everyone to arrive but eventually there’s about a hundred people there, about half of them famous, and If you want me to drop names (even though Garth once told me that was very uncool to do) I’ll tell you that Eddie Montgomery, Troy Gentry, James Otto, Randy Houser, Leeann Rimes and her boyfriend from that CSI Show and Anthony Smith and Ash Bowers were all there. After we all took a picture together this dude come over and says “Sean?” And the dude is Shawn Pennington. Shawn used to be band leader for Sara Evans and he hired me for a few Kellie Coffee gigs when he worked with her and I felt bad I didn’t recognize him right away but it’s been a long, long time. And Shawn and I catch up for a few minutes before it’s time to ride and the pack takes off down Tropicana Blvd and gets on the interstate and right away somebody ahead of me almost gets taken out by a car, but we do have a police escort with us so they get to blocking the perimeters and the ride is pretty chill at 50mph heading north out of Vegas. Toby Keith’s agent Curt Motley rides the inside lane next to me. I’d ridden with Curt last year and he’s a real good dude—gotten me a few gigs since then as well. Ash Bowers and this behemoth-sized guy ride right in front of us. (I find out later on the Airforce bus that the giants name is Steve Hutchinson. Plays guard for the Minnesota Vikings. Real nice guy too) We exit the interstate at Vegas Speedway—-where I’ll be singing the National Anthem the next morning—and head south (if I remember correctly) to Nellis Airforce base, where—rumor has it—we’re all gonna get to shoot some machine guns (yeah I know, like that’s not fun, right?) And they have us park the bikes at this lot off the road. I introduce my self to Randy Houser by saying

“hey Jamie, I ‘m a big fan..”

He’s like

“I’m Randy.”

I’m like

“I meant to say Randy…I was just hearing stories about you and Jamie (Johnson) from Bill LaRose (from Cowboy Bills in Key West) and my brain got it backwards.”

I think Randy might have even been a little offended or something? Hard to tell..par for the course for me to mess up somebody’s name like that…but then later I remembered that Randy is good friends with my cowriter Bruce Wallace and I mentioned something along those lines to Randy and he brightened up at me a little and I didn’t feel like such a germ.

So we get off the bikes and onto a couple busses. I start a conversation with these folks setting next to me and the guy introduces himself as “Tonto.” And it turns out he’s a Lt Colonel in the Airforce and has used most all of this stuff-–as in weaponry–-in combat, as Iraq and Afghanistan.

“You’re about the have a lot of fun,” he says in so many words.

And we’re lead by a group of soldiers to a metal building set alongside a couple of humvee chassis suspended in this heavy steel apparatus and it’s explained to us that these are combat simulators used to train troops to deal with roll-over situations. Inside the building is a virtual reality street warfare simulator–basically a big–video game–with an armored humvee in the middle of the room surrounded by video of a combat situation. There are two M-14 rifles set up with laser devices that allow you to lock on combatants projected on the wall and take them out. I’ve never had a wii or nintendo but this is like that (I think) ‘cept waaay cooler. The Humvee has a turret-mounted fifty caliber rifle. James Otto is on the .50 cal while Randy Houser and I man the small arms. Soldiers teach us how to eject the clips and reload the weapons. It’s hard to give up your gun but everyone gets a turn. I fire at enemy shooters, aiming at targets farthest away (turkey hunting style like Sgt York).

THIS is fun.

From the simulators the bus takes us down the road to a firing range and there are several concrete shooting bunkers and-–holy CRAP– two humvee’s with the turret-mounted .50cal guns. REAL Ones; a tripod-mounted .50 cal SAW, a grenade gun, several M-14′s on bi-pods… COOL shit. Boy’s toys.

Scary-deadly pieces of equipment.

Troy Gentry sits behind the SAW first and they–the soldiers–teach everybody how to load the guns and then it’s ‘fire away’ and HOLY SHIT are those things powerful. Maybe not as loud as I would have guessed, but the concussion from every burst does a tap-dance on your chest.

“I think I’m gettin’ a woody” I said Curt Motley

I waited behind the SAW while Lee Ann Rimes went next and I meant to tell her that nothing makes a hot chick hotter than watching her shoot an automatic weapon (I don’t know why I never got the nerve, she seems nice enough) and eventually it’s my turn at the .50cal and I didn’t bring my camera but thankfully Curt has his i-phone and is happy to take a little video of my initiation to not just machine guns but really BIG machine guns. I took aim at the shell of a rusted jeep about 600 yrds away and pressed the trigger and watched clouds of dust pop up in the distance as the big rounds hit the ground in front of the jeep and it’s hard to keep one of those things on point when your holding down for any extended burst, the recoil’s not that ridiculous but the gun moves enough and I’m thing it would be hard to hit a small running target at this range but if you were on the receiving end of such battery no doubt you would literally shit yourself.

Eventually everybody in the group gets a turn at every gun there. The grenade gun is pretty cool, so is the turret mounted .50 ( I got a burn on my back from a hot spent jacket of brass when I dropped down from the turret––how cool is that?)…. but I think the M-14 may have even been my favorite if only because the ribbons of ammo are longer, the rate of fire greater and, with the bipod mount you can hold down that trigger for a good long time and watch your target—in this case another rusted out jeep—literally shred in front of you. And I don’t care who you are or what your politics are if you didn’t get a little giddy playing with this stuff I’d say there was something seriously wrong with you.

God bless America.

I really am spoiled.