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Lonestar stands tall aboard the deck of the USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier, pumping out their poignant hit "I'm Already There." The song's achingly touching theme -- being away from family -- resonates especially well this night, because Lonestar is playing for an audience that can truly relate: American servicemen and women stationed on the massive ship, docked off the Florida coast.
"You could see some of the people crying as we sang it," recalls guitarist Michael Britt. "That was really moving."
Even more moving was the emotional scene following their performance, which was taped for the recent TV special called Rockin' For The USA.
"As we played," says Michael, "there was a video screen behind us showing a ship that was about to depart. You see a sailor holding up his little child, I guess saying goodbye. After the show, he came up to us and said, 'I'm the guy that was in that video.' He was sort of fighting back tears, and then he thanked us for doing that song."
Special moments like that have crossed Lonestar's path since "I'm Already There" was released last year. The song has wielded an especially powerful impact on American military families, notes lead vocalist Richie McDonald.
"We have received thousands of e-mails thanking us," he says. "People said that it helped them feel close, even though they were far away. We are thrilled just to be associated with a song of that magnitude."
And finding more killer tunes -- like their recent Top 10 hit "Not A Day Goes By" -- is Lonestar's main focus. "When we go back into the studio for our next album," notes keyboard player Dean Sams, "we're gonna look for passionate songs. The ballads are going to speak to people and they are going to be songs that people can relate to."
Richie hopes to contribute heavily toward that goal. "As a writer, I want to continue to grow," he says. "That's a major concern of mine right now -- to continue to touch people with the music I write."
The guys will take their time before recording their next album, but they won't exactly be idle. They're gearing up for a busy summer of touring, which includes a stop at the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia and a July 4 blowout in Louisiana.
But few of those shows will carry the impact of their visit to the USS Harry Truman. Michael was particularly moved after spending a few hours on board the sprawling ship.
"It is really an awesome sight!" he raves with enthusiasm. "The top deck covers four and a half acres, and we probably would have gotten lost if we didn't have tour guides with us.
"But what I noticed most of all," he continues, "was the camaraderie among the men and women. The ship holds six thousand personnel, and they all have to get along in order to do their jobs. It seemed like everyone had a positive, upbeat attitude and worked together."
That's a lesson for anyone, in any field, Michael observes. "It's kind of a reminder that it takes teamwork to get the job done. That's always important to remember, especially being in a band situation."
And this band plans to stick together through thick and thin. "Hopefully we can have longevity in this business," says Richie. "I've always said that our heroes are Alabama -- and how great it would be to follow in their footsteps and be around 20 years from now."
Richie smiles. "I guess professionally, I just want this band to keep going in the direction it's going in right now," he says. "The past few years have been incredible for us -- we're seeing our dreams come true."