By Nikki McCoy
I admit that I haven’t been keeping up on Aaron Lewis, the singer-songwriter who also fronts the alt-rock band Staind. I do remember liking his voice in a couple of Staind’s early 2000 hits, “It’s Been Awhile” and “So Far Away,” but it’s been awhile since I’ve heard his music.
As such, when I got the assignment to cover his concert Saturday night at Lucky Eagle Casino and Hotel, it was with a novice ear that I began researching Lewis. Watching the YouTube clip that prompted this article, I was pleasantly shocked to hear Lewis drop the f-bomb 10 times in one minute, defending a teenage crowd surfer at a concert last year.
The young female was being inappropriately handled by the crowd, so Lewis stopped his concert to make sure they knew he disapproved. “You should all be beaten down by everyone around you,” was just the tip of the profanity-riddled verbal assault Lewis gave the young men responsible for the awful behavior.
Lewis’ fierce defense of the girl moved Lucky Eagle CEO, John Setterstrom, to donate a $2,500 check, on behalf of Lewis, to SafePlace, a nonprofit advocacy agency and confidential shelter for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Thurston County.
Tribal members presented the check to a humbled Lewis Saturday night before his performance. After responding simply, “I just did what any father of three little girls would have done,” Lewis hugged CEO of Chehalis Tribe Enterprises, Rodney Youckton, and the crowd exploded into applause.
“It was very, very, honorable for calling out those guys for their poor behavior and choice. We are very honored and thankful for what he did,” said Youckton.
“I think it’s awesome what he did,” agreed Danny “Bones” Gleason, tribal elder and 5th council member, who thanked Lewis for his act, and encouraged him to “keep on saving.”
SafePlace Executive Director, Mary Pontarolo, who was present to receive the donation, was glad to bring awareness to a demographic that normally doesn’t get reached.
“This is a great country crowd tonight, isn’t it?” said Pontarolo. “I’m honored to be on the same stage as this man. I’ve listened to the YouTube video I don’t know how many times. It’s not very often that a man would stand up and try and protect us and I appreciate the fact that Aaron did.”
“I think it is great,” she said off stage. “I love to be able to talk to a group of people that love country music, particularly about our issues and to dispel myths. I just think it’s an important message and this is a good group to be able to share the information with.”
I spoke with a variety of audience members, and while everyone knew of Aaron Lewis’ music, only a few knew about the back story to the donation they just witnessed.
As I explained about SafePlace and the concert, people were impressed.
“That’s my kinda guy,” replied one man dressed in camo. “I’m not surprised, he’s really cool,” said another.
And another gave kudos to the casino for getting involved.
“It’s something our CEO felt strongly about,” said Kevin Burrus, Director of Advertising for Lucky Eagle. “We felt Aaron’s actions reflected the tribe and the hotel, and is something we try to embody, and we try to support organizations like SafePlace. It’s a giving back thing.”
After the gifting ceremony, Lewis began his concert by asking the audience to join him in the Pledge of Allegiance, and then eased into his set list with his signature voice and crowd favorite, “Country Boy.”
With a song that drips with sentiment about the ‘simple life’ and references family and patriotism, it’s easy to see why Lewis is an awesome influence for everyone from teenagers to tribal members and even this writer.