McGraw played Keith Whitley’s C.W. Parsons acoustic guitar while performing his chart-topping single “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” The song was written by Bob McDill and released in 1988 as the third single from Whitley’s album of the same name.
Prior to his performance, McGraw reflected on the time he met Whitley while visiting his mom and sister in Jacksonville, Florida and shared the impact Whitley’s life and death had on him.
“Keith Whitley came to town. I was a huge fan…Keith Whitley played at the Jacksonville Arena and he was there with Lorrie Morgan so I waited in line at the end of the thing and Lori and Keith were signing autographs. I only had enough money to buy one picture so I bought Keith’s picture. So I’m waiting and waiting and waiting and finally I get up to Keith and I’m so nervous and I hand him the picture and said ‘Keith I’m a country singer and I’m going to move to Nashville someday and I hope I can meet you’ and he says ‘well son good luck to you. I hope I run into you up there’ and he signed my picture.”
Fast forward “a few years later” and McGraw found himself arriving in Nashville on May 9, 1989. The same day Whitley died of alcohol poisoning at the age of 34.
“It was a pretty eye-opening experience to get into Nashville and realize that well there’s a lot of bright lights a lot of fun a lot of music a lot of art entertainment but behind all of that there’s a lot of pain too,” McGraw acknowledged. “I think that that’s what makes country music so great and music, in general, is our greatest being able to bring that pain to your music and hopefully it doesn’t overtake you and go somewhere else.”
BIG NIGHT (At the Museum) aired on YouTube on Wednesday evening (Oct. 28) at 8pm CT live from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. The live stream also featured performances from Alison Brown, Kane Brown, Carlene Carter, Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Miranda Lambert, Ashley McBryde, Reba McEntire, Keb’ Mo’, Brad Paisley, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, The War and Treaty, Dan Tyminski and Lucinda Williams. The show was hosted by Country Music Hall of Fame member Marty Stuart.
During BIG NIGHT (At the Museum), donations are welcomed via YouTube Giving and a text to donate option (text ‘Donate’ to (833) 977-2643).