ILLESHEIM, Germany — Country music star Toby Keith has announced plans to perform free concerts for troops and their families at two U.S. military bases in Europe in late May and early June.

Keith will play at 4 p.m. May 31 — Memorial Day — at Illesheim Army Airfield in Germany, said Lisa Eichhorn, spokeswoman for the Ansbach-based 235th Base Support Battalion.

In addition, Morale, Welfare and Recreation at the naval base in Naples confirmed Keith will play there at Noble Roman’s Field at 6 p.m. June 1.

Eichhorn said he also will perform at bases in Kosovo over the holiday weekend, but details were unavailable. Keith will be joined at the concerts by his close friend, rock star Ted Nugent.

Keith is one of the best-known performers in country music today, 11 years after the Oklahoma-born former football player debuted with the hit single “Should’ve Been a Cowboy.” His 2002 CD “Unleashed” was a platinum seller and his latest collection, “Shock ’N Y’all,” debuted at No. 1 on the country charts.

Aggressively patriotic songs like “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” and “American Soldier” have made Keith hugely popular with U.S. troops. His father, killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2001, was an Army veteran, and many of his songs celebrate the military.

A Rolling Stone review of “Unleashed” described Keith as a “likable right-winger” whose music “puts the grits and gravy back into mainstream country.”

Keith’s decision to bypass major military hubs for Illesheim, a small Apache helicopter post 30 miles southeast of Würzburg, came as something of a surprise.

Illesheim is home to the 11th Aviation Regiment and its three battalion-sized components: the 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, the 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment (which is temporarily assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, for training), and the 7th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment. All the units served in the first rotation of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Eichhorn said the 235th BSB commander, Lt. Col. Parker Schenecker, first lobbied the Keith organization a year ago. She said the cavalry units especially like his swaggering cowboy image; 11th Aviation adopted Keith’s song “Beer for My Horses” as its theme. They thought that might persuade him to visit an out-of-the-way locale like Illesheim.

“We knew he was going to be in theater, but we didn’t know if it was even a possibility,” Eichhorn said. “Last week they called and said, ‘He’s coming!’”

“It’s the only [concert] in Germany,” she added. “We’re really lucky to get it.”

Eichhorn said the stage will be set in the 2-6 Cavalry’s vacant hangar. She said the vast apron in front should hold at least 5,000 people. The Illesheim and Naples concerts are open to all military ID card holders and their guests.

Soldiers at Illesheim said they’re ready to welcome the singer.

“Let him come!” said Spc. Christopher Bowman, 23, of the 6-6 Cavalry’s headquarters troop. “We look forward to seeing him.”

But they also said they hope Keith will find time to visit some of the 135,000 troops serving in Iraq.

“He should be going there,” said Pfc. Gerald Hughes, 27, also of the 6-6 Cavalry’s headquarters troop. “They need some form of entertainment.”

— Staff writer Kendra Helmer contributed to this report.

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