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Toby Keith never knew it, but he helped my brother make a big life change

Tim McBride and Toby Keith at a VIP meet-and-greet before a concert in 2017.
Kelly McBride
Tim McBride and Toby Keith at a VIP meet-and-greet before a concert in 2017.

Toby Keith never knew it, but he helped me convince my older brother to move in with me.

My brother Tim McBride is a Special Olympian who until recently had lived his whole life with our parents. My mom and I were collaborating on a campaign to get Tim excited about relocating to my home in Florida, when Toby announced a concert near my home in 2017.

My brother loved Toby Keith from the moment his breakout song "Shoulda Been a Cowboy" came out in 1993. Toby's swagger and bombast was a perfect match for Tim's approach to life. He tends to burst into every room he enters, fully believing that everyone present is excited to see him.

So I bought tickets and through a friend of a friend, we got into the VIP meet-and-greet before the concert. Toby was known for being pretty generous with his fans. He frequently hosted veterans and other working-class heroes as special guests.

Tim put on his "Shoulda Been a Cowboy" T-shirt and brought his tambourine along. My brother is just shy of 5 feet tall. Toby was well over 6 feet. Tim walked up to him as if they were old college football buddies. He shook his hand, posed for the photo, raised his tambourine and shouted, "Toby Keith rules!"

Toby was unfazed by this, and I give him a lot of credit. Not everyone can figure out in the first seconds of meeting him that Tim has a serious cognitive impairment. Some people just think he's odd. Toby said to someone, "Hey, let's get this guy on stage."

We were instructed to come backstage when we heard the tribute to Merle Haggard. Toby first brought Tim out for "Red Solo Cup," but Tim doesn't really like that song. Tim went backstage and a few songs later, Toby played the first few iconic chords of "Shoulda Been a Cowboy," and motioned for Tim to join him.

Tim ran out onto center stage with his tambourine as if it was the most natural thing in the world. You can hear Toby giggle a bit in the opening line as Tim tries to hype the crowd. Less than a minute in, Tim actually jumps into Toby's spotlight.

Toby just left him on stage for the rest of the concert. Later on, Tim upstages Toby, walking to the edge to flirt with a bunch of cute fans in the front of the crowd. This is after he flirts with Toby's daughter and backup singer, Krystal. Toby rewards this with giving Tim a tambourine solo and then encouraging the crowd to "Thank his tambourine man."

Tim was mobbed that night as we walked back to the car. Fans in cowboy hats and boots clapped him on the shoulder and took selfies with him. He felt loved and seen and valued, which is something we all need to feel.

The next year, Tim moved to Florida to live with me. Now his apartment is just off my living room. When I told him this morning that Toby had died, we read the obituary out loud. We watched the video of Tim's guest appearance. And he pulled out the tambourine and sang along to Toby's duet with Willie Nelson to "Beer for My Horses."

This weekend, we'll be going to see Willie in concert.


Kelly McBride is NPR's Public Editor. Her independent analysis of NPR's work can be found here.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kelly McBride is a writer, teacher and one of the country's leading voices on media ethics. Since 2002, she has been on the faculty of The Poynter Institute, a global nonprofit dedicated to excellence in journalism, where she now serves as its senior vice president. She is also the chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at Poynter, which advances the quality of journalism and improves fact-based expression by training journalists and working with news organizations to hone and adopt meaningful and transparent ethics practices. Under McBride's leadership, the center serves as the journalism industry's ombudsman — a place where journalists, ethicists and citizens convene to elevate American discourse and battle disinformation and bias.