Toby Keith said he has an addiction.

For the last 10 years, he's booked trips to Iraq or Afghanistan each spring to visit troops through the USO.

"There is so much joy and such . . . honor to get to go," he said during an Aug. 31 phone interview. "You get to shake some real heroes' hands. You go, 'Man, I got to do this again.'"

In addition to brushing up on the region's history and geography, Keith drops off care packages and performs, sometimes for groups of only 20 at small outposts. The trips, he said, are also tributes to his father, an Army veteran.

Sunday, Keith will mark a decade since Sept. 11 in the nation's capitol. He plans to "welcome the dawn" at his Washington, D.C., concert, which starts Saturday night.

When he's in York County Wednesday for his York Fair show, he'll get his own tribute - a proclamation making it Toby Keith Day in West York and a key to the borough. Shelley Metzler, vice president of the West York Borough Council, is just one fan of Keith's patriotic lyrics and his work with the USO.

Keith, in turn, is a fan of fairs. He has about a dozen on a rotating schedule. He last stopped at the Toyota Grandstand in 2002.

Each region has its signature food offering, he said, which is usually fried or on a stick.

On Aug. 31, Keith was en route to Minnesota by way of his native Oklahoma, where he had a free weekend - his only one among a string of more than 65 dates on his "Locked and Loaded Tour."

During his "time off" he went into the studio with his brother, Tracy Covel (Keith's real last name). Keith also put the finishing touches on his upcoming album "Clancy's Tavern," due out next month.

The album name pays homage to his grandmother's Arkansas nightclub. Keith changed the bar's name for the album title to include Clancy, his grandfather's nickname for his grandmother.

When Keith was 12, he spent a summer helping his grandmother - usually from the confines of the kitchen since the club served alcohol. He would watch the performers six days a week from the sliding window where people would place food orders.

"I put everything in it that I saw," Keith said of a track on his new album about that summer. "It was a trip."

Raised in a family of singers, piano players and guitar players, Keith received his first "cheap box guitar" from his grandmother. On a few nights the summer he was 12, Keith's grandmother let him play briefly at the club - his first moments on stage.

Keith said his grandmother passed a couple years back. She was 86.

Last year, his uncle helped him collect the microphones and PA system from her club. The relics remind Keith of his past as he constantly moves forward. After the tour wraps in late fall, he'll take a month or two off before gearing up to shake more soldiers' hands.

- Erin McCracken, FlipSide staff

Local appearance

To read about Toby Keith's appearance at a local liquor store, click here.