Tim McGraw experienced quite the honor while lending a helping hand to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's 2020 Big Night fundraiser. Current country stars play past legends' instruments and sing those icon's songs during the annual event. This tradition allowed McGraw to play an acoustic guitar owned by his late hero Keith Whitley while singing "Don't Close Your Eyes."
As the story goes, Whitley told a young McGraw to look him up if he ever moved to Nashville. McGraw arrived in Music City on a Greyhound Bus on May 9, 1989: the day Whitley tragically passed away at age 34. Over 30 years later, McGraw connected with Whitley in Nashville by playing the C.W. Parsons guitar Whitley bought in Kentucky for $1 and a handshake.
"Don't Close Your Eyes" was written by Bob McDill (Alabama's "Song of the South" and Alan Jackson's "Gone Country"). It became the title track of Whitley's 1988 studio album and the top single on Billboard's year-end Hot Country Songs chart.
Other performances posted to the Hall of Fame's YouTube account include Kane Brown covering Randy Travis, Ashley McBryde playing Loretta Lynn's guitar, Reba McEntire revisiting Patsy Cline's version of "Sweet Dreams," Miranda Lambert honoring John Prine, Ricky Skaggs strumming Bill Monroe's mandolin and a Brad Paisley and Dan Tyminski performance which incorporates Buck Owen's famous red, white and blue guitar.
It's not the first heartwarming cover of "Don't Close Your Eyes." Jackson and Kellie Pickler have recorded it before, as has Garth Brooks for his The Ultimate Collection box set. Brooks also performed it at the 50th annual CMA Awards while Whitley's widow Lorrie Morgan was in attendance.
Nor was it the first vulnerable performance by McGraw, the singer of such sentimental favorites as "Live Like You Were Dying" plus "It's Your Love" and other duets featuring his wife, Faith Hill.