Tim McGraw took the stage during the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's recent fundraiser Big Night (At the Museum), covering the late Keith Whitley's "Don't Close Your Eyes" while playing Whitley’s C.W. Parsons acoustic guitar. McGraw performed sitting in front of a section of the museum dedicated to Whitley, who died in 1989.
"Don't Close Your Eyes" was was written by Bob McDill, and Whitley released it in 1988 as the third single from his album of the same name. In a preview clip for the special, McGraw became visibly emotional while holding the guitar and said, "I would have liked to have heard a whole lot more."
"Thanx to the [Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum] for inviting me to be part of such a special event," he wrote on Instagram after the performance aired. "Keith Whitley bought this guitar for a dollar and a handshake.....I’ve been covering this song as long as I remember, but I’ll never forget playing it on Keith’s C.W. Parsons."
Other performers during Big Night (At the Museum) included Miranda Lambert, Kane Brown, Ashley McBryde, Reba McEntire and more. While the show was free, viewers were encouraged to donate to the Museum through YouTube Giving and over $590,000 has been raised so far.
Before his performance, McGraw shared that he was a big fan of Whitley growing up and was able to meet him at a concert while visiting his mom and sister in Jacksonville, Florida. "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 Lorrie and Keith were signing autographs," he recalled, via Country Now.
"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."
McGraw later arrived in Nashville on May 9, 1989, the same day Whitley died at age 34 of alcohol intoxication. "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," he reflected. "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."