This past weekend I thought I was over the worst of dealing with several days of fever with no other symptoms.
Of course, I had committed to be in North Carolina, so I crawled in the car and away I went praying for the strength to do His work. Thankfully He did, getting me there and back and giving me the ability to do the show. It just reinforced to me the old adage, the show must go on. People are often impressed by the glamour they think makes up such a large portion of a performer’s life.
As I drove into the McReynold’s farm outside Nashville, in my mind I was preparing for another weekend out on the road with Grand Ole Opry stars Jim and Jesse. Jesse and his late wife Darlene opened their home to me and I often stayed overnight in the two-story farmhouse where they raised their family. When the brothers joined the Opry, they bought a farm that they both continue to live on.
In many ways, I became an extended member of the family. When I drove into the driveway, I noticed the back of the bus opened up. Underneath the bus, I found Jesse tangled between what makes a diesel engine tick. Folks who are use to seeing stars with their hair slicked back in the sparkling stage attire would not have recognized this Bluegrass Hall of Famer as he climbed from beneath the bus in his ragged baseball cap and gray coveralls covered with grease. Jesse is a mechanical whiz.
Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie Louvin and I became acquainted while I was still in my teens. I remember one time he and I sat down and discussed the merits of a career in music. He told me then that he had spent most of his life working for a bus and a band. Keeping those two things on the road had taken most of what he made. He reflected on an early decision to select music over a job at the post office. At the time he said if he had taken that post office job, he would be retired and drawing a pension now. I have not had the chance to talk with him since he and his late brother Ira’s induction in the Hall of Fame. I know if he had made the other choice it would have been a great loss to the world but it goes to show that even stars sometimes wonder about their life choices.
Concert goers don’t often realize what is involved in putting on a stage show. The performers in many cases gather at their home base and load the bus or van with equipment, sales material, personal effects and enough snack food to tide them through the trip. It is not unusual to climb aboard and ride for 10-12 hours to the venue. After arriving, they figure out where things go and then unload sound equipment and sales material. After setting everything up ready for the arrival of the audience, performers then go and throw a little water on their face, slick back their hair and put on their stage clothes.
We arrived somewhere in Ohio. Bellevue, I think. Members of Jim and Jesse’s band, the Virginia Boys, and I had went through the set up process with Georgia Music Hall of Famers, The Lewis Family, who were sharing the bill that night. Everything was set and we were all ready to go on. I was standing back stage waiting anxiously as Jim and Jesse went through their first set. They would usually bring me on about 10-15 minutes into the show. The Lewis Family’s sound equipment was on the stage. I don’t remember the exact conversation that led up to it, but Travis Lewis, who usually watched the controls, and I was joking backstage. “I said it is liable to blow when I go out there.”
As the audience laughed at my first punch line, I hit the first chord. The sound system blew. I was standing there with some of America’s most talented musicians ready to play and no way for the audience to hear us. Thanks to the fast work of Travis, Little Roy Lewis and a couple of others, they got the system up and running. Needless to say for any entertainer, standing in front of audience, trying to keep them entertained as the sound system is being fixed is less than a glamorous situation.
When the show is over, after visiting with the folks in the audience, the groups have to tear down the equipment, load up and hit the road for the next gig and do it all over again.
What I have found through the years is that stars that tend to take care of things themselves have the longest and most productive careers.
I’d rather be more like Jesse, putting on the grease-covered coveralls to keep things going than having everything served on a silver platter.
But I’ll never again joke about blowing out the sound system again. You don’t reckon it was my singing do you?