It was about 9 AM Friday morning when I crawled out of my bunk and walked to the front lounge of our tour bus. I looked out the window to see a hotel parking lot, a very typical start to a day in the life of a touring musician (I often associate this routine with the movie Groundhog Day.) On this particularly hot and muggy spring day, we would be playing a benefit concert to help elect a new sheriff in Phenix City, Alabama.
Around 1 PM we headed over to the concert site, an outdoor patio attached to a plush clubhouse on the shore of a picturesque lake. The event coordinator greeted us and helped us get situated, providing us with stagehands for load in and our bus stock for lunch. The 95° southern air was stifling, like a heavy wet blanket clinging to our every move. Perhaps this would be the reason the local sound company was running so far behind, causing our sound check to start three hours late.
So while we waited, and waited, and waited for the owner of molasses audio to finish setting up the PA, Rhett went fishing for a spell while we watched the grass grow. Finally the sound check commenced, we had some dinner, and went back to the hotel for showers. By the time we arrived back to the party, an hour before show time, the place was wall-to-wall. An opening band was suffering the old “this is a private party and we could care less about a band” syndrome.
A short while later, after a brief introduction rallying support for the new would-be sheriff, we hit the stage running, or crawling is perhaps a more accurate term. Still hot as hell, the night felt like an uphill battle from the get-go as we relentlessly worked the audience. As a master showman, no crowd is a match for the wit of Rhett Akins, and he gradually won over the crowd of locals with a mix of originals and rarities.
Within five or six songs, he called up the future sheriff elect to sing a couple songs. Before the man could decide on a song, Rhett suggested “I Shot the Sheriff” by Eric Clapton, and the crowd was in stitches. We settled on Lynyrd Skynyrds’ ”Gimme Me Three Steps” followed by “Family Tradition” by Hank Jr. A little while later, we finished our set with an encore onslaught of “Last Chance for Mary Jane” interspersed with some assorted Led Zeppelin diversions. We then loaded out our gear and, after a little chill time in the clubhouse, headed down the road. The night’s sweat now drying to a thin protective coating upon us, we joked around for a bit while winding down in the air-conditioned front lounge. Nichols, Georgia here we come!