It was Saturday morning when I suddenly was awakened in my bunk to the sensation of a rough ride on a bumpy road somewhere in southern Pennsylvania. Our destination was the little town of Reinholds, PA, and a short while later we pulled our tour bus in to the parking lot of the Black Horse Lodge and Suites, just a few miles from the concert site. Just after noon we rode the bus over to the site, commenced load in, and enjoyed a healthy lunch.
The event coordinator, Larry Wolf, was on top of the details, as he has been helping to organize this annual outdoor summer concert series for over 20 years. The walls on the backstage greenroom were like a who’s who in country music history, with signed posters of artists like Reba McEntire, Johnny Paycheck, Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Tracy Lawrence, and many others lining the walls. After lunch we began our sound check, and this would be the second day in a row that we would build an arrangement for one of Rhett’s recent chart toppers ‘All Over Me’, which was cut by Josh Turner. When Rhett began strumming and singing this piece on his acoustic, it seemed to warrant a feel somewhat reminiscent of Little Feet or Dr. John, and we brought a hint of New Orleans to this hot humid afternoon in the north.
A few hours later, after our typical routine of showers at the hotel and a catered meal, we were back on the bus waiting for showtime while a local opening band performed. Midway through the opener’s set the crowd of 2000 plus ran for cover when a torrential downpour let loose. We feared that we were done for the night, but fortunately about a half-hour later the rain subsided and the opener returned to finish their set.
We hit the stage at about 9:15 with our usual set openers of ‘Down South’, ‘I Brake for Brunettes’, and ‘Don’t Get Me Started’ and the crowd responded warmly. As Pennsylvania is literally the hunting capital of the world, we could do no wrong by playing some of the cuts from Rhett’s recent hunting album ‘Bone Collector’. Despite never hearing these songs before, the audience instantly fell in love with songs like ‘My Baby Looks Good in Camouflage’, ‘Granddaddy’s Gun’, and ‘Duck Blind’.
Our shows with Rhett have evolved into an interesting mix of music that represents every facet of his 15 year career. On this show, as on most shows at this point, the audience would hear his first wave of radio hits from the mid to late 90s, songs from recent releases ‘People like Me’ and ‘Down South’, some of the new hunting songs, a few classics from his idols, and a barrage of original versions of his most recent songwriting chart busters recorded by other artists. This all makes for an action-packed, exciting show, and the crowd’s energy on this muggy summer night was building steadily throughout our electric 90 minute performance. By the encore, the sea of audience members sitting in lawn chairs could still be seen beyond the couple hundred that were now standing directly in front of the stage.
We are fortunate that nearly all of our shows seem to have some kind of magic happen at different points throughout the performance. But on this particular night Rhett and band were particularly on, the crowd was in tune, the sound was happening, and it was one of those magical nights where everything seems to come into alignment. The kind of musical inspiration that we, as performers, live for. It’s hard to imagine that anybody, band or audience, could go away from a concert experience like this without feeling a little better about life.
Inspiration on this level isn’t something you can plan on, or make happen, so when it does, don’t take magic for granted.