Wasn’t sure we could make it. First I had to get tickets. Then I had to get transportation. Good news was we were going to be in West Virginia, closer than CA, for a fundraiser for the Food Bank of WV; the Governor’s One Shot Doe Hunt.
After two weeks of waiting and calling a few board members, we got confirmation that the Country Music Hall of Fame would give us two tickets.
Now transportation. Commercial travel one had to “go through Timbuktu” – so about 8 hours or more. Direct by private plane would be about an hour.
I asked CMHOF and they confirmed two tickets for the dinner reception for whomever gave us a ride.
I tried facebook; lots of suggestions but no ride. One friend kept trying her friends. I tried pilot friends in WV, almost a ride…. but no ride. I tried pilot friends in CA. A ride….no ride.
When I packed for our trip our bags were full of huntin’ gear and I didn’t want to bring another bag of nice clothes if we weren’t going to use them. I’m a little superstitious. If I brought nice clothes, we definitely would not get a ride. If I didn’t…just maybe….
I called several charter companies to see if they would do a trade – far too expensive for us otherwise.
Three days before the event, I tried one last one thinking no way but it’s worth an email. We got a response. They’d do it. Woo hoo! Um…how much? I asked wincing at the thought of, bracing for, the cost…? Honored to do it – no cost. Wow! Wow! was all I could respond. My second email remembered to say: Thank you.
I contacted Darrick Kinslow, Oak Ridge Boys road manager, and told him it was a go. Only Darrick knew. Jim Halsey had known we were trying to attend as I had asked him if he knew anyone who would fly us.
We flew in mid-day Sunday and rested – we figured and experience told us, even though CMA HOF had said the ceremony would end at 7:30pm, 8 tops, it wouldn’t and it would be a late night. (It was).
I rather wish we had come in a day early. This was my first time to Nashville and to Tennessee ever. There are no clothing stores downtown. I was hoping to find something a little more suitable. I did find a sweater vest for Gen Yeager and a scarf to upgrade my mode of attire. I also bought a guitar string bracelet which proceeds helped the homeless. Somehow that abandoned my wrist during the evening. What a town. (The next day we went to a late breakfast, early lunch downtown. From various bars and restaurants mid-day on a Monday; the music and people were loud, spilling onto the streets, alcohol abounding…. that early. Wow.)
A few minutes before the appointed hour, we met Lisa, a wonderful gal from CMA HOF, who escorted us from the hotel to the event.
Bill Cody announced us: General Yeager and his wife Victoria as we went through the red carpet. It took a while for each of the media to grasp who this was. This was a music industry event, not an aviation event.
Several jumped to shake his hand.
Chris Golden, William Lee Golden’s son was there. Hugs all around. The media took photos. We asked Chris to keep our presence quiet. (Inductees were secluded so we were hoping the Boys still didn’t know).
We then went over to the line of fans. They were so kind and excited to see a true American hero.
We headed to our seats. The CMA theatre felt like an Elizabethan theater almost in the round with seats almost on the stage. We had the box seats on the balcony on the side of the stage – a great view of the audience and the performers as long as they looked to the side now and again – which they did.
We couldn’t wait to see the looks on the Oak Ridge Boys’ faces when they learned we were there.
We saw Jeff, a band member, on the orchestra level. I had his name wrong (he does resemble another versatile musician who was also attending but not there yet) but he responded. I mean seriously he looked around like someone was calling him. And then waved at us.
We saw Rex, another incredibly versatile band member, and waved. He didn’t look stunned at all – just like an everyday occurrence that General Yeager would be nearby. Very pleased, but not surprised.
Some others waved at us. I smiled back wondering who they were. OH. The rest of the band, fairly new…in coats and ties. Didn’t recognize them at first – they weren’t in their same seats or clothing! It had taken me several years to get the band names down and then some retired from life on the road so these fellas…still trying to imprint their names. (Roger, Scotty, Dave, Ron. I think I have it now.)
We tried to recognize some of the other attendees. No clue. I was not brought up in the country music appreciation world. In fact, we called it country western until I asked a Southerner if they liked country western music. He said, “Yes. Both.” Whaaaa—? Oh. Ah.
Growing up in Philadelphia and just outside in Bryn Mawr, PA, “Country” to us was depressing. I remember a singing class in LA where the joke was to play that music backwards because forwards the endings were too depressing. A gal in my class was a great writer and singer but depressing. Never heard of her again, unfortunately.
I never was an Elvis fan or a Beatles fan. I was brought up on Broadway musicals and forties dance music. My Dad would let me stay up late to watch all sorts of old movies. I was a Gene Kelly fan. My mother, as usual wondered where I came from – she liked Fred Astaire. He wasn’t manly enough for me.
Recently, especially because Richard Sterban had sent General Yeager a signed book which included Richard’s time singing with Elvis; I listened to Elvis’ voice singing one of my favorite hymns. It was only then that I appreciated what a lovely voice Elvis had.
Today, many of the top young singers are screeching or shouting, there is no poetry and, as a friend pointed out when I was trying to figure out why I didn’t care for some of this music, one does not walk out humming a few bars.
I’ve always loved Gospel though. And quartet. My favorite. I had tried to become a part of Madrigals in prep school but the gal who took over senior year told me she was still mad at me for finishing the math book in 2nd grade before she did while I was home sick. Some people can hold a grudge. Geez! They performed only about 2 times that year anyway because the gigs I had lined up wanted me there.
I also loved hymns, great dance music, and John Philips Souza. My cousin, when I visited him, insisted on playing it at 7am to wake up for work. I was on vacation so wasn’t as receptive….
So of course I’ve heard many of the names at the CMA HOF and heard a few songs but….I never went to concerts because the music was always too loud – my hearing tests were off the charts and the music was just noise to me. Outdoor concerts I could regulate the volume (but then couldn’t see the band I had to stand so far back). Early on, for New York City’s Central Park free outdoor concerts, I realized the best sound was where the sound man was and with cotton in my ears, would hang out near there.
Even the CMHOF board members sitting with us could not tell me who some of the people were so I didn’t feel so bad.
We kept looking for Roy Clark, Chuck’s good friend, because we heard he would be there. And his musical director, Richard.
Finally, we saw the Oak Ridge Boys walking in with their wives, from stage right on the orchestra level.
First William Lee and Simone. He hugged Chris, his son. I called down to Chris. WL turned around and as he realized who I was, and to whom I was pointing (General Yeager), a big grin spread across his face and you know it was big because we could see it under his beard. General Yeager nodded.
I called Joey (Joe Bonsall), a fellow Philadelphia, but he didn’t respond, didn’t hear me.
The boys all sat down in the front row middle.
Joe looked straight at me. I waved. He didn’t respond, didn’t focus. He did this a few times as he looked around.
Eventually, Duane looked up. I waved. He looked at me as if he was clearing cobwebs….I know her…
As I could see the “penny drop” and he was realizing who I was, I pointed to General Yeager.
Duane looked over. And his jaw dropped. He tapped his heart and nodded.
Joe looked up again. I waved madly, smiled big. One could see the gears slowly grinding. I know her…. not a famous singer…. uh oh, is she trouble….I’m with my family…wait…I don’t think she’s someone I dislike…or an aggressive fan…. wait, she’s….
I was vigorously pointing to General Yeager…
He got it. I know this because he opened his mouth in shock and pointed at General Yeager.
By this time Richard had grasped the situation and was smiling. Donna, lovely in a brilliant red dress, smiled her beautiful big smile and waved at me – we’re buds in a long distance kinda way.
When Joe breathed again, he leaned over to Mary, so beautiful, who looked up. And smiled. We hadn’t met Mary yet.
Duane was still nodding and smiling. Nora Lee, whom we hadn’t met yet either, looked up and smiled.
General Yeager had nodded to each and given his version of a wave.
WL and Simone were also looking up smiling.
Joe eventually put his pointer down and shook his head in amazement.
The show was going on.
We all turned to the speaker; General Yeager pleased that the Boys were pleased. Me, too.
In many private moments of the evening, I could see Joe tear up. His family was there. His friends were there. One of those moments was clearly that General Yeager had made the effort, and at 92 ½ not a small effort, to be there for his Boys.
General Yeager wondered if he should do more – he’s used to introducing them if he’s in the same town. I assured him just his presence was enough.
I learned about Grady Martin – apparently a great guitar player, an exacting mentor, but a gracious guy if you toed the line. Brenda Lee was tasked with finding his family – he had died in 2001.
After a few waitresses and law enforcement, Brenda Lee found Grady’s son. Grady’s son, whom Gen Yeager had noticed right off – was hiding behind a lot of long hair over his face – gorgeous hair hiding a handsome face. Fairly normal for his age when I was growing up. He gave a magnificent speech. Perhaps even more so because not expected. His delivery was dry but it worked and worked well. He stated, in preparation for this speech, he let his Bible open randomly to a passage. It, in fact, was about music. He had to look up a word. And that led to another word. Well he had to look that word up too. He truly honored his father and his father’s memory.
I looked over to Duane. He had caught my eye and was nodding, smiling clearly touched that General Yeager would be there for the Boys. I smiled back. A lot of love between General Yeager and the Boys. And some spills over to me. Words can’t describe…
Jim Ed Brown and the Browns were the next honorees. We love Jim Ed Brown’s song: “Doggone My Soul How I Love Them Old Songs”. We have danced to it fairly often since we got married. I finally found Jim Ed’s contact to ask him to come to Gen Yeager’s 90th birthday. He couldn’t quite make it. For the 92nd birthday, it looked like timing would work. At the last minute, he said he didn’t feel well and so sorry couldn’t go. He died a few months later. He really didn’t feel well. We were so sad to hear this – of course, many. many were. What a great talent.
And here we were honoring him and his sisters, Bonnie and Maxine, all well-known for the smoothest harmony.
Bonnie went on for a while about her history and introducing her family. Maxine jumped in and introduced her family and their “family”. One of her family yelled out, “Now behave, Maxine!”
If this was Maxine behaving, I’d love to hear her when she’s not behaving. Or maybe not :-).
After introducing one couple who helped them and gave them a start, she announced that they were 90 years old. She had asked them at what age do people stop enjoying sex. They had replied they didn’t know: Maxine would have to ask someone older.
I watched Donna, quite possibly a kindred spirit, laugh mirthfully at the irreverence. Joe, gave a faux shocked look (maybe not “faux”?) as he laughed and shook his head.
Maxine went on to discuss breaking her hip and a few other bones – she was moving slowly. “The only good thing to come out of it was a permanent screw.”
I don’t know why she gave up performing – her delivery and voice are excellent
Throughout the ceremony, we looked for Roy. I don’t know how we missed him. He was looking grand in his royal blue suede blazer and black hat. A 2009 CMA HOF inductee, Roy had driven all night and day – 12 hours to get here in time to honor his friends. And he was leaving to go back early the next morning. Wow. (Flying would have been dicey and could take just as long as one had to fly through Dallas from Tulsa and a hurricane was in the way).
Next was the Oak Ridge Boys turn. The CMA HOF doesn’t tell the inductees who will be honoring them so it was fun to watch their reactions.
As Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks took the stage, the Boys were so pleasantly surprised and honored. Trisha and Garth sang “I’ve Been True to You”. Trisha would look at Garth, which meant we got a great view of her looking in our, I mean his:-) direction with love and affection for Garth.
She has a clear, melodic voice which was easier to notice in the simplicity of this song and venue. Garth, who joined in more towards the end, has a unique voice, easy to listen to. At one point, emotions overcame Trisha as well but she regained and continued.
As they left the stage, the audience gave them a standing ovation.
Kenny Rogers took the stage slowly. He asked the Boys: How many Grammies have you received?
When no one responded, he supplied: Eight?
Joe responded diplomatically: Something like that.
Kenny: More than me.
How many No 1 songs?
Kenny: More than me…..Not that I’m jealous or nothin’.
Funny. A big star celebrating the protégés who had become perhaps bigger stars. The country music industry is a lot kinder and supportive than other entertainment industries I’ve seen. A lot. It was a night full of love and kindness.
Kenny had hired the Boys to open for him. Seinfeld was to open first but didn’t show up. The Boys, Kenny said, being professional, said they could just go on. They weren’t worried that the audience was not warmed up.
Kenny clearly enjoyed touring with the Boys and considers them true friends – ones that would help you if you needed it and whom he had helped and would help.
When I was in my 20’s; long before I met Chuck, I had thought about, as girls do, what kind of man I’d like to marry, if I got married. I had thought it would be great to be married to a singer with a voice I liked, such as Kenny Rogers. Then I wouldn’t mind if he was a workaholic. I’d get to hear him sing beautifully as he rehearsed and sang in concert That’s okay, dear, go ahead and work/practice.
Well, I lucked out in many ways when I met Chuck, but in this way too – Chuck has a great singing voice! And great rhythm. Good dancer…Oh yes, before I get carried away and reveal too much, back to the event.
Kenny Rogers officially inducted the Boys into the CMA HOF. The Boys took the stage. After being knighted with medallions, (I didn’t see a sword but maybe they didn’t trust anyone with a sword – they might miss and as Chuck says; that’s not good), each of the Boys spoke.
Joe led. One of the first things he did was introduce and acknowledge General Chuck Yeager, American hero. The audience stood up in great respect and cheered and clapped and cheered and clapped. And cheered. And clapped. Joe and the Boys were honored. So honored. Joe had to stop for a moment as he felt his voice about to break and tears about to fall. Tears of joy and deep emotion.
Joe related: “The General is 92 and he TWEETS! Just recently General Yeager tweeted me and said 68 years ago today, at age 24, I was breaking the sound barrier. What were you doing at age 24?”
The audience, including me, laughed. Gen Yeager chuckled at the memory.
Joe went on to say: “Family is most important. The Oak Ridge Boys are family and their families are extended families. He introduced his family en masse as they cheered him on from the section to our left. I had picked out his daughter, Jen, from her facebook photo. Very distinctive beauty.
Next came Duane who gave us an insight to his methods. He was at a bit of a loss because he hadn’t followed his own methods. So he had written some notes on little post-its and so his acceptance speech would be short. The audience laughed. He spoke beautifully. Luck. Fortunate. And more. So clear. So apt.
Richard was next. Gen Yeager said he had never heard Richard talk so much even if he added up all the words to date. Of course, we usually see Richard before he is about to sing so he is saving his voice. He thanked every one in his family except his daughters. Fortunately Donna was there to prompt him. One of his daughters has the same name, Victoria, as I and same nickname as I had in childhood, Tori.
These things are great – it would have been dull if there had been no glitch. Fortunately his daughters have a great sense of humor and pounced: the rest of the night they mimicked Harry Potter series when introduced: You know, “(S)he who cannot be named.”
William Lee thanked his partners and then went on to regale us with his upbringing vis a vis music and listening to radio as a kid. His sister taught him to harmonize. He was clearly overwhelmed as they all were by this induction.
It was challenging to get from the theatre to the dinner reception – many wanted photos with General Yeager.
We ran into Rex Wiseman, a versatile band member. Hugs all around. We met Chris’s children, William Lees’ grandchildren, and took a photo with them. Attractive group.
We continued on to a table Lisa thought would be near the Boys. It wasn’t really but it all worked fine. Roy found his way to us and sat down. As did his musical director, Richard who was doing well. We hadn’t seen Roy in a while so it was nice for the General and him to visit.
In the 1960’s or ‘70’s; Gen Yeager had been asked to fly Roy to Palm Springs from LA for a concert. And that’s when they first met.
Another time they spent time together was the Wyoming One Shot Doe Hunt. Roy told me: Chuck informed Roy that he had won it the year before and was going to win it that year too. And darn if he didn’t.
Roy tells great stories about Chuck – such a wonderful, positive sense of humor. “They were complaining the Americans were not shooting down enough Germans. So Chuck said, ‘How many do you need? We need more aces (5 enemy aircraft shot down). Chuck said okay, went out, shot down five in one mission, and became an ace in a day.”
That’s the short version of Chuck’s career by Roy Clark.
Next person I found was Jennifer Bonsall. We discussed that it was nice to gather and meet everyone not at a funeral but at a happy event. What a delightful woman! The love, closeness, and joy between her father, Joe, and her is infectious and huge.
Chuck and I met Nora Lee, Duane Allen’s wife. Chuck did not say anything so Nora stepped back. Duane stepped in to explain this was not just an ordinary fan: this is my wife. Chuck regained his composure and replied, “Yes, didn’t you notice my nostrils flaring.”
We all laughed. She is a beautiful woman, very stylishly dressed in black pants, white shirt, vest and blazer and enhancing jewelry with sparkling diamonds.
We met their daughter, son-in-law and some grandkids, all of whom had performed Elvira.
That they were going to sing at the HOA induction was kept secret. Duane’s reaction as they were singing was “Whaaa-aaat?” with his hands wide…. He couldn’t believe it.
It was fascinating to watch the performers be the audience. While one of the performers this night was singing and about to go high, Joe raised his eyebrows, clearly singing in his head along with the performer trying to help the singer get to the note.
The Boys each tapped along to the music and clapped along as well.
I noticed three of the performers were wearing white very pointed boots with studs, I wondered what the shapes of their feet were and how far up that boot their feet went, what was the purpose of this huge point or was that just the best the bootmaker could do in the 1800’s and with great p.r., it became the fashion. I also noticed that one of the three sets of white boots was tapping his foot the way I do, and the way I noticed long ago that Joe does – taps his heel, not his toe.
I can’t tap my toe – my foot doesn’t bend that well when I’m standing up. I could never do shoot the moon on ice skates either – when you sit down on haunches and stick one leg out – I always ended up sliding on my derriere instead of the skates. I just don’t bend like that and…ahem…gravity takes over.
Later, at the reception, a man wanted to meet Gen Yeager. People often come up to me: I don’t want to bother the General but do you think I could meet him, or, get a photo with him, or…
I tease some of them and say – so why do you want to bother me?
I looked more carefully at this guy, then his shoes. I asked: “Weren’t you wearing white boots? With studs?”
He smiled and said, “Yes, I changed my whole outfit.”
Me: “Yes, I remember you.”
I don’t know how he felt about being remembered for his boots but he’s been in the business long enough – he wears the boots to stand out – and if that’s what makes me remember him…..He was one of the harmony singers and frankly stood in the back until the harmony part came up.
I explained who this fellow was to Gen Yeager. He said hello and shook hands. The fellow later thanked me. So nice of him.
Donna and I delighted in replaying some of the irreverent moments. I also told her I have to stand next to her – she looked gorgeous in her red dress – so no one would even notice I was a little under-dressed. I explained my superstitions. I also told Jen I’d be good standing next to her – she was well-dressed too. They all reassured me my dress or lack thereof was a non-issue. I gave up trying a long time ago when my mother’s friend, a brilliant dress designer, died and nothing ever fit or looked right again.
Before they left, Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks took the time to brave the fans surrounding them, some a bit too aggressive, to honor and meet General Yeager. They each said a quick hello: Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. They also said hello to Roy Clark. General Yeager, Roy and they knew that this was not the time for a longer meeting – it was too loud and too crowded. Security helped Ms. Yearwood and Mr. Brooks safely out the door.
Roy and Richard decided it was time to go – they had an early morning.
We started heading out. On the way, Joe introduced his wife Mary. Chuck said: Not too shabby. I wouldn’t cull her. (And that’s something since we had just been culling doe for the West Virginia food bank).
I had met Mary’s sister and mother – almost identical triplets.
William Lee’s sister came over to say hello. I explained to General Yeager that WL said his sister taught him everything he knows. She looked at me and said, “You know when he said that, I did remember telling him a few times the note he wanted for harmony was higher or lower.”
She introduced her daughter and photos were taken – quite fun. WL’s mother wrote poetry, apparently beautiful poetry – clearly a creative gene in the family. WL was going to send me a copy but hadn’t yet. His niece promised to send me a copy. I hope so.
As we made our way to our hotel and hotel room, both of us having enjoyed ourselves immensely, I was reflecting on our relationship with the Oak Ridge Boys.
Something I realized early on in my getting to know the Boys was: one always left their concerts dancing, singing, upbeat. Spreading Good news.
And for General Yeager and me, at the CMA HOF, we were, for a moment in time, part of the family, a family full of love, honor, and respect, respect for family, for their country and for those who protect it.