November 28, 2005

Hi Gang:

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

I’m still giving thanks up on Cloud 9 somewhere following our recent trip to New York City for the Grand Ole Opry show at Carnegie Hall and the 39th Annual CMA Awards. Much has been written and said about the occasion already, but I have a few thoughts, observations, and memories that you won’t see anywhere else:

When they announced that the next award would be presented for “Song of the Year” I turned to Jon Randall and shook his hand. “I hope we win,” I said, “but no matter what happens, it’s been a helluva ride.” He agreed, and added with a mischievous grin, “I hope we win for YOUR sake. At your age, you need to win one NOW!”

When Willie Nelson tore open the blue sheet of paper he held in his hand all I heard him say was, “The award for Song of the Year goes to Whis….” I assume he went on to say “….key Lullaby” but I couldn’t hear him above the pounding of my heart.

Big, deep-voiced Trace Adkins, who has, in a relatively short amount of time, gone from singing in suburban Nashville honky-tonks to becoming a major force in today’s country music, stood next to me looking out from the stage at the magnificence of Carnegie Hall for the first time and said softly, “I think I’m gonna cry.”

Ricky Skaggs, at the end of our Carnegie Hall concert, stood just off stage with only his mandolin, playing and singing “Rank Stranger” with Alison Krauss. Charley Pride later walked up and led them both in singing the old gospel favorite, “Mansions For Me.” I stood nearby nursing a big-time case of goosebumps!

I told Gretchen Wilson that her recording, “I Don’t Feel Like Loving You Today,” is my favorite song on the radio these days. She replied with a grin, “Mine, too!”

Brad Paisley told me, “I never cry…but when you guys won that award, I actually had tears in my eyes. I was happier for you than I would have been had I won an award myself.”

Vince Gill, backstage at Carnegie Hall, urged other entertainers to pick up the pace of the show because “the batteries in Whisper’s yellow coat will run down in ten minutes.”

Without a country radio station and limited exposure to our music via television, the New York natives aren’t overly familiar with many of our country performers. Example: Brad Paisley and I had slipped into Alan Jackson’s and Charley Pride’s assigned dressing room backstage to rehearse our upcoming song when a young Carnegie Hall production assistant opened the door, looked first at one of us and then the other, and asked, “Mr. Pride?”

Opry announcer, Eddie Stubbs, told me of his first trip to Carnegie Hall as the fiddle player with The Johnson Mountain Boys bluegrass band. “I got a standing ovation on the most famous stage in the world on Saturday night. Monday morning I was back hanging wallpaper on my day job in D.C. That’ll keep you humble!”

The warmth and friendliness shown to all us Tennessee hillbillies by the people of New York was remarkable. I hadn’t been to the Big Apple in almost ten years, and the change in attitude that I had heard and read so much about is evident everywhere. It is definitely the new and improved New York City. I would not have been surprised to hear someone say, “Y’all come back now, you hear?”

Come to think of it, I probably will.