The Grand Ole Opry isn't the only show broadcast on WSM-AM 650, "The Air Castle of the South" that I treasure. Another is done one Monday a month: "An Intimate Evening with Eddie Stubbs". This show got started during my recent residence in Texas, but as soon as I moved here in the middle of last year I became an avid listener. I can remember fondly his "Intimate Evenings" with Patty Loveless and Steve Wariner.
And then late last week I got an e-mail congratulating me on winning admission to the upcoming show! I like to have died! Eddie's scheduled Guest was Ray Price! I couldn't imagine a better Guest for Eddie to interview, and yours truly be there in the audience! Well, yes, there's George Strait -- but I doubt THAT will ever happen!
So I was almost beside myself about getting to actually go to the Ford Theater in the Country Music Hall of Fame for this edition of the "Intimate Evening" show! I even dressed up despite the e-mail invitation saying dress was casual, and I arrived early. Entering the building and finding out that the theater doors wouldn't open for 45 minutes, I shrugged my shoulders and prepared to enjoy that much time of the guitar playing of David Andersen. A few months ago I had seen his portrait at the Visitor's Center in the Sommet Center. The painting labeled him "The Ambassador of Music City" -- and I hadn't even heard of him! So I had quickly gathered info on Mr. Andersen. I learned that he was a talented guitar player, somewhat along the lines of the late Chet Atkins. And he had performed the day the new Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opened, and frequently afterward.
And now I was getting to listen to his guitar playing. After several minutes of just sitting and enjoying his talent, I was bold to ask if he took requests. When he nodded, I said, "In honor of tonite's Guest, Ray Price, please play his 'Crazy Arms' ". Mr. Andersen and a woman sitting nearby then burst my bubble. Ray Price would NOT be the Guest; he had been called back suddenly to his home in Texas. Bobby Bare would be Eddie's Guest instead.
Well, if that don't beat all, I concluded! I actually considered leaving, and how had I known hours earlier I'd have sought a "rain check" or similar. And I certainly wouldn't have dressed up for a Bobby Bare appearance, as I had for a Ray Price event! But I was already there, so reason took over and persuaded me to stay and just enjoy the show as is.
When Eddie came on-stage in the little theater (I suppose it holds about 200, in fairly steep seating going down to a flat floor that serves as the stage), he apologized for Ray's absence. He pointed out that this is the 41st edition of "Intimate Evening" -- and the FIRST that the scheduled Guest couldn't show. He also was emphatic that Bobby Bare was NOT Price's "replacement" or "substitute", and the he'd actually wanted to get Bare on the show for some time. Now was the opportunity.
When the aired start of the show came along, it featured "Marie Lebowe", my least favorite of Bobby Bare's songs. I despise anything to do with witchcraft -- and this includes all the Harry Potter books and movies! This was thus NOT a good start for my experience of the show. I found myself remembering who HAD been scheduled to appear -- and plotting my escape at the earliest convenient and inconspicuous opportunity.
But I didn't, and I'm glad I didn't! That's the power of "The Air Castle of the South" -- a mistake or a necessary change often gets to shine in its own strength and grace. After a few words between Eddie and Bobby -- the Guest was very casually dressed (Eddie was wearing what he ALWAYS wears, suit and tie) -- we heard a second song: "Detroit City". And things took a decided turn for the BEST with this song. I've always liked "Detroit City' and considered it a heartfelt and heart-touching expression of homesickness for the faraway home of one's youth. "I wanna go home, I wanna go home! Oh, how I wanna go home!"
And things just got better from there on out. At one point Eddie and Bobby were reminiscing about early hits of Bobby's, and they named "Five Hundred Miles" and "Four Strong Winds". Well, dear reader, when I was a boy growing up in Idaho I heard both often on pop radio, and I loved them both. I identified them as folk songs, not country. But, as Music City has taught me, the line between "folk" and "country" is a very thin one!
Between songs there was lots of conversation about Bobby's life history. His is a standard biography of a country singer. After a rather difficult childhood and discovering that he liked to sing, pick guitar and write songs, his early years were lean -- or should I say "bare"? Actually at more than one point Bobby in relating some incident would make a rather racy or suggestive comment. And even tho' I didn't see Eddie's face go red, I could hear the embarrassment in his voice as he'd point out either that "there's 'intimate' for you" or "this IS a family show!"
At about half hour intervals (the broadcast show is two hours long) we'd have a break for commercials and the playing of a Bare song. During these breaks a certain number of the audience would be allowed to come to the stage floor and briefly greet Bobby or get his autograph or a snapshot with him. When it was my turn I did briefly shake hands and thank him for showing up on such short notice. But my greater interest was in speaking with my deejay hero, Eddie. I love talking with this fountain of country music information! Of course, in the time constraints of the moment all I could say this evening to Eddie was how I'd initially been disappointed with the change (from Ray to Bobby) and had I known earlier in the day I'd have requested a "rain check" -- but that I was GLAD I was there, because Bobby turned out to be so entertaining after all!
And then came a really pleasant surprise! Eddie announced that Bobby's long-time friend and "one of the 'Grand Ladies' of the Grand Ole Opry", Jan Howard, was present in the audience. He asked her to come to the stage floor and sit and talk about the main Guest. This was absolutely delightful! I cannot say that I'm an avid fan of Jan's, but I do like her. One of the alto singers in the Eastwood Christian Church choir, Peggy, in her looks causes me to think of Jeannie Seely with a strong touch of Jan Howard. Also, Jan's late ex-husband, Harlan Howard, a terrific songwriter and influence in country music, coined a very apt definition of the genre. "Country music is three chords and the truth" is written on a wall not far from the door into the Ford Theater.
Well, I suppose we were getting "the truth" about Bobby Bare tonite, in the "Intimate Evening"! And it was a very entertaining and musical truth!