Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Another "Intimate Evening" at Hall of Fame

Eddie Stubbs, deejay on WSM-AM 650, emcee on the Grand Ole Opry show, and all-around fountain of information about the history of country music, had his monthly "Intimate Evening" show last night. It was in the Ford Theater of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. George Hamilton IV, who is soon to celebrate 50 years as member of the Opry cast, was Eddie's Guest, and I was one in the audience.

This was my third attendance at the "Intimate Evening", and since at the second the unreliable Nashville MTA made me late (see blog post of 3 September 2009), I made sure to take a bus early in the evening. To pass time I browsed in the Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Broadway, where a candle burned in memory of the just-deceased country music icon Carl Smit. Then I strolled the block over to Demonbreun Street and entered the Hall of Fame. A long line of audience guests lined the walls of the lobby and listened to David Andersen, styled the "Ambassador of Music City", play classic country hit tunes on his guitar.

Once we entered and got seated I saw that the auditorium was over two thirds full. To my surprise Eddie and I were not the only men dressed in suits and ties; there were quite a few others. Even songwriter John Loudermilk sported a necktie. He wrote George Hamilton IV's earliest hit, the pop standard "A Rose and a Baby Ruth". We also learned during the show that not only George IV and son George V who sings with his dad had their family present (including young George VI), but also in attendance were some members of their church in Williamson Country including clergy!

The song that opened the show once broadcasting over WSM commenced at seven, was "Break My Mind" -- which I hadn't even associated with George IV! While the recording was still airing the Opry star himself came out to sit near Eddie. He wore his current standard apparel: a blue and white checkered or windowpane shirt and two pieces of a dark blue three-piece suit; the vest bore a Roman numeral IV. Three chairs in the stage area gave clear clue that George V would at some time be in the show.

Much of the show was Eddie interviewing George IV, and also John Loudermilk (about the background to "A Rose and a Baby Ruth") and George V. The senior George is touted as "The International Ambassador of Country Music", and we learned that this was due to a BBC fellow years ago. George IV has traveled and sung in almost as many countries overseas as he hasn't -- he did admit he's never performed in South America (which he regrets). In 1974 he got to perform in the former Iron Curtain satellite of Czechoslovakia -- and then in the very capital of the USSR itself! He told some wonderful anecdotes that showed how music is truly an international language that overcomes borders and artificial barriers. For me his testimony also seconded what a visit years ago to an exhibit of Russian religious art had taught me. Atheistic communism was doomed to fall sooner or later and the USSR vanish, because the Russians and their neighbors have deep spiritual roots.

As deeply moving as was his account of the visit behind the former Iron Curtain, I think the highlight of the evening happened when the two Georges took guitars and played and sang live a song written by George V. Live performance is hardly ever done during an "Intimate Evening" session! The song was "We Will Meet Again", a beautiful, sung testimony to hope and faith. They dedicated it to Carl Smith, whose funeral had been that day down in Williamson County.

Then, as if one live song wasn't enough, toward the end the father and son duet sat up on the stools again, guitar in hand and did "Forever Young" as a finale. I'd heard the two sing this song more than once while listening to the Opry. And now I was being blessed with "Forever Young" being done right before my eyes, not twenty feet away!

But wait one minute, the show wasn't over yet. (In fact, it ran overtime, to about seven after nine.) George V produced a gift for Eddie: a poster with rural emblems and the words "Think globally, act hillbilly." Laugh out loud! He spoke of how he had difficulty getting approval for the concept of the poster, because it was feared folk would find it offensive (due to the "hillbilly" word). But it took off like a rocket when finally available. And George V added that many of the customers were businessmen in suits and ties! Let me tell you, dear reader, yours truly wouldn't mind possessing a copy of "Think globally, act hillbilly." It really appeals to me!

No comments: