1 NIGHT 1 PLACE 1 TIME
A HEROES & FRIENDS TRIBUTE TO RANDY TRAVIS
FEBRUARY 8, 2017
Reviewer: Patti McClintic
In 2013, country music superstar, Randy Travis suffered a near fatal stroke. If the story had ended back then, I wouldn’t be sitting at a keyboard writing this review, and thousands of people wouldn’t have witnessed one of the most incredible nights of music ever. I think we’re all eternally grateful things turned out so much better.
Here we are in 2017, and the time was right. So many of Randy Travis’s fellow country music artists (and a comedian), wanted to celebrate all of his achievements in coming back from what seemed impossible. Certainly he has a long way to go yet, but he’s done things the doctors said he wouldn’t, and his spirit appears to be unstoppable. They also wanted to thank him for opening so many doors in country music. This was a repeated theme during the show. Over and over you would hear how Randy Travis paved the way for so many artists during a period of time when country music was becoming stagnant. There are a lot of thankful musicians out there, and they’re all giving due credit to Mr. Randy Travis for their success. That, you can bet your bottom dollar on.
When first asked to review this show, my initial reaction was to be thrilled, and then terrified. The laundry list of artists seemed to go on for days. I was up for it, but then it was as if that list just grew weekly, almost up until showtime. This was no ragtag talent show though. For all the entertainers that performed, this thing ran like clockwork. Each artist had one song, with the exception of Kenny Rogers, who had two, but, hey, he’s Kenny Rogers. He gets two. Who wants to argue? They did their song, had a quick word with Randy Travis and off the stage they went, and the next artist was on. Assembly line fashion, perhaps, because the artists were generally working with Randy Travis’s band, and didn’t need to do any crazy switching around of equipment, but it was smooth and kept things moving.
Nashville Mayor, Megan Barry took the stage first to declare February 8, 2017, “Randy Travis Day”. Thousands of adoring fans in the arena seemed to think that was a good idea, and with that little matter of business taken care of, it was time to get to the music.
The first act to take the stage were The Bellamy Brothers. Celebrating 40 years in the music business, Howard and David, fresh off a multi-country tour, sang Randy Travis’s 1986 song “Diggin’ Up Bones”. When asked in the pre-show, why they chose that song, their answer was easy. “Because of the harmonies.” They also made sure to mention that they practiced that song in just about every country they played on their recent tour. They played it well, so it really goes to show, practice does make perfect.
Chuck Wicks was up next, and from this point, I was starting to notice a difference in crowd reaction, based on the older artists versus the newer artists. I was sitting in a section with an interesting generational cross-section of people, and clearly, some knew exactly who Chuck Wicks was, and some had no idea. This was where I decided to really pay attention to how the rest of the night went as far as artist recognition. Wicks performed 1992’s “If I Didn’t Have You”, which not only left the crowd happy, it elicited a noticeable groove from Mr. Randy Travis himself on the Jumbotron. I would call that the ultimate compliment.
“Point of Light” was a song writers Don Schlitz and Thom Schuyler were commissioned to write in response to then United States President, George H.W. Bush’s, “Thousand Points of Light” program, which supported volunteerism. Collin Raye performed the song beautifully, as thousands of cell phone lights illuminated the arena. It was one of the more moving moments of the evening.
They say everyone in Nashville is a musician trying to get a record deal. Well, not everyone. There was one guy playing Bridgestone arena who openly admitted he didn’t have a record deal, but he had one thing nobody else there did. “I’m related to the man of the hour.” True. He is. Ricky Traywick, brother to Randy Travis, and quite talented in his own right, played a rousing version of “Before You Kill Us All”.
So far, it had been the boys club, but it was time to change that up. Enter Alison Krauss. Krauss sang 1988’s “Deeper Than The Holler”, which was also Travis’s 8th #1 single. Krauss’s voice is almost ethereal, especially when mixed in with all the other male voices that were present at this show. Always a pleasure to listen to, almost mysterious, as if trying to figure out a puzzle. How does her voice do that? It’s so utterly perfect, and calming. She played some fiddle and she brought a backup vocalist, who didn’t stay in the background for long. He took centerstage next.
From backing vocals to being the next performer, Jamey Johnson had me on the edge of my seat, as he sang a very somber version of “Promises” from 1989. You could almost hear a pin drop, except for an occasional cheer. This is a powerful song, and played that well, with Randy Travis sitting right there watching, deserves extra recognition.
Montgomery Gentry took the stage next, playing the jaunty number, “Too Gone, Too Long”, which was Travis’s 5th #1 song. Troy Gentry played guitar and, as always, Eddie Montgomery came wearing his standard uniform, black hat and a black coat. You could tell, they had fun with this song.
Not everyone sang a Randy Travis song. Some people chose to sing a song written by a family member. Not just any family member, however, but a family member that country music fans worldwide often consider the greatest country music artist of all time – Merle Haggard. Ben Haggard, son of the late Merle Haggard, came out with his guitar and sang, “Are The Good Times Really Over”. Emotional because the song is a classic, even more haunting because Ben Haggard truly does sound like his father. Easily one of the highlights of the night.
More important business was then addressed concerning a new stroke task force in Tennessee, which is poised to be the best stroke task force in the United States. This, thanks, in part to the Randy Travis Foundation, which raises money for stroke research and rehabilitation. This evening was certainly about music and celebration, but some serious work was being accomplished as well, as all proceeds from the night were going toward the Randy Travis Foundation.
Never doubt the power of social media. Kane Brown, who more or less bucked the system, and landed a record deal by posting videos of himself singing cover songs on Facebook, was the next artist to sing a Randy Travis song on the big stage at Bridgestone. Admitting he was “nervous”, but managing to belt out the very well known, “King of the Road” just the same, this newcomer proved that you should never lose sight of your wildest dreams.
James Dupre, contestant from The Voice, sang “Heroes and Friends” and seemed extremely grateful for the experience. He’s young and has a bright future, he’s one to keep an eye on to see what he comes up with next.
“Honky Tonk Moon”, Randy Travis’s 7th and 5th consecutive #1 hit in the United States, was sung by Rodney Atkins, who has long been a favorite of country music fans. Coming out with his guitar and his ball cap, it was like seeing an old friend in a huge crowd of strangers.
Described in his introduction as having “one of the more traditional voices in country music”, Joe Nichols came out singing just that way. “The Storms of Life” was his song. Dressed in all black, and looking every bit the traditional country boy as he sounded, he was spot on from start to finish.
One of the big moments was on deck and people were waiting for it. If you didn’t know the set order, you were clamoring for this one. When Kenny Rogers was announced, people rose to their feet. A legend was about to take the stage, and people were scrambling for cell phones. They needed pictures! Don’t worry people, I wanted to say, he’s got two songs, you’ve got a little time! It wouldn’t have mattered. This was country music royalty. They were going to snap pictures and take video the entire time he was out there, even if it took all night.
Rogers was chatty, which added to his charm. He started off with an explanation for the obvious limp he had getting on to the stage. He had a recent knee replacement. “I think they replaced the wrong knee”, he quipped. His chattiness led into a soft ballad, “Love Lifted Me”. This didn’t put the audience into their seats though. They remained standing for this legend, and they were rewarded for their efforts, when he followed it up with one of his biggest hits, “The Gambler”. Complete with old video from the movie, “The Gambler”, this was a multimedia bonus sideshow and people loved it.
As I said earlier, this show could really jump from legendary artist, to relative newcomer in a hurry, and here again, we went from Kenny Rogers, who started his career in the 1950’s, to William Michael Morgan, who just had his first number one hit, “I Met a Girl” in 2016. The organizers of this show were definitely out to please every generation, and hopefully to get younger people to appreciate the legends and older folks to learn to love the new artists.
William Michael Morgan, might be, in some ways, compared to Randy Travis. Randy Travis was often said to have, “saved country music” back in the 1980’s. It was said to have been in a “dead space”, and Randy Travis came along and broke down barriers, and got people listening to country music again. Morgan came along at a time when many people were tiring of the direction some country music was going. When they heard his sound, they were inspired to give it another chance, feeling he had more of a “traditional” sound. Whatever the case, people seem to be liking what they hear. The song he performed was “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart”, which spent 4 weeks at #1 on Billboard Magazine’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks Chart. This made it become the first song to stay that long atop the chart in 12 years and the last to accomplish that feat since the 1978 song, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.
It’s true, the ladies were outnumbered, but when you think about the ones that did show up, they packed a pretty powerful punch, so it was quality over quantity. Tanya Tucker, who scored her first hit with “Delta Dawn” at age 13 in 1972, came out to sing the immensely popular #1 Randy Travis song, “I Told You So” from 1988. Elegant and controlled, it was a showstopper.
A video message of good wishes to Randy Travis from country artist Ricky Van Shelton popped up on all the big screens in the house, making mention of their “Nashville Palace days”, proving everyone has their humble beginnings. This would be followed by other such messages, from the likes of Charlie Daniels. The love was coming from everywhere, even those who couldn’t be present.
Tennessee Governor, Bill Haslam came out, in another matter of important housekeeping, declaring February 8, 2017, “Stroke Prevention and Awareness Day” in Tennessee.
Contemporary Christian artist Michael W. Smith chose to sing a non-Travis song, deciding “I wouldn’t sound anything like Randy Travis, so I decided to sing a worship song.” Accompanied by a cellist, he played piano and sang, “Walk With Me”. It was very well received and clearly appreciated by both Travis and his wife.
Neal McCoy, who felt he may have “invited himself” to the “shindig”, by texting Mary Travis and asking if he could be a part of it, chose to sing a gospel song, “His Eye Is On The Sparrow”. He did this song justice and showed exactly how diverse his voice really is. The man can really belt out a song with conviction, and because it turns out this is one of Randy and Mary’s favorite songs, it was extra special for all of them.
Billy Joel may be the “Piano Man” of pop music, but can there be any argument that Phil Vassar is the “Piano Man” of country music? Give him a piano and magic happens every single time. Usually he’s jumping on top of it, or playing it while facing the audience or some other crazy thing, but this time, he just sat there, played it and sang. In one of the night’s most outstanding performances, Vassar performed “More Life”. There isn’t much to say except it was fairly close to perfection. The song has incredible lyrics, the musicianship was stellar, and it was the right song for the right person.
As with any good show, you need balance. Well, things were certainly balanced out next. From a very deep and moving Phil Vassar performance, we move on to none other than… Jeff Foxworthy and his kidney stones. Yes, it seems Jeff Foxworthy had a terrible case of kidney stones, so bad in fact, that he would have rather gone private parts first into a badger, or something like that, than have another kidney stone. The man is funny. He had people laughing. He had Randy Travis laughing. Hysterically. It was some great levity. Like he said, his mom tells him he doesn’t have to tell people EVERYTHING, but EVERYTHING pays pretty well. Indeed it does Jeff. Indeed it does. Keep telling us. We love it.
Say the word, “Bluegrass”, and if people know country music, they will immediately think of Ricky Skaggs. He came out and whipped through 1996’s “Would I” like the professional that he always is. When I say he whipped through, he really did. Like the wind. Came in, did the song, and out he went. Like a boss. It was all business and it was great.
As fast as Ricky Skaggs tore it up, country supergroup, Alabama came in and slowed it down. With a choir, no less. Singing “Angels Among Us”, to a standing ovation and a cheering audience, this was something to see. The world loves this band. They really love this band.
Back to some more business, Peter Strickland, of Warner Music, came out to present Randy Travis with a rather large plaque, and to recognize his many achievements. The list was long and very impressive. To list them all here would take up far too much space, but I recommend everyone look them up. He’s done it all, and he’s won it all, and I don’t see that he’s finished yet. He’s an extremely talented artist and an amazing human being.
Two of country’s favorite sons came out together and sang “A Few Ole Country Boys”. Daryle Singletary and Mark Chesnutt did justice to the 1990 Randy Travis/George Jones duet. It was another case of the right guys for the job.
If we’re talking about hiring the right guy for the job, oh my, did the casting director have a good day! If you ask a person to name a Randy Travis song, they might not know many if they aren’t a superfan, but they might know this one. “Three Wooden Crosses”. It’s a staple. People know it. Some think it’s a heartbreaker, but most think it’s inspiring. No matter what way you think of it, it’s a really good song, and somebody with a really great voice has to cover it at a Randy Travis tribute show, with Randy Travis sitting right there on the stage watching. How about we pick Josh Turner? Do you think he can handle it? You bet he can, and he did. In spades. I’m sure others could have done it well, but he did it exceptionally well. I would love to know if he was nervous, because he seemed cool as a cucumber up there. Like he’d been singing it every day for years. If I had to give out awards for best performance of the night, he might get it. He had a Herculean task. He stepped up.
So, I’ve covered this guy before, and I don’t know if he’s ever going to fail me. If he does, his fans certainly will not. He turns every performance into a party. He shows up every time and he always loves what he does. Travis Tritt took 1991’s “Better Class of Losers”, already a fun song, and added confetti. Before he even sang, he took the time to thank Randy Travis, a former label mate of his, for opening so many doors for so many artists. Ever gracious, ever thankful, this man doesn’t take his career for granted. He knows he’s fortunate, and this isn’t an easy business. So many young artists need to look to him as they begin their own careers. Every step upward is a blessing, and Travis Tritt knows that. Work hard, and be thankful. With that, he rocked the song and Bridgestone Arena rocked right along with him. They were all a better class of losers at the Randy Travis Tribute. This is why I also say his fans never fail. They feel his love and appreciation of his craft, and they give that love right back to him all the time, every time. Just look at his fan pages. They amaze me.
Who would think, in a town nicknamed Music City, that someone most well known as a television star, would be so anticipated as a performer at a country music tribute show? Anybody that’s a fan of the CMT hit show, “Nashville”, that’s who. Charles “Chip” Esten, better known on the show as “Deacon Claybourne”, and a very talented musician in his own right, was one of the artists that fans attending the show most wanted to see. Ladies love him because he’s got the look, and he really can sing. He sang Travis’s 4th #1 hit, “I Won’t Need You Anymore” and it was stunning. He’s not just one of those guys that plays a singer on TV. He can really do it.
There are some people that you just know you like even if you’ve never met them. I like Wynonna. She talked a bit before she sang, mostly to Randy Travis. She talked about how we’re “losing legends”. She talked about how back in the day when she and her Mama toured with Randy Travis, they “were really something”. She has spunk. I enjoy that. She also took on another of his biggest songs, and she nailed it. “On The Other Hand” was first recorded by Keith Whitley on the 1985 album “L.A. to Miami”. It was later released by Randy Travis and peaked at #67. It was later re-released in April of 1986 and became his first #1 in the United States and Canada. This song had a lot of meaning behind it, and she completely handled it. We may be losing some legends, but I think in Wynonna, we are on the road to gaining another.
It’s been a while now since we first met Scotty McCreery on Season 10 of American Idol. He’s looking a lot more grown up now and he still sounds great. He performed Travis’s “1982” and he did it so well, the camera guys couldn’t help but going back to Randy and Mary Travis several times and putting their smiling faces up on the big screens for everyone to see. No reviewer worth their salt would argue with the job he did.
Next up was Michael Ray. “He Walked On Water” from 1990 is a fairly heavy ballad and Ray delivered. In fact, I think he might have even surprised a few of the “old schoolers” who didn’t know who he was. I was checking some faces around me and they were transfixed during this performance. I will bet you he gained some fans based on this one cover song on this one night. I can’t say enough good things.
The world loves Chris Young. He was another that people were looking forward to. He admitted that the song he chose was one of his favorites. 1994’s “This is Me” was a very good choice for him and he was right on the money. HIs fans loved it. Those who were unfamiliar with him loved it. The song has a simple theme, but Young’s voice made it come across as pretty powerful.
Nashville has one thing nowhere else has. The most talented songwriters in the world. Tons of them. All in one place. All the time. How lucky were we to have Paul Overstreet, the writer of so many of Randy Travis’s songs, in the house at this very special tribute show? We were really lucky! We were even luckier to have him sing one of them. He sat down with his guitar and sang “No Place Like Home”. Written in 1986 and still sounding as sweet as ever. With his cowboy hat, one might mistake him for a fan walking down Broadway, and that’s the beauty of this town. People blend in. You might never know who you’re standing next to in the grocery store line. The guy who wrote one of the best songs ever could be that guy, but you don’t know, and you don’t need to know. They blend in, and they like it that way. Humble and unassuming. That’s exactly how he played the song, and it came off as extraordinarily beautiful. One of my favorite parts of the entire show, hands down. Songwriters make it happen. Let’s never forget that.
He was on the bill, but he hadn’t come out yet. Who else was left? Was there anyone else? Could he be next? Check the time. He could be next. Sure enough, all the announcer had to do was mention those seven diamond certified albums, and everybody knew, Garth Brooks was coming out next. Guess what? It wasn’t your usual Garth Brooks though. This wasn’t HIS night. This was Randy Travis’s night, and you just knew the second Brooks hit the stage, he wasn’t stealing anybody’s spotlight. Brooks didn’t come out in a gleaming cowboy hat all decked out, ready for his moment in the manufactured sunlight. He came out in a ballcap, unshaven, ready to sing a Randy Travis song. It was all for Randy tonight. He belted out “Forever and Ever, Amen” the best way he knew how, and he did it very, very well, and then, he turned everything over to the group, so they might sing together, because this was about everyone, showering their love and appreciation on Randy Travis.
The entire group, everyone, came out to sing “Amazing Grace” and they weren’t finished. They sang “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” before the lights came up and everyone left to go their separate ways. This was nothing short of a group effort, even if all but the ending were individual performances. This took some very busy people away from their lives for a common reason. Was it personal gain? Likely not. Was it to play “the big stage”? Doubtful. Was it to honor a legend and to help a cause that we can all relate to in some way? Almost positively, yes. This is why we’re here, and this is why they were there. You could feel it in that building, and it’s something that will never happen again in quite that way. If you were there, you know. Be thankful.