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COUNTRY.....on the move!

COUNTRY.....on the move!
     We just had our SpringFest at the Oak Tree in Anita, Iowa.  It was a slam-dunk winner for us, we needed to raise some money to do work on the old theater which is what the Oak Tree is, and the three-day event proved to be one of the best we've had in the twenty years we've been in Anita.  Completely sold out for the Friday night show, similar with the Saturday night show.  Even the Saturday matinee, and the Sunday old-time gospel show had really large attendance, much more than we expected.  Super good talent participated in the fund-raising event.  Red Johnson, the Capitol Records artist who had 'There's A Grand Ole Opry Show Playing Somewhere" was with us.  Red, at the age of 84 is even more successful today, with over 30 of his songs on call for use on national television shows. His song "Mrs. Johnson" was recently on the most popular television show today, NCIS, and he's got more coming. Janine Sherry, one of the top Minnesota country songsters was also on the show, as was Emma Heyen, a young girl originally from China, but adopted by the Heyen family.  She is an Iowa girl and very popular in our state.  Lee Muller from Kansas has been a long-time country music professional as has Don Dimer from Colorado, and added tremendously to the weekend. Bob Duff came from California to emcee the show, and enjoyed introducing Clarence Hayden from Kansas, a remarkable baritone singer of country music classics, popular in the Rio Grande Valley and Branson.  He's already booked back at the Oak Tree for a June 9th concert.  The Oak Tree's regulars, Francis Hahn, David Green, and Rick & Harriette Andersen welcomed back to the stage our local songster Marge Lund. A Saturday matinee of 'youngsters' emceed by Kathy Graeve was a winner too.  It all means we have the money for some long-delayed work on the theater.
     After the super weekend, I had an opportunity to visit with a long-time lover of traditional and classic country music, and as we sat on the deck behind the Oak Tree we had a vigorous conversation about the future of this very music.  We talked about the state of the world, the state of America, the state of Iowa, and the state of the music we love.  So I asked him who his two favorite performers of country music today was that he really cared about.  And he, in turn, asked me who my favorite country music performers of all time were.  His 'picks' were very interesting to me.  He likes Vince Gill and Brad Paisley, both of whom came from great country music backgrounds. Vince Gill was born in Oklahoma and had a Bluegrass band "Mountain Smoke" while he was still in Junior High. He's proficient on banjo, guitar, mandolin, dobro, fiddle, and bass (at his father's request who was also a country artist and a lawyer), and much to the delight of both, Gill was made a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1991.  Our conversation about Gill centered around an interview he did with Dan Rather, who is also a great lover of traditional and classic country music, and is very knowledgeable of both.  At the end of the interview, Rather asked Gill who his favorite country music performer was.  Gill responded with a powerful "Merle Haggard." That led to a long conversation between my friend and I, about exactly what are the main ingredients of this kind of music.  "Wait," I said "how about my picks?"  Oh sure of course.  Mine were Hank Williams, Sr., and Johnny Cash.  I could have also added Jimmie Rodgers, but we could only pick two.  Hank is without a doubt one of the most magnificent 'writers' of true country music I am aware of.  And, his task to bring the listener to the core of his music relied on his vocal abilities of which he more than an ample source.  At the age of 12, the first time I heard "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" I did exactly that.  I cried, out on the prairie lands of the sandhills of Nebraska listening on my dad's battery car radio.  And 'Cash?"  How could it get any better, but he made me cry too.  When he released "Hurt" at the end of his live, I still can't listen to it without crying.  That's when my friend and I had our long conversation about Brad Paisley.  Paisley has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 2001, has sold 12 million albums and has 3 Grammy's compared to Gill's 21.  BUT, Paisley just wrote the music to one of Johnny Cash's poems, "Gold All Over The Ground" which is on his newest album "Love and War," so my second choice, Johnny Cash, is right in there, at least as a writer.  Paisley is from West Virginia, and has the same 'coaching' in the family that Gill had.  His grandfather gave him is first guitar, a Sears & Roebuck Silvertone.  He, like Gill, advanced his traditional country music by being asked to be a regular on a successful radio show, the Wheeling Jamboree while he was still in Junior High.  He went on to become one of the biggest sellers of country music today. 
     So where did that leave us with our 'save country music' conversation.  We both agreed, that his two picks, Vince Gill and Brad Paisley might very well be the ones who will keep, at least some of the basics of original country music, in their works.  We also both agreed that the music starts with the song.  In this case we both think "Gold All Over The Ground" is the winner.  The song has already reached the ears of the Rural Roots Music Commission, and if all goes well, it might very well be their select for 'True Country Song of the Year" this year.  All depends on logistics.  We also agreed, for country music to remain 'true' country music, the artist has to somehow have a 'country' background of some sort.  It's easy to be from New York City with a lot of money and create a country song that winds up on the charts, but that isn't really 'true' country music.  It's just not the same as it used to be.  It used to be that country music had to come from the country. That made sense to both of us.  Neither does it necessarily interfere with that nefarious word 'progress.'  It's not an attempt to just 'stop' music advancement, it's an attempt at retaining the real meaning of the word 'country.' To really be a 'country' artist, and a country artist of note, you somehow have to have inspiration from previous real country music stars.  Maybe that's why when Vince Gill told Dan Rather that his favorite country music artist was Merle Haggard, it kind of made a lot of sense to both of us, that both his picks are both of our picks for today's world of country music.
     That inspired my wife Sheila and I to keep our  'stick to it' attitude.  We've booked some really super country music artist at the Oak Tree.  May 26 is Aces & Eights from Rapid City, SD, some incredibly gifted artists; Clarence Hayden from Branson on June 9th; Betty Rydell from Minnesota on June 16th, and Storm Seymour and Snow on June 30th.  We can send a schedule if you like 712-762-4363, or simply visit our website at www.music-savers.com 
Bob Everhart for Country Music News International

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