Thanks to Michael Berry, my wife and I got to see the Oak Ridge Boys Friday night at the Redneck Country Club. Oh man, did that ever take me back in time. I’ve been a fan of the Oaks since the 1970s and this was the second time I’ve gotten to see them in concert. Although I consider myself to be a big fan of theirs I admittedly haven’t listened to anything other than “Elvira” and “Bobbie Sue” in the past several years.
After all these years, even decades in some cases, I found myself singing along with old songs as if they were popular on the airwaves today. Hearing songs like “Dream On,” “Sail Away,” “Y’all Come Back Saloon” and “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” turned me into a teenager once again as part of the soundtrack of my youth played out live on stage from the mouths of septuagenarians.
Don’t let their age fool you. These guys have still got it. Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban may be long in the tooth but they are full of energy and their smooth harmonies haven’t skipped a beat or soured a single note.
Throughout the 1970s I listened almost exclusively to country western music. You can’t do that and not be a fan of the Oak Ridge Boys. Their Greatest Hits album (which, ironically, came out before they made their greatest hits) was one of the first albums I ever owned. I had it on cassette and nearly wore it out because I listened to it so much. Sadly, someone stole it from me the same summer that I got to see them for the first time in concert.
I was working on camp staff at the Ben Delatour Scout Ranch in Red Feather Lakes, Colo., when we got word that the Oak Ridge Boys would be performing a couple hours away at Cheyenne Frontier Days. It must have been about 1982 or ’83. It was a weekend show and my buddies and I wanted to see them. We went up and stayed with a friend from camp who lived there.
We spent the day at Cheyenne Frontier Days taking in all the sights and sounds. Buying a concert ticket on a camp staff budget wasn’t going to happen, so we thought we would stroll around and listen from outside the rodeo arena. As the show started, we happened across a gate that was unchained and hanging open. With quick glances and not saying a word, we slipped inside and found seats high up in the bleachers.
It was one of the most spectacular concerts I’ve ever seen and to this day is one of the most memorable. I don’t know what made it more memorable, the show itself or the adrenaline rush of having sneaked in. Either way, it was one of those youthful indiscretions that I have never forgotten.
“Elvira” and “Bobbie Sue” were still getting ample airtime on the radio and the Oak Ridge Boys just nailed them both that night in Cheyenne. I was totally captivated by the energy and passion the quartet showed on stage.
Fast-forward about 30-some years and little has changed in that regard. That came as a complete and pleasant surprise to me. About a month ago I had just hung up the phone from an interview with B.J. Thomas (who is coming to the Stafford Centre on May 4) when a publicist called me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to do an interview with the Oak Ridge Boys.
As much as I didn’t want to give free publicity to a venue that doesn’t advertise with our paper, there was no way on earth I was going to turn down the opportunity to interview one of my childhood favorites. A couple weeks later I had Richard Sterban (the one with the really deep voice) on the phone. Initially, I wasn’t impressed. He sounded old. Having just recently been disappointed in Willie Nelson’s concert at Rodeo Houston, I thought I was going to be in for another letdown.
During the conversation, Sterban slipped into “interview mode” and rambled on, hitting all the usual points of an artist interview. I didn’t even have to ask many questions.
Then the power blinked and the call was disconnected.
As we struggled to get everything back up again, he called back and left a message with me at the same time I was trying to call him back. He was determined to make sure we finished the interview. That changed my opinion in a heartbeat. He could have just let it go, but he showed the decency and integrity to follow through with it.
The publicist, Sanford “Sandy” Brokaw, said the club’s owner, Michael Berry, liked the story I wrote so much that he agreed to leave me a pair of tickets. When my wife and I got to the door, the tickets weren’t there and our names were not on the list. No worries, Berry’s people cleared things up and we got in.
Now at this point I need to stop and give a shout-out to Michael Berry and the Redneck Country Club. I rarely drink and I’m no fan of bars. This place, however, was different. It was clean and well managed. The décor was tastefully tacky. The staff and patrons were all very friendly and accommodating. As a photojournalist for the last 36 years, I’ve learned to get a little pushy to get the shots I need. I fell into that mode as I tried to see through the crowds to get clear shots of the stage. To my surprise, people stepped aside and invited me to move up to get pictures. I never in my life would have thought that would happen in a crowded bar.
What really made a lasting impression, however, was when Berry came on stage to introduce the Oak Ridge Boys. He made a point to honor the military veterans in attendance as well as make sure everyone understood that wives are respected there.
“This is a place to bring a date, not find one,” he said.
That is classy. Really classy. I don’t know Michael Berry, but my respect for him is sky high.
As the concert was ending, I came to the realization that I’ve now seen the Oak Ridge Boys twice and have never bought a ticket. I think I might owe them for that. Fortunately they are coming back in October to do a charity concert at the Redneck Country Club. I think I’ll just have to buy tickets to that show. In the meantime, I’ve got plenty of time to work on my oom poppa oom poppa mow mows.