4th of July
The Fourth of July is upon us. And as you might imagine, it’s one of my favorite holidays. My reverie is full of wonderful memories of the 25 years we held a concert in our hometown, Staunton, VA. It started out as a local event of us saying thank you to the homefolks. Then it started growing and bursting at the seams and became an international attraction that filled Staunton with 75,000 to 100,000 each year for a three-day stretch. Thinking back on those sweet years, 1970 – 1994, the Random Memories kick in:
• Carl Perkins and Mac Wiseman (who is going into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year) were our guests for the 2nd celebration in 1971. Johnny Cash walked into the room while we were asking Carl if he would come that year and he just stood there until we finished talking. He then looked at us and said, “When are you going ask me?” Quick thinking as we were, one of us said, “We were going to ask you next.” Truth of the matter was it was early in our career and we didn’t want to impose on John as the Happy Birthday USA event was still new and not the event it became to be. We weren’t sure he would be willing to come, but that’s the kind of man and mentor he was to us. Sure do miss him and so does the music industry. He and June came as our guests in 1973.
• Bill Anderson is the oldest friendship we have in Country Music. He was on the very first tour the night we were hired by Johnny Cash in Canton, Ohio in 1964. Bill said he would love to come for the 4th and that he had a ball team made up of his band and road company. Would we like to play him in a softball game on the afternoon before the concert in 1974? Sure, we said and put together the best softball team you have ever seen. We got all the good athletes from this area and even included our recently retired hometown star, Jerry May, who had been a catcher for the Pirates, Mets and Royals. Needless to say, the four Statlers were the least talented players on the team. We won and Bill, bless his heart has never let us forget it. Every time I see him, he hugs me and then steps back and says, “I’m still mad about that ballgame, you know.”
• No money was ever exchanged between us and our guests. The deal each year was if they would come do our charity celebration for free, we would go anywhere for their charity and return the favor. When Barbara Mandrell came in 1979, we returned her kindness by playing in her celebrity golf tournament down in Alabama for three days. We all four are horrible golfers. We hardly know which end of the club to hold but we played right along with the pros and other guests and come the Putting Contest, wouldn’t you know it, Harold came in third. He has, as the prize, a gold-plated putter hanging on his wall as proof to this very day.
• The final one in ’94 holds many, many nice memories for us, but here is one Debbie and I still shake our heads and cringe about. We were throwing an after-the-show party at our house for all the Statlers and our guests, friends and family. It was to start at 11:30 p.m., so she and I rushed home and did last minute things with the caterers who were already there. At about 11p.m. a lone car comes up the driveway and U.S. Senator Chuck Robb and his wife, Lynda Bird, hop out and say, “I know we’re early but is there anything we can do to help?” So Debbie has the Senator and President Johnson’s daughter filling up ice buckets and moving furniture. It’s a surreal souvenir from the past that the two of us still laugh about.
• I know many of you made that trek to Staunton so many years ago and we appreciate it so much. This year it will be another quiet 4th by the pool with the family, but in my mind I will still hear the crowd and the fireworks and the sweet music of all our friends who came and made it a memory that will outlast the ages.
HAPPY 4TH OF JULY, God bless and have a safe one.
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