It really was one for the books. The journey began, innocently enough, early Thursday morning, November 2. With my old buddy Tim Shook in tow, I headed north for Gastonia, NC, where I would meet up with our designated driver and fellow music freak Roxanne Lark and her co-worker/friend Colleen Knights. Once we arrived, we stepped into the Lark mansion, said howdy to Rocky’s better half Robert, kissed the dog Shelly (an ultra-sweet great dane) and piled into the van, pointed it west, and took off with Roxanne Earnhardt, I mean Lark, at the wheel. The woman can flat drive, and as we hugged the curves in the Gorge heading through North Carolina toward Knoxville, I thought to myself, “This must be what it’s like to ride in a NASCAR.”
Along the way, we made a stop somewhere near Pigeon Forge to meet Brenda, wife of our buddy Preston Leaphart, to pick up an acoustic guitar he donated for the event auction. We met where every good Southerner meets, at the Wal-Mart! Thanks again to them Leaphart kids. Later that night, the guitar would be signed by some of the the finest musicians ever.
Speaking of Southern, the gang took in a good meal along the way at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, my own favorite place to dine on the road. It always feels so comfortable and Southern.
Ginger Ambrose, who works with Charlie Daniels, had kindly donated a fiddle signed by Charlie for the auction. We agreed to go by Charlie’s office in Lebanon to pick it up. Now, between my bad memory (last time I was at the office was 1996) a bizarre, demon-possessed GPS that kept repeating “make a u-turn, make a u-turn, make a u-turn” until my brain exploded inside my cranium, and the fact that there are more Pikes in Tennessee than there are Peachtree Streets in Atlanta, we nearly never found it. Once we were convinced we found it, we pulled up to a gate that was closed. The long drive lead down to a log structure, and I remembered Charlie’s office being in a log structure. We couldn’t get anybody on the phone, so Tim got out and hustled all the way down the drive to the cabin, where he knocked on the door, and looked through the windows - no signs of life. About this time, I called Ginger and discovered that we were in the wrong drive way. Tim was trespassing! Run Forest, run!
Once we found the right driveway, Charlie Daniels, Jr. met us at the end of the drive with the fiddle. I sure am glad Tim didn’t get a butt-tocks full of buckshot.
Earnhardt got us out of there, and we were back in business. We got into Nashville with just enough time to check into the Hotel Preston (a place I had last stayed with the Swampdawamp guys back in February, 2010 the day before I went blind for a year, but that, as they say, is another story.) I love The Preston. The folks there are always the very nicest people. I highly recommend you check it out. Over by the airport.
After everybody freshened up, we piled back into the KIA and drove over to 3rd and Lindsley. Now this was my first time here, although I had heard many great stories about magical musical moments that had occurred in this legendary venue, so I was understandably excited. All of that plus they have a brand new stage that just rocks.
From the time I walked in it was like ... remember in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy opens the door of the house and it goes from black and white to color? It was like that the whole night for me. So many friends, so much great music.
I have to stop right here and say a huge “Thank you” to Rick Broyles for putting the benefit together to help little ol’ me. (Little?) Rick and his brother Bob are long-time friends of mine, and salt of the earth cats for sure. Another big thank you goes out to Chris Gilbert for work above and beyond the call in helping Rick get the back line and the whole massive undertaking done. All you fellers are the best.
I cannot begin to say how many great friends showed up, or describe how full my heart was all night long. I love you all. Do I sound like Michael Jackson? Too bad. I mean it!
First up on the stage was my dear friend Donnie Winters from The Winters Brothers Band, a man who never fails to show up for a friend, and never fails to play his heart out. From his timeless “Shotgun Rider” to his yodels and his beautiful songs in the style of his father Don Winters and mentor Marty Robbins, Donnie sounded amazing. As always.
Next up was former Outlaw, current Ghost Riders member Steve Grisham with fellow Ghost Rider and former Pure Prairie League bassist Phill Stokes. The boys sounded great, playing acoustic versions of one of Grisham’s Outlaws songs, “Keeping Our Love Alive,” and a great tune he wrote called “Roots.” Steve and Phil were excellent. Then they brought up drummer Don Kendrick for the blues number “Handy Man.” So nice.
I went backstage to the green room where The Outlaws were pouring in, getting their guitars out of their cases and tuning up. The room by now was just packed with folks. Friends, old and new. It was then that Tim told me Bonnie Bramlett was in the house. I went out and hugged my friend and sat with her while The Outlaws did their magic. And magic it was. I had not yet seen this line up, and this was my first face to face meeting with Billy Crain, brother of my dear friend Tommy, who passed away early this year.
The Outlaws started off with “There Goes Another Love Song,” and didn’t let up. Bonnie and I were both in hog heaven as Henry Paul sang to beat the band, with fellow original Outlaw Monte Yoho on drums, Randy Threet on bass, and Billy Crain and Chris Anderson on lead guitars. The twin leads of Chris and Billy were nothing short of stellar. The band rocked through “Freeborn Man,” “Hurry Sundown,” (my favorite), and many more, including a great new Outlaws song. I was happy to hear them play the Henry Paul Band Skynyrd tribute “Grey Ghost,” and the jam at the end had me (and Bonnie) on our feet screaming. Southern Rock the way God intended it to be played. Of course they closed with a ten minute plus “Green Grass and High Tides,” and I was fit to be tied.
After their set, I joined everyone in the green room for photos, and somewhere around this time Bekka Bramlett showed up backstage, wearing a shirt she had decorated with my name, “Buffalo.” It was the sweetest thing. I got my hugs from Bekka, and Bonnie walked in and we were just having a ball talking, and taking pictures. Roxanne was the consummate professional photographer, and I was having serious fun for the first time in a while. Thanks again to The Outlaws for performing. What an honor.
Soon Bonnie and I returned to our seats to sit and listen to Bekka sing. Tonight she was joined by the great John Coleman on keys. Currently a member of the Trace Adkins band, John was once a member of The Outlaws as well.
Throughout Bekka’s set Bonnie kept expounding her pride in her daughter. It was very sweet. Bekka, in turn, gave more than one shout out to her Mommy from the stage.
Bekka’s set included “What Happens in Vegas,” “One,” “Used,” and “When It Rains,” a simply beautiful tune. Her songwriting is impeccable, and her voice, well, she is after all the daughter of Delaney and Bonnie. But she sings from the gut, from the depths of her soul. She feels the music,and therefore, so do we.
John sang a couple of his great songs as well, which were show stoppers themselves. Then they brought up drummer Don Kendrick and harp man Coconut Harley for a blues jam before Bekka managed to talk her mom into coming to the stage for one song. Bonnie had just had oral surgery and was not supposed to sing, but she did. Did she ever. The ladies dueted on Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” and it brought the house down. So good.
After a break, my old friends from the band Old Union came out to jam, Chuck and Spotty treated the audience to a few songs and they rocked. I had not seen my friends since Angelus several years ago, but they have gotten even better with time. Good stuff. Toward the end of their set, they were joined by Outlaw county rocker Kara Clark who sang “Honky Tonk Women.” Kara’s new husband, Eerie Von (of Danzig fame) joined in on backing vocals.
Next, Kara brought her entire band to the stage for a short set of original songs that included “Whiskey and Cigarettes.” The kids rocked. By the way, Kara is working on a new album that promises to be her best yet. Nice.
And just like that, the show was over. It was time to hang out with old friends and chat a while before venturing out in search of late night/early morning food stuff. A search that ended up at a White Castle drive-thru, where I discovered I am not a White Castle fan.
There was a little sleep, a lot of late night text messaging, and then it was morning and time to drive back. We made several stops along the way for Roxanne to take nature photos, and just as the sun began to set on the horizon, we entered the gorge and Roxanne let her inner Earnhardt resurface, hanging in the curves while Tim slept in the back seat and Coleen and Roxanne talked. Me, I just held tight to the “Godamighty” bar and relived the entire concert in my mind. It was one of the best nights of my life. •
Huge and heartfelt thanks to: Rick Broyles; Roxanne Lark; The Outlaws; Bekka Bramlett and John Coleman; Bonnie “The Queen” Bramlett; Steve Grisham and Phill Stokes; For Old Union, Chuck and Spotty and Chris Bledsoe and Johnny Zvolensky management guys; Kara Clark and her entire band; Chris Gilbert for stage management and helping to bring in The Outlaws; Don Kendrick, Rhythm Band leader; Chris Greenwood- Gumption Productions Video & Photo; Ruth Broyles- R&R Productions- Videographer; Bob Broyles- Lead Tech; Phill Stokes- Food Wrangler; The Hotel Preston; Collin on the board from 3rd & Lindsley; Nelson, Tim Shook and Colleen on the Door; Ron Brice and the entire staff of the new stage at 3rd & Lindsley. THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO CAME OR MADE DONATIONS!
Pictures by Roxanne Lark & Tim Shook