City Lights Festival - Commerce, Georgia
Friday, June 24 2005 @ 01:14 PM EDT
Contributed by: ACstaff
For country music songwriting legend Bill Anderson, going home again is an easy matter. Bill, who hails from Commerce, Georgia, has never forgotten his early childhood roots. In fact, referring to Commerce, "This is where I got taller," he laughs. This year is the 9th Annual return to his childhood hometown where Bill returns each year to continue to support the area by helping to raise funds for such projects as an auditorium for Commerce High School - home to the Commerce Tigers. This, however, is the seventh year that Bill continues to hold his City Lights Festival, aptly named from the song "City Lights" that Bill wrote in 1957 about his hometown. Funds continue to be raised to help build the Bill Anderson Performing Arts Center... a place where the community hopes a building such as this will give the youth of Commerce a chance to showcase a wide variety of the performing arts. Along with the Jordan Family, a gospel music family that also hails from Commerce, Bill and the Jordans host the City Lights Festival whose events include: a concert, a golf tournament featuring special guests, a fan club luncheon, and a very special "Dinner With The Stars." All proceeds from these events go directly to the fund to help build the Bill Anderson Performing Arts Center, which presently has raised over a half a million dollars toward the project. Let me also add that the artists who partake in the event every year donate their time, asking no payment, and everyone who lends a hand (whether helping to park cars or sell tickets) does so on a volunteer basis.
Kicking off the 9th Annual City Lights Festival was a concert held Thursday evening, June 16th, on the football field of the Commerce High School. The concert began with the Police Chief of Commerce asking those present to join him in a prayer for our troops, and that was followed with the singing of the national anthem.
First to take to the stage was Commerce's own Gospel music family, The Jordans who opened with "I'm Going To Heaven," followed quickly with "The Mansion Over The Hilltop." Doing a debut song, they next performed "The Truth Is." Stopping to explain that this family has never believed in all those stories of how we humans came to be, they remain firmly behind that each of us is created by the hand of God. With this in mind, they did a song entitled "The Monkey Song," a humorous look at all of the theories as to where humans came from. They followed with "Thinking About Home", a look at preparing to meet God face-to-face. In closing their set, the family performed "When God Dips His Pen of Love" that they stated is sung a great deal in churches in the south.
Next to grace the stage was Bill Anderson's Po Folks Band who performed "Still Got A Lot of Leaving Left to Do." This was the first time that I would actually get to hear Bill's band play and see Bill, himself, perform more than a number or two from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. I was excited at the prospects of getting to hear a full set from Bill. Immediately following the opening number from Bill's band, who had already impressed me, Bill joined the band on stage for a very rousing song "Let It Go" from his current album entitled The Way I Feel. Let me tell our readers that if any of you think that Bill Anderson is just that laid-back ole Opry performer, this tune will certainly make one realize that (as George Jones might say)... Bill ain't ready for the rocking chair! Indeed, "Whispering" Bill Anderson is quite well known for his tender ballad writing; but he can still kick up his ole cowboy boots, too. Bill quickly followed up with a tune that he explained is about his own life, "We Ain't Nothing But Po' Folks."
Before he again spoke of wanting to do an old favorite tune of his, "Tear Drops”, Bill stopped to address the hometown crowd on this evening, explaining that on this morning he did a bit of reminiscing by taking a little time out of his morning to just drive around Commerce. Bill went on to explain that he has spent a lot of time out on tour and had written the next song that he performed on the road; a song, entitled "I Wonder If God Likes Country Music.”, about a man that he met and struck up a conversation with. The band followed with an old favorite that Bill was certain everyone would recognize, "Orange Blossom Special" that really got the audience into a hand clapping frenzy.
Speaking from the heart, Bill explained to the crowd that when he went to Nashville from Commerce, his goal was to be a songwriter. In remembering those old tunes that he wrote, he next performed the beautiful "Tips of My Fingers." Bill followed with the tune that got his songwriting career started and was written for his hometown of Commerce, "City Lights." The song that so impressed this writer, however, is one that I have felt Bill Anderson wrote with me in mind and is entitled "Too Country." In fact, it is a song that Bill stated would most likely not find a place on today's country radio airwaves. And why, you may ask? Because it seems that Nashville, of late, has been moving further and further away from strong traditional storytelling songs... the very kind of songs that define what country music is (and is exactly what I have so often preached about on the pages of AngryCountry). I just wrapped myself up in this tune because it asks that very question that I have so often asked … "How can holding true to traditional values of family/ home/ kids/ and a love for great country music be ‘Too Country’ ”?
From only his second gospel album, Softly and Tenderly, and expressing that he hoped to get the opportunity to do more of this kind of music, Bill performed "I Saw The Light." Returning to his present album The Way I Feel, Bill teamed up with new rising country artist Kenzie Wetz to perform AngryCountry's 2004 choice for Song of the Year, "Whiskey Lullaby." With all of the recent and sickening songs coming out of Nashville that have glamorized drinking and sitting in bars (such as Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar" and recent outing from Neil McCoy "Billy's Got His Beer Goggles On")... I found it refreshing that a song such as Bill Anderson’s "Whiskey Lullaby" told the real perils of what happens in life when people find love at the end of a bottle.
In closing his set, Bill performed the hit song that he wrote in 1964, "Still." Before Bill exited the stage, he was presented with a rare black and white photo of himself... a photo taken of Bill as a young disk jockey on radio in Commerce, Georgia. As Bill humbly took a last bow and with a tear in his eye, he exited the stage to a rousing ovation from both his hometown crowd and those fans who simply came to partake in Bill's hometown events.
Headlining this evening’s events at Commerce High School was six-time Vocal Group of The Year, Diamond Rio who got the audience revved up by taking to the stage as drummer Brian Prout performed a drum solo that had the masses howling their appreciation. You know the old joke... Who is the person that hangs around with two great musicians? The drummer! Often overlooked are drummers of great groups - stuffed behind a glass wall and not often noticed - but this is what makes Diamond Rio a standout group, in this writer's opinion. All six members of this group bring something to the table... and collectively they are Diamond Rio.
Breaking right in and without a skip, Rio opened with their hit tune "Unbelievable." Quickly following up with a song from their album Completely entitled "Wrinkles" and another hit "Norma Jean Riley." Marty Row, lead vocalist of Diamond Rio, stopped to explain that the next tune was one that is included in their forthcoming album, slated for release in the fall, and the title track from this album, "One Believer." Let me stop to express my sadness for a moment, however, at hearing the news that Diamond Rio's album has yet again been pushed back for release. Of late, this group has had tremendous difficulty in finding a single that seems to spark country radio... having released two singles "Can't You Tell" and "One Believer" that got little air time or response from country radio. Having seen the crowd and fan response many times to these songs, while debuted on stage by Rio, I simply just do not get it! The people remain responsive to these songs, while country radio seems to pass them by. Could this be yet another case of being "Too Country"? That is just disgusting and frustrating for fans of Diamond Rio who anxiously await more great traditional country music from a group who prides itself in choosing material that is neither offensive to the listener or against what they believe in.
Turning again to material from their forthcoming album, Rio next performed the song "Got to Get Away." And as if to put a punctuation mark on the fact that they are six-time Vocal Group of the Year, Diamond Rio followed with hit after hit... performing everything from "How the River Feels" to "Love a Little Stronger" to “Mirror, Mirror." What was obviously, however, on Marty's mind as well as on the minds of members Jimmy Olander, Gene Johnson, Dan Truman, Brain Prout, and Dana Williams is that they remain loyal to their country music roots... loyal to bringing their fans what they feel is the best in a country song. And with this in mind, Marty turned again to debuting another song from their forthcoming album entitled "Redneck Love Gone Bad"... a tune that Marty explained is about an old girlfriend that he lost and how her family saw him. They followed with what was expected to be the first single from this forthcoming album, "Can't You Tell"... a tune that is a departure for Diamond Rio as it has a strong Latin influence.
Crossing the stage and taking up a seat next to a beautiful white grand piano, Marty took a seat in front of Dan to perform "I Believe" and "Beautiful Mess" from their last album Completely. This is always one of my favorite parts of hearing Diamond Rio perform. I have felt that it is these types of quality strong storytelling tunes that express so well who Rio is... songs that speak to life after death and about finding love. It is exactly these types of songs that are what’s best in country music and its roots. And it is songs such as these that should not be pushed out of being heard on country radio airwaves for what is quite honestly the trash (as in recent drinking/bar tunes.) After all, what kind of message do these tunes send to our youth and to the people of other countries who look to the United States to be the leader of the free world? And yes, music is the universal language.
The song that was most impressing Rio fans and crowds was a tune that Marty often worries will ignite controversy... as Marty explained that it is not often that Diamond Rio chooses to express a political view. The song is entitled "In God We Still Trust." With that said, I have been in three audiences this year where Diamond Rio has performed this number and it has yet failed to earn them a standing ovation. At a time in our world when the political climate is pushing to take God out of our lives, from everything from our money to nativity scenes on our front lawns at Christmas, a song like this is touching people. For this very reason, Diamond Rio has chosen this single for release on July 4th and will have a video for it to air on GAC.
On Friday June 17th, the events of City Lights Festival continued with both a golf tournament that featured past baseball greats from the Atlanta Braves and a luncheon with Bill Anderson's fans. As AngryCountry is a country music news magazine, we chose to concentrate our efforts on the musical aspects of this event... bringing us to Dinner With The Stars that took place in the Harmony Grove Hall of the Commerce Civic Center.
The evening’s event began with a traditional southern meal of fried chicken/ green beans/ a squash casserole/ and rolls... topped off with peach cobbler for dessert. As I finished off my glass of sweet tea, an auction of special items began to take place. First placed on the auction block were two autographed pieces of sheet music of "City Lights" written, of course, by Bill Anderson for his hometown of Commerce, Georgia. These items went for a bid of $125.00.
Next to the block was an Opry Package that included four VIP tickets to the Grand Ole Opry, along with four VIP backstage Opry tours during the Opry performance/ backstage tours of historic Ryman Auditorium/ and four tickets to tour the Country Music Hall of Fame. Also included in this package was a poster that once hung backstage in the Opry and signed by artists such as Trisha Yearwood. I am pleased to tell our readers that this package went to AngryCountry for a bid of $200.00.
The auction continued with further items such as Brad Paisley's autographed jeans going for a bid of $75.00... a chair autographed by country artists such as Charlie Pride, Con Hunley, Riders In The Sky, and others went for a bid of $125.00... a copy of "City Lights" with photos signed by Ray Price, who made the song a hit, went for a bid of $425.00. (Going to a bidder from the local bank, Bank of Commerce, to be included in their new to City Lights Festival this year... a collection of items on display in the bank that are a tribute to their hometown favorite Bill Anderson)... and a signed book by former Senator of Georgia, Zell Miller, along with the opportunity to share lunch/dinner for four with him went for a bid of $250.00.
With the completion of the auction, Buddy Cannon, a top record producer in Nashville who produces such artists as Kenny Chesney, took to the stage to introduce, proudly, his daughter Melanie Cannon who opened the musical portion of tonight's events with the song "I Hear You Everywhere." She followed with what she stated is her favorite tune from Bill's current album; a song entitled "Sweeter Than Sugarcane." This writer was immediately impressed with Melanie's simple acoustic Bluegrass style of presenting a song, and I trust that she will be a rising star on the country music scene.
Melanie next performed one of the songs that her dad wrote entitled "Westbound Train." A fan of country group Highway 101, Melanie followed with one of their hit tunes (and a favorite of mine as well) "Whiskey, If You Were A Woman"... a song that looks at being able to fight a woman off, had a woman been what took her man away. In this case, it is the bottle that stole her man away and that she cannot fight against.
From her current album Tennessee Road, Melanie performed the title track... a song that she explained no one wanted to record, but that she felt best expressed who she is. She then turned to another tune that her dad wrote "Set 'Em Up Joe." And bringing her dad, Buddy, to the stage, Melanie stated the next song was one that she and her dad like to perform together entitled "This Five and Dime." Before Buddy could gracefully exit the stage, he also took some playful jabbing from Bill Anderson and the crowd over whether he knew that Kenny Chesney had planned to marry movie starlet Renee Zellweger. To which Buddy joking responded, "I did not even know until about a week before he married... and Kenny told me that he would kill me if I said one word about it to anyone."
Melanie returned to the music and performed the song that she playfully jabbed Bill Anderson about stating, "I was the first to record this tune on MY album!" ... as she broke into a lovely version of Bill's "Whiskey Lullaby." In closing her set, Melanie turned to the first cut from her album "Nothing To Lose." Before Melanie took leave of the stage, Bill presented a plaque to Melanie with the key to the City of Commerce as his way of thanking her for performing on this evening.
Remaining on stage, Bill Anderson stated that it is always his pleasure to introduce the next act, Riders In The Sky who opened with "Back On Those Texas Plains." Riders In The Sky often perform on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and are a particular favorite with those of us at AngryCountry because of their terrific sense of humor and ability to keep Western music alive and well. And as if to make this statement a fact, Slim (bass player for Riders In The Sky) actually took to playing a tune on his cheeks - that is, the ones on his face - that immediately broke the dinner guests into fits of laughter. And in true Riders In The Sky fashion, they already had the guests in the palm of their hands.
What Riders In The Sky is best known for, however, is keeping those old great Western style singing cowboy tunes alive... as they next performed "Cool Water." They followed this with the tune, "Sweet Georgia Brown”, which brought the appreciative Georgia dinner guests to their feet to clap along, and another great old Western tune "Ride The Navajo Trail."
The other noteworthy thing that Riders In The Sky is known for is their hilarious sense of humor... and readers, I do mean these four guys will have you falling out of your seat and grasping your side kind of laughter! In fact, as a challenge, Slim took to next performing the theme from Bonanza on his face. What followed was an hilarious knock-down-drag-out battle between Slim and Woody Paul (King of the Cowboy fiddlers), as they performed "Dueling Banjos" on their cheeks/ nose/ and head... while bringing the dinner guests, myself included, darn near to tears from laughing so hard.
Barely able was I to recover from this laughter, when Riders In The Sky next performed the old train tune, "Casey Jones." But oh, my dear readers, Riders was not nearly finished with bringing us dinner guests to bouts of uncontrolled laughter. Doing a poem about reincarnation, Slim once again broke the crowd up with Riders In The Sky humor... a poem about becoming reincarnated as grass that his horse would eventually consume and pass through his digestive system - making Slim, in fact, well... horse shit.
Turning to a tune that won Riders In The Sky acclaim, they did their hit from the Disney movie Toy Story2 entitled "Woody's Theme: Woody's Round-Up." They quickly followed this with a rousing rendition of the song "Orange Blossom Special" that had the crowd clapping along. They closed with the great old Western tune "Happy Trails To You" and to a standing ovation from the dinner guests that went on and on for quite some time... only fading as Bill Anderson took to the stage to also present Riders In The Sky with a plaque and key to the city.
What so impressed this writer, after a wonderful outing at the City Lights Festival, is that each and every artist that performed over these two days did so out of the goodness of their hearts and in an effort to help Bill Anderson with his support of hometown Commerce, Georgia. I think that says a great deal about who Bill Anderson is as a person... not only is he one of the finest songwriters in Nashville and a Grand Ole Opry legend, but he is simply a nice guy. In fact, Bill let it be known that each and every artist that performs will see their name on a plaque that he intends to hang in his performing arts center upon its completion. As for me, I am honored to call Bill a friend; and like others around this man, I will always respond any time that he asks a favor of me. It is AngryCountry's sincere hope that in some small way we helped Bill and his efforts to raise money for the Bill Anderson Performing Arts Center.
More Photos: http://www.angrycountry.com/gallery/thumbnails.php?album=35
For More Information:
Bill Anderson: http://www.billanderson.com/
Riders in the Sky: http://www.ridersinthesky.com/
Diamond Rio: http://www.diamondrio.com/
Melanie Cannon: http://www.meloniecannon.com/
Commerce, GA: http://www.commercega.org/