Thursday, July 12, 2012

shit sandwich with the crusts cut off --part two

It didn't seem like that big of a deal to find someone to talk about what the storm had done to the stage. All that was needed was about ten minutes with someone saying, "Well, it was pretty fucked up right here and right here, but we all pulled together and..."

No one would ever call this a think piece. It was straight up filler.

To get the ball rolling, I called the number I'd been given, explained what who I was and what I was coming to do.

"That's no problem," the voice on the other side said then added, "but I'm not overseeing that. Let me get your number and I'll have someone call you."

My stomach made a quick bow knot. I didn't like being handed off, not on the day of the show.

The call came about an hour later. A chipper woman told me she'd heard I wanted to do a piece on the stage. We talked for a minute. She gave me the name of the producer and asked if I wanted to talk to him on the phone or in person.

"I'm headed down today," I said. "I'd love to just talk to him for a couple of minutes before the show."

I promised to stay the hell out of the way.

"Hmm," she said. "He's really busy today with the show."

"Just a couple of minutes," I repeated. "Real easy stuff."

She committed to nothing in particular, but said, "I've got to send you some paperwork for you to get your credentials for photos and stuff."

Credentials? I already had credentials and I wasn't bringing a photographer.

"Uh, OK."

The rep got my email address and told me to reply just as soon as I'd read the terms, conditions and instructions.

A few minutes later, a two page document arrived in my "in" box. It told me to turn onto Old Powell Road where there'd be a media tent. There was information about parking, about getting into the show and oddly, about meeting and photographing the performers. There was also a note about locking my gear up in the car while I was in the concert.

I yelled over a the city desk, explaining that I'd just received a lot more than I expected.

"I think with this I can take pictures of Toby Keith."

I didn't have a photographer, but I did have a cheap, point and click in the car. I am not good with a camera.

My editor just looked at me.

"Just say thanks, Bill." 

So I told her I'd received the packet, reminded her about the show producer and promised I'd see her in a few hours.

I left mid-afternoon, thinking this could be pretty cool. There was a certain amount of drama here. The Greenbrier had brought in a major act (Keith) and a former major act (Lionel Richie). Keith was red-meat mainstream country music, a guy with a bouquet of flag-waving country songs and an unrepentant corporate shill, but... he's also strangely authentic.

Toby Keith is probably the closest thing to a modern-day Waylon Jennings there is.

People forget that people don't go into pop (country) music because they're looking for pure artistic expression, because they want to speak to the hopes, dreams and despairs of the average person. Nah, they want to get rich. Finding a way to speak to those hopes, dreams and despairs in a way that's novel to the average person is just the way to do it. 

Waylon was a corporate shill, too. People forget but, arguably, his biggest hit wasn't any of the outlaw country stuff, but that theme song to a CBS television show --you know the one.

"Just some good ol boys..."

You wouldn't believe how many contemporary country singers have cited that song as major inspiration for going into country music in the first place. It kind of boggles the mind.

Anyway, Richie was the weird side dish on the menu. He'd done a well-received country record, but I didn't see much indication that he was touring as a serious country act. He was straight up Motown funk, soul and 80s pop.

My high school band director, I remembered, had a huge woody for the guy. We must have played half his catalog in the three or four years I was part of the marching band.

Hell, I liked him. Like everyone at the time, I had the "Dancing on the Ceiling" record.

I thought chicks would dig me if I listened to sensitive pop music.


It was an odd pairing, but not impossible. The 80s have never gone out of style in West Virginia. Mountain Stage could probably sell out the Culture Center simply by hosting reunion shows with people like Flock of Seagulls or Simple Minds.

This is not a suggestion.

Anyway, I was fascinated with how the whole Toby Keith, 'Good ol boy' on the Fourth of July with special guest aging-former-hit-maker-turned-Cherokee-casino-regular Lionel Richie might play out with this crowd --plus backstage, the hustle, the bustle, people serious about getting shit done on the Fourth, while a lot of people were watching. It seemed like an awesome opportunity and a great setting for my interview with the producer, who might just be distracted enough by all his responsibilities and concerns to be honest.

I could hardly wait to get there and... I'd been brainwashed. For days, maybe weeks, I'd heard about the media room, the media tent for the Greenbrier. I'd heard they kept it well larded and well-stocked. Dreams of fried green tomato sandwiches, sweet potato fries and cold bottled beer danced in my head.

After a couple of days of sweating at home with no power, living off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as well as choking down overstuffed ravioli straight from the can, the mere hint of properly prepared meals and ice cold, tasty beverages was like the promise of sexual favors and free HBO.

It seemed magical. 

My entire plan was I'd do the interview, catch the show then write about it at my leisure in the media tent while everybody piled out during the fireworks at the end of the show. Traffic would be snarled for at least an hour, which was plenty of time for a review --not that there was a big hurry to get it turned in.

After that, we'd see. Maybe I'd find a place to crash --I'd been told we had a room somewhere --or maybe I'd drive home and finish the other assignment back at the office.

Time was completely on my side.

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