Award shows usually disappoint. There’s so much that can go wrong, and even when things go right, the most that can often be said afterward is that awards were handed out and—in the case of the IBMA award show—music was played.
You don’t expect a life-affirming moment. And yet, Tony Rice gave us just that on the night of Thursday, September 26, 2013, in Raleigh, North Carolina.
This is about that, but it’s also about the people behind the show.
With Jon Weisberger, I co-produced this year’s show. When you produce a show like this you quickly learn that you are the least important person to show up that night.
Sure, there are still things to decide and fix, but when the show starts, you suddenly realize that of the 165 people involved in the production, if everybody suddenly wanted pizza, you’d be the logical choice to go pick it up.
More on those 165 in a moment. But first, The Moment.
It was Jon’s idea to put the Manzanita band together and he did the heavy lifting to make it happen.
We told the media that we had a big surprise. Tony picking up a guitar and playing with the band was what we had in mind. But we really didn’t know until that day whether he’d even be there. Without Nancy Cardwell almost literally paving the way, I’m not sure he would have been. My backup surprise was for me to run on stage and yell, “Surprise!”
A little before 7:00 p.m. (with the show starting at 7:30) I got a call from Nancy saying that she, Tony, and his wife Pam were pulled up in the loading dock looking for a place to park. I did the only thing I could. “Jon!”
Five minutes later they had parked and Tony was in a small dressing room with word quickly getting out that he was there. I thanked him for coming and then tried to give him some space.
Back to the show.
Jon and I don’t do this for a living, so the best thing for us to do was get out of the way and let the professionals do their thing. With Cliff Miller, Buck Parker, Mark Richards, and a terrific crew on sound, Allen Reep (from Raleigh) as stage director, Paul Marsland (another Raleighian) on lighting, and Michael Davis and the team from Music City Roots recording and webcasting the whole thing, we were in good hands.
So, I took my place just stage-right next to Jill Crabtree who ran the teleprompter, a job that demands the concentration and coolness—traits Jill has—of a major league closer.
To her right was Ned Luberecki, the off-stage announcer— the Voice. I heard him count down to 7:30 p.m. Shoulder to Shoulder, the iconic theme song written by Jerry Douglas and Mark Schatz started up. (It’s also an ironic theme song in that it starts with clawhammer banjo.)
Behind Ned was the Stage Director, the unflappable Allen Reep, at his post, headset on, cueing everything.
“Curtain up,” Allen said.
I was sitting at the edge of the curtain. Behind it I could see the Steep Canyon Rangers ready to hit the downbeat. On the other side, I could see the first few rows of seats with people applauding and yelling.
This went on for what seemed like fifteen minutes. I later learned it was only 15 seconds, but about halfway through I started hating curtains. They don’t move! Why don’t curtains move?
At that point I was seeing headlines in Bluegrass Today, “Award Show Flop: Trophies Handed Out in Parking Lot.”
Allen kept his cool but I detected a sense of urgency. Then, the first miracle of the night occurred. The curtain rose.
Turns out, there was a communications glitch that got fixed by a crew member, Thomas Dameron, who immediately knew what had happened, ran all the way from the stage up the stairs, and fixed the problem—in 15 seconds. He will always have a job as long as I’m around.
After that it seemed like miracle after miracle, which means that a lot of very talented people were doing their jobs very well. Presenters appeared; performers played; envelopes were opened; trophies were handed out.
I was so busy checking the script and being available for any decisions (such as what they should do with me should I pass out) that it wasn’t until about a third of the way through that I took my first breath and started noticing that there were bluegrass artists with trophies in their hands and smiles on their faces.
And it was only when Johnny Warren appeared with his family and graciously accepted the Hall of Fame plaque for his father, Paul Warren, that I could actually start enjoying it.
I saw Peter Rowan and Sam Bush go onstage. Then, in front of me, listening for his introduction, was Tony Rice.
Sam was telling a story about the first time the two met. He described meeting the thinnest man he had ever seen. Looking at Tony, with his long pony tail, I thought the same thing. He seemed impossibly thin.