‘The Other Church of Country Music’

I had no right to feel as good as I did when I opened my eyes this morning. Deb and I had a long Thursday night, by our standards, and a damned good one. And I’d departed from my usual practice of beer with music, going with bourbon instead.

I never do shots. I know myself and I know my limits. Somehow, though, last night struck me as a special occasion, the first live-music event we’d attended in ages.

We met friends in the parking lot out back of The Bluestone and chatted awhile. The man who runs the venue found us and ushered us inside a few minutes ahead of the crowd. A familiar face behind the bar, after handing Deb a bottled water, turned to me.

Oh, what the hell. “Maker’s, neat.”

I got about one finger in a plastic cup. Under the circumstances that’d do just fine. Cheers.

Since we were there early we had time to absorb the environment. The Bluestone is a breathtaking space — stained-glass windows, ornate woodwork, vaulted ceilings. It felt good to be back.

I finished sipping my bourbon before the opening act, local artist Bim Strawser, took the stage. I stepped back to the bar and ordered another one-finger cup. Cheers.

One night several years ago a little-known Dillon Carmichael played Squeek’s Bar & Grill. Back then he was flying solo, carrying his own bags. After he’d finished setting up he bought a beer, looked around the bar and walked over to our table.

“Ma’am,” he said to Deb, nodding respectfully. “Sir,” he said to me with a smile.

Apparently we looked like friendly company, a good way to pass a half-hour before he went on. The conversation was quiet, easy and comfortable, and his performance afterward was memorable.

Fast-forward to last night, when a more confident and more seasoned Dillon Carmichael exploded onto The Bluestone stage. Backed by five sharp players he rocked the house for two hours, exchanging boundless energy with an appreciative crowd.

The smile never left his face. He looked to be having the time of his life.

About halfway through the show he began talking about his upbringing and his bloodline (he’s the nephew of John Michael Montgomery and Eddie Montgomery), leading into a performance of a Montgomery Gentry hit. As he finished the intro his mic took a complete and irreparable dump.

Grinning and apparently unfazed, he shrugged and walked toward the wings to grab a replacement. His fiddler stepped up, doffed his straw hat and began to play the Star Spangled Banner. We all sang along at the top of our lungs.

That was a moment, People.

Returning to the stage with a working mic, Dillon picked up where he’d left off.

I know I’m a lucky man; God’s given me a pretty fair hand…

Throughout the show Deb and I engaged warmly with friends we hadn’t seen in a year or longer. We spend a good bit of time in conversation with The Man in Charge, one of the most generous and gracious people we know. Once, when he and I crossed paths near the bar, he pointed to me and said, “Whatcha drinkin’?”

News flash: That bartender pours differently when The Boss orders the drinks. In my plastic cup this time was three fingers of Maker’s Mark, maybe four. My host and I tapped a toast.

“Missed your ass,” he said. It was the best “welcome back” I could’ve asked for.

Dillon Carmichael wrapped his show with two encores, the second of which was “Old Songs Like That,” one of the tunes that drew us to his music. Honestly, I wish he’d paused his rockin’ show to do “It’s Simple” an “Made to Be a Country Boy,” too, but that’s picking nits.

Helluva show. Big talent. Good kid.

We bid farewells to friends and walked out toward my truck, parked a hundred feet from the headliner’s tour bus. We noticed a few credentialed people standing around the door and decided to walk over to see if we might thank Dillon personally.

The first fellow we encountered, a Bluestone staffer, politely declined our request. We were about to walk away when one of the tour crew — I think he might’ve been the bus driver — said, “Aw, c’mon up in here! Have a seat.”

Our visit with a visibly exhausted (but still smiling) Dillon Carmichael, who was waiting for an official meet-and-greet to begin, lasted less than 30 seconds before we were shooed out. We had just enough time to thank him, which is what we wanted.

Obviously, Deb took the wheel of my truck for the trip back to Second Chance Ranch. Before collapsing into bed I downed three ibuprofen and the day’s second dose of Relief Factor.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t wake up with a hangover, I dunno. Whatever the reason, I’ll take it.

Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.

#WiseUp #LibertyOrDeath

#LetsGoBrandon #FJB