On most people's master list of fun activities, "waiting outside a stage door for 5+ hours on a day off from work" probably ranks somewhere between "being slapped in the face by a dwarf" and "contracting gonorrhea." But, as I'm sure you have realized by now, I am not "most people." And that is why a good portion of the day before my birthday was spent outside the Carnegie Hall stage door, hoping for a moment with Little Jimmy Dickens and some autographs from various other country luminaries (some more illuminating than others).
The Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 80th anniversary with a show at Carnegie Hall, and the show was jammed full of artists who would not normally be stuffed into one Opry show, in what I imagine was a desperate attempt to make the Opry seem much cooler and relevant than it is. And, truth be told, I'm all for that mission. A world without the Grand Ole Opry--a world I think we will see in the not too distant future--is a darker, sadder world. Really. No sarcasm there.
Anyway, going to the show was only part of the day for me. The far more exciting part was supposed to be meeting Little Jimmy Dickens, the oldest member of the Opry and, quite possibly, the reason why I really started listening to country music. If I hadn't seen him sing "Life Turned Her That Way" on a TNN "Country Legends Homecoming" show, I probably never would've delved into the classic country stuff, content to just live in the alt-country ghetto, where Jeff Tweedy was king and Johnny Cash was the only old-timer deemed cool enough to like. Of course, if I hadn't heard him sing that song, I probably wouldn't have spent a picture-perfect Monday afternoon behind a police barricade with a bunch of scraggly looking autograph collectors, but, you know, you pay your money, you take your chances.
So, when I arrived at Carnegie Hall a little past 2 p.m., I figured the chances were good that I was early enough to see Little Jimmy arrive for the 8 p.m. show. Unfortunately, I wasn't. He came in around 1. And never came back out. And then they sent him out a side entrance after the show because the street was packed with people desperate for a glimpse of Martina McBride.
But the day wasn't a total loss. As the only person with a decent knowledge of what people looked like, I was the official spotter of the preshow autograph wait. And I initiated a stampede when I spotted "Whispering" Bill Anderson. No one had a clue who he was, but I didn't spend years watching him give his creepy camera stare during the televised Grand Ole Opry pre-show for nothing.
"Whispering" Bill (so nicknamed for his vocal style, which seems to be not so much a "style" these days as it is an inability to hit high notes) has been writing songs in Nashville for a long damn time (he won the "Song of the Year" at last week's CMAs for his cowrite on the Brad Paisley/Alison Krauss duet "Whiskey Lullaby"), and a lot of them are really good. Some of them. not so much, but you can't hit a home run every time. So, even though his singing's never really grabbed me (nor did it grab the guy at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop last year, when he commented, while listening to the Opry on the in-store radio, "Bill, no more singing, man"), I respect him as a songwriter with pretty impressive longevity in a town where you don't see that much of it.
So, it was cool to have him sign a few albums (while some camera crew filmed it, I can only hope y'all never see that footage and the requisite ego-fluffing I engaged in), and to start the rush of lookie-loo collectors desperately looking for an autograph from a guy they didn't know until two minutes ago. Probably made ol' Whispering Bill feel good, too. I do what I can.
And, even better, that was pretty early in the day, so I was four autographs up for the day about an hour in (3 Whispering Bills, 1 Brad Paisley, another person who I used to think was the enemy but have since softened my stance toward). So, it seemed like it would be a productive day, and at this point I thought it would be capped off by a Little Jimmy Dickens appearance. The future was bright.
In fact, meeting Whispering Bill was probably the highlight of the day, unless you count the moment when one of the collectors recounted how he once dated a "goth chick" who "bit his dick." Or the countless times the guy trying to get the stars to read his song "Lady Liberty" (which was, alternately, "a song for our troops" and "a song that will make millions" at different points during his pitch) made ridiculously inappropriate remarks to women passing by. Those were pretty exciting moments, too.
I did get Charley Pride and Ricky Skaggs to sign albums, and snagged pictures with Skaggs and Trace Adkins, the latter only because he was just standing there and I thought, "Well, why not?" And the same thought compelled me to get an autograph from Trisha Yearwood, as I realized that the only thing I actually don't like about her is that she sleeps with the Antichrist, Garth Brooks.
So, aside from not achieving the main purpose of the day (the autograph of and photo with Little Jimmy), it was pretty successful, "success," of course, being a relative term. I finally gave up waiting at about 7:15, grabbed some pizza, and then headed into Carnegie Hall for the show, which was pretty good, though it dragged in a few spots, much like your standard Opry show. Unfortunately, the Carnegie Hall Opry didn't feature live commercials for sponsors, nor was the Opry band or Carol Ann Cooper in the house, thus depriving the NYC crowd of any oversexualized Goo Goo Clusters spots. But Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, and Ricky Skaggs doing "Go Rest High on That Mountain" sure was pretty. And at least I finally got to see Little Jimmy perform, albeit only one song. And I'm pretty confident that the people sitting next to me were baffled as to why I was standing when he came out and singing "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose" right along with him, but sitting mute when "stars" like Vince Gill and Brad Paisley performed, but what can you do? I'm a 29-year-old man who worships Little Jimmy Dickens. What of it?
NEXT: The Country, My Ass Awards