What event during the Country Radio Seminar delivers the biggest amount of star power? It would have the be Webster Public Relations’ Lunch with the Legends, an event held on February 22 at the Hilton downtown to celebrate the bond between Country Music artists and the radio programmers that have played them.
The event, celebrating its’ third year, featured over thirty-five acts taking time to break bread with those that have spinned their records. But, these aren’t just any artists, mind you. This is the cream of the crop of Country royalty. Collectively, the acts that assembled have placed over 1,300 singles on the charts, combining for an astronomical 171 chart-topping records!
Moreover, the day felt like a big family reunion. June Forester of the Forester Sisters said it was great to see friends from their hit-making days on Warner Brothers.
“It has been a very exciting day, and we have had a great time. This is kind of like old home week, where we get to see a bunch of our old friends in radio, as well as the ones we travelled with all of those years ago.” Go back in time to the decade of the 1980s, and June – along with sisters Kathy, Kim, and Christy – was all over the radio with number ones such as “Just In Case” and “I’d Choose (You Again).” Getting to see those disc jockeys who played those records reminded her of what a special time in their life that it was.
“It’s funny. It seems like a lot more happened back then that happened in my mind. When we came off the road, we started another aspect of life, which has been like a runaway train. Raising our kids, we didn’t really slow down. It was just one chapter after another,” she recalled.
For fellow 80s hitmaker Sylvia, the event definitely reminded her of early days in Nashville – including one rather fateful trip. “I remember coming to town once when I was about sixteen to try to meet people to get my foot in the door. My family’s car broke down. We were in Madison, and I remember gliding down this hill to a filling station. Bill Anderson’s tour bus was parked there. I had these 45RPM singles of songs that my mother had, and I wrote him a note and put it on the windshield of his bus. Of all the people, I left 45’s to that week, he’s the only one who wrote me back. I never forgot.” A few years later, things got even better. “Fast forward a few years later, and I was opening for Bill Anderson. Then, a few years later….I bought the bus. It’s incredible how things come back around,” she remarked.
Sylvia wasn’t alone in her admiration for Anderson, and the Country Music Hall of Fame member responded in a humble manner.
“I appreciate people saying that,” he says, but points out that he was merely trying to pay things forward. After all, he had a lot of help when he moved to Nashville in 1959. “Nobody makes it in this business without a lot of help, and some of the artists who reached out to me were people like Faron Young. He took me on one of my first road tours. I also toured with Ferlin Husky a lot in the early days. George Morgan and Johnny Cash were another two that really went out of their way. I had met Roger Miller before either one of us came to Nashville. We met Atlanta when we were both teenagers. We made a pact with each other that whoever made it to Nashville first would help the other one. He got here first, and he kept his word. Little Jimmy Dickens once said that if you ever see a turtle at the top of a fence post, you’ll know he didn’t get there by himself.”
Though T. Graham Brown has been a crowd favorite since hitting it big in 1986 with “I Tell It Like It Used To Be,” seeing the artists that have meant the world to him makes him wish he could hop in a time machine. “I told Bobby Bare that I wish I had moved to Nashville back in 1959. I would have been right in the middle of Roger Miller, Bobby Bare, Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran, Willie Nelson, and that whole crazy bunch. I like my time period, but that would have been a lot of fun.”
Among other artist spotted in the crowd included Brenda Lee, Roy Clark, the Oak Ridge Boys, legendary manager Jim Halsey, and rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson – in a rare Music City appearance. The day – and the previous two years’ events before it – definitely left a mark on veteran programmer Lee Richey of WKPQ in Hornell, New York.
“Being here today is awe-inspiring. The reason I’m in Country Music today is because of all of the people in this room – all the artists that form the base, and still to this day, bring tears to my eyes,” he says emotionally. “It’s a wonderful event, and one where you have to pinch yourself to realize that you’re sitting here having lunch with people like Bobby Bare, Wanda Jackson, and the Forester Sisters. It’s unbelievable.”
Having that intimate time with the icons of the format is something he doesn’t take for granted. “We sat with Crystal Gayle last year, and it was amazing to talk with her very casually on a one-on-one basis. The artists are so appreciative that you played their music, and that you still play their music. To see everyone gather together for the group photo, you just have to pinch yourself to see if you’re dreaming. It’s a wonderful event, and I can’t say enough about it.”
For Nashville power publicist Kirt Webster, who organizes the event, it’s a chance to pay tribute to the acts who paved the way for the hottest stars of today. “When you look at this room, and see people like Roy Clark – who was one of the first major Country performers to become a force on television, Bill Anderson – the most successful songwriter in Nashville history, or a Crystal Gayle who had the first Platinum album by a female vocalist in the business, you definitely have a little bit of a lump in your throat. It was these artists – and others like them that made me want to work in this business. To be able to show them the love and respect that they are due is a blessing to me, and something I don’t take lightly.”