With His Fans, Alan Jackson’s Hotter Than a Pepper Sprout

It’s a pretty safe bet that none of the 2,000 rabid Alan Jackson worshippers at his fan club meeting Thursday (June 14) will remember the experience longer than Morgan Bradford of Little Rock, Ark.

Celebrating his fourth birthday, little Bradford found himself on the Ryman Auditorium stage with “the main man,” as the house announcer referred to Jackson.

Bradford barely came up to Jackson’s knees, but he carried an acoustic guitar for his hero to autograph, and he stayed on stage, strumming his guitar with Jackson through a performance of “Where I Come From.” When they finished, the tall man and his tiny charge received a standing ovation.

“This is our first Fan Fair,” Morgan’s mother said after his cameo appearance. “We came because of him.”

All over Nashville this week, country stars are saying thanks by letting fans get a little closer to them. Riding the crest of six victories at Wednesday night’s fan-voted TNN & CMT Country Weekly Music Awards, Jackson let his intimate Ryman performance of 10 songs form the framework for an extended glimpse behind the scenes of his life and work.

“Fan Fair week’s starting out pretty good, thanks to y’all,” he observed before he and his band, the Strayhorns, launched into their opening number, “Pop a Top.”

Jackson introduced the members of the group, his three daughters, his wife, Denise, and his new fox terrier, Opie. “They’re very appreciative of all y’all who’ve supported our music,” he said. He also acknowledged his allergist and his allergist’s staff, seated in the audience, and Denise recognized three caregivers who work with her 87-year-old father in a retirement home in Carrollton, Ga.

Jackson explained that his longtime guitarist, Danny Groah, could not attend this year’s fan club meeting because he had to be in Virginia with his ailing father. Another guitarist, the husband of a Jackson office staffer, filled in, reinforcing the family-oriented proceedings.

“Bluesman,” Jackson’s favorite of all the covers he recorded on his Under the Influence CD, registered well with the crowd. “I’ve never sung it in this building and I’d like to,” Jackson said of the song by Hank Williams Jr.

He is writing a new song, Jackson told the Ryman crowd, which he hopes to record with George Strait in fall or early winter, for release early next year. The collaboration would be payback for Jackson’s contribution to “Murder on Music Row,” which appeared on a Strait greatest hits compilation.

There were raffles for precious prizes including autographed posters and caps, tickets to Saturday night’s Grand Ole Opry, where Jackson will perform, and a signed guitar.

Fans brought notes and gifts to the stage including a bouquet of blue roses and framed photos. A few got to pose with Jackson for a snapshot, among them Mona Bailey, 52, who owns a consignment shop in Marathon, Fla. Attending her third Jackson fan gathering, Bailey sported an outrageous, rosy red cowboy hat with “Alan” emblazoned across the front. She carried a miniature doll with a matching hat.

“Golly,” Jackson said when he spotted Bailey in the audience, “look at that hat. That’s the best one I’ve ever seen.”

When Jackson played “Chattahoochee” at the end of the evening, many in the audience felt as if they had been allowed a few intimate moments with their favorite country star, getting to know him a little better, picking up a few tidbits of insider information with which to impress their friends back home.

Young Bradford, his guitar clutched tightly in his left fist, slapped hands with well-wishers in the lobby of the Ryman.

“He’s a cool dude,” Bailey said of Jackson. “He’s cute. I like the way he sings music, I like the way he writes stuff, I sure like the way he walks and I like the way he talks.”

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