Alabama Gearing Up for Fan Fair, Farewell Tour

“The shows are going to be fantastic,” Alabama lead vocalist Randy Owen said backstage at last week’s Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas. “We’re all healthy — and we’re ready to go out and kick ass.”

Owen was talking about the band’s American Farewell tour that kicks off June 20 in Atlanta. In the pressroom at the ACM Awards, a recurring topic was Alabama’s retirement from the road. As Alabama, Teddy Gentry, Mark Herndon, Jeff Cook and Owen broke the rules and simultaneously set the standard by which country bands will be forever judged.

“Their legacy is going to live on for a long time,” Lonestar guitarist Michael Britt said in Las Vegas. “They’ve been at it for 25 or 30 years. We’re still new kids on the block compared to them. They’re definitely an inspiration to us — and not just musically. They’ve done everything we would aspire to do. They’ve given back to the community. Randy Owen was very key and instrumental in St. Jude’s [Children’s Research Hospital].

“They’ve always been nice to fans,” Britt continued. “They’ve always been nice to everybody they’ve ever worked with. They’re role models in a lot of different ways, not just as musicians. That’s a great thing, and that’s the thing I think everybody is going to miss about them the most.”

Alabama kept a relatively low profile for the first months of 2003, but that’s beginning to change in the days leading up to the June 20 launch of its American Farewell tour.

At the ACM Awards, Alabama performed and accepted the organization’s prestigious Pioneer award. During next week’s Fan Fair in Nashville, the band will spend the morning of June 6 signing autographs. Even earlier that day, Owen will join ‘N Sync’s Lance Bass at the Ryman Auditorium as part of the Fan Fair Celebrity Lecture Series.

On June 7, Owen heads to Gadsden, Ala., to host the Alabama Sheriffs’ Association Youth Ranches Celebrity Golf Tournament. The entire band will be signing autographs during the annual fan appreciation day in their hometown of Fort Payne, Ala., on June 8.

Technically, Alabama’s farewell tour included a March date at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo where they sold almost 70,000 tickets. However, the serious part of the roadwork begins with the Atlanta concert and continues through the end of November.

“None of the shows will be alike,” Owen explained. “That means it’s going to be a lot more work on us. Thank God, we’ve had a lot of great music that people wrote for us and that we wrote for ourselves. Some shows will be different from the others, and we’re kinda going to let the audience dictate that. We may even have some of the radio stations have a contest to pick the favorite songs … from the fans.”

Noting that the band is fortunate to be able to call the shots on planning the final tour, Owen said, “Music is a wonderful career. We’ve been very blessed and we don’t want people to think that we’re not grateful for what happened. But we’ve always said — as a group — that we would know the time to do that [stop touring]. We didn’t want that to be dictated by the industry. We wanted to do that ourselves. We’re very grateful that we’ve had a chance to do that.”

In Las Vegas, Gentry said there have been no second thoughts about retiring from the road. “We had to think about that before we announced it,” he said, “but that’s what we wanted to do. It was the right time and the right place. We’re very excited about it.”

Cook emphasized, “I don’t think that any of us plan to leave the music business. We’re just going to stop touring, and that covers a lot of things.”

Herndon piped in, “Do you know somebody who’s hiring?”

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.