Garth Brooks, Ray Price and Vince Gill performed Sunday (May 1) when some of country music’s newest, biggest and most-revered figures turned out to honor Kris Kristofferson and Jim Foglesong, the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The invitation-only event at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum also featured performances by John Prine, the Oak Ridge Boys and others. Although Kristofferson and Foglesong were officially inducted last year, this part of the honor involves presenting them Hall of Fame medallions.
Brooks attended with companion Trisha Yearwood and seemed to enjoy the festivities. He paused for a number of brief interviews and mingled for several minutes with the guests after the official program was over.
This year’s ceremony began with a cocktail party and concluded with a dinner for the more than 400 guests. It drew the largest number of Country Music Hall of Fame members ever to assemble at the museum at the same time. Besides Kristofferson and Foglesong, the members in attendance included Eddy Arnold, Kitty Wells, Ray Price, Bill Anderson, Earl Scruggs, Porter Wagoner, Charlie Louvin of the Louvin Brothers, Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers, Gordon Stoker and Ray Walker of the Jordanaires, Frances Preston, Jo Walker-Meador and E. W. “Bud” Wendell.
Among the other performers attending were Tom T. Hall, Bobby Bare, Mark Miller of Sawyer Brown, T. Graham Brown, Duane Eddy, Hal Ketchum, Jeannie Seely, Billy Burnette, Nanci Griffith, Jeff Hanna and Jimmie Fadden of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Matraca Berg, Billy Joe Shaver, Guy Clark, Johnnie Wright, Cowboy Jack Clement, Shawn Camp, Randy Scruggs, Mandy Barnett, Todd Snider, Big & Rich and Cowboy Troy.
The formal ceremonies were held in the museum’s Ford Theater, but because of the size of the crowd, some were seated in the Hall of Fame rotunda and watched the proceedings on TV monitors.
Gill opened the show with the old spiritual “Give Me Jesus.” Hall of Fame and Museum executive director Kyle Young, who served as master of ceremonies, explained that, starting this year, the medallion ceremonies will begin with a hymn.
“I find it interesting that I never got this invitation until I married Amy Grant,” Gill joked.
The Medallion All-Star Band, an ad hoc group of top session players, provided music for the evening. Led by pianist John Hobbs, the group was comprised of guitarists Biff Watson and Kerry Marx, bassist Michael Rhodes, drummer Eddie Bayers and pedal steel guitarist Paul Franklin.
Four of the acts Foglesong had signed to recording contracts lined up to honor him. Each act sang one of the songs that had made it famous.
First up was the Oak Ridge Boys. Lead singer Duane Allen said that when the group was still singing gospel in the ’70s, they would finish a show, climb on their bus and listen to Kristofferson tapes. He credited Foglesong with seeing their potential as a country act even though industry insiders had warned him, “We have a group in country music. [Presumably the Statler Brothers] We don’t need another.” Even so, Allen continued, “We had to find a song about a saloon to make them believe us.” With that, the group launched into “Y’All Come Back Saloon,” their first country hit. Young said the museum will be mounting a new exhibit on the Oak Ridge Boys in the near future.
Mark Miller, lead singer of Sawyer Brown, was next to take the stage.
“I never met anyone inside or outside the music business who had more integrity [than Foglesong],” he said. Known for its rock ‘n’ roll antics, Miller joked that Foglesong got along fine with the band “once he got past the striped pants, eyeliner and the spaceship we landed in.” He then rocked the room with “Betty’s Bein’ Bad.”
T. Graham Brown followed with his own composition, “Hell and High Water.” Before he began, he thanked Foglesong for his forebearance: “He signed me, and he never dropped me when I was misbehaving.”
Brooks recalled that on the summer day he auditioned for Foglesong, he was seated on a couch “where the sun had been shining about four hours.” That hot seat plus his natural nervousness, he said, caused him to squawk rather than sing his first words. Adjusting his guitar, he then delivered a note-perfect rendition of “If Tomorrow Never Comes.”
Walker-Meador, the former executive director of the Country Music Association, presented Foglesong his medallion. Once a professional singer, himself, he accepted the honor by warbling the first few lines of “Funny How Time Slips Away,” emphasizing the phrase “I’m doing fine.” He said he hoped he would be remembered as a “good music man.”
Price began the musical tribute to Kristofferson by singing “For the Good Times,” backed by members of his Cherokee Cowboys band and four violinists. The audience gave him a standing ovation when he walked onstage and another when he finished
Prine gave a spare, stripped-down reading of Kristofferson’s classic “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” accompanying himself on guitar. He thanked Kristofferson, who had assisted him in getting his first record deal, for all the songwriters he had helped and “given a chance to dream.”
“Kris I met the first day he was in town,” Clement reminisced as he arrived onstage. “That was almost 40 years ago, you know. Back then, I could memorize a song in a day or two. Now it takes me a couple of months. Or more.” Having explained that, he withdrew a sheet of paper from his pocket, placed it on a music stand and crooned “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends.”
Gill, Billy Joe Shaver, Guy Clark and Todd Snider colluded for the last song of the set. Looking around at himself and his road-worn companions, Clark observed, “It’s kind of like geezerpalooza up here.” Age notwithstanding, the four rolled through “Me and Bobby McGee” like men who knew the terrain they were singing about.
Price conferred the medallion on Kristofferson. Alluding to recording “For the Good Times,” he said, “At that time, I needed something really great, and it came from Kris. Of course, I was happy that it did. It’s maintained me for many, many years. Without a hit song, there are no hit artists.”
Kristofferson related how he had first come to Nashville, when he was still in the Army, at the suggestion of a friend. He said he was so taken by the warmth and creativity he found that he decided to quite the military and move to Nashville.
Introducing his standard, “Why Me,” Kristofferson told the audience that he had written the hymn within 24 hours of having had a religious conversion at a Nashville church. He noted that Grand Ole Opry star Connie Smith had invited him to church and that “she was so cute I would have gone anywhere with her.”
The ceremony concluded, as it traditionally does, with a group singing on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”