Over the past decade, Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox, Joe Don Rooney and Jay DeMarcus have graced the nation’s stages, entertaining the masses with their contagious beats and chart-topping hits. Selling more than 20 million albums, the group’s milestone accolades include numerous CMA and ACM Awards as well as a Grammy.
To mark the 10-year anniversary of success, the three shared the spotlight Wednesday evening (Feb. 3) at Nashville’s Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum with a private ceremony honoring the craftsmen behind their award-winning work — the songwriters.
In attendance were over 60 of the nearly 80 credited songwriters featured on the Flatts’ six studio albums. What’s more, the three made it perfectly clear the night was not about them, but rather the songwriters. Before seating themselves on a sofa facing the stage, each member of the group addressed the crowd by singing their praises and gratitude to the songs’ creators.
“I want to thank each one of you for caring for Rascal Flatts and believing in Rascal Flatts,” Rooney said. “It’s been 10 years, and it’s just flown by. I think some of the most important people that have been a part in Rascal Flatts’ history are the songwriters.”
For the next hour and a-half, the room filled with the original voices behind the trio’s most popular lyrics, sharing not only the songs but also the stories behind the songs.
However, veteran songwriter Thom Schuyler first took the stage and ironically pointed out that while he never had a cut on any Rascal Flatts album, he wanted to kick off the evening with “16th Avenue,” his ode to songwriters and a well-traveled street on Nashville’s Music Row. He boasted the well-known lyrics, “God bless the boys who make the noise on 16th Avenue,” to the audience’s excited delight and roaring applause.
Steve Bogard and Rick Giles were next to take their turn to perform Rascal Flatts’ first chart-topping single, “Prayin’ for Daylight,” followed by Danny Wells’ co-written hit, “These Days.” But it was Arlos Smith who effortlessly brought the evening’s mood from reflective to comical.
“Hey guys, thanks for the house,” he said, referring to the generous royalties he collected from “Mayberry,” a song Flatts carried to No. 1 in 2004. After performing his solely-written success, Smith added, “What I love about this band, the reason that they’re still here is they paid their dues. Let’s face it. Some people get this stuff and they don’t earn it. This band earned it and this is why they’re still here and they haven’t changed.”
Prior to the evening’s ceremony, DeMarcus told reporters Rascal Flatts would always be “a honky-tonk band at heart” — the same group of guys who began playing for the few that would listen in the clubs of Nashville’s historic Printer’s Alley.
“Because when you have to starve for your craft,” he explained, “it’s more beloved to you when you have success. We literally had to do that. There were times when Gary and I would be sitting at the house in the middle of the night and the lights would go off. But those are the kinds of things that make us really, really appreciate the blessings that we have now as an act. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Throughout the evening, the songwriters couldn’t have been more appreciative to the group that gave a voice to their written words. Once again expressing gratitude, co-writers Marcus Hummon and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member Jeff Hanna performed the Grammy-winning song, “Bless the Broken Road,” with Blair Daly and Danny Orton following with the motivational, “Stand.”
“Thanks for changing our lives,” Orton noted as he and Daly exited the stage and two more songwriters, Clint Lagerberg and Chris Sligh, took their places for a moving rendition of “Here Comes Goodbye.”
Lagerberg, whose voice grew shaky as he recounted how the song came full circle in his life, said the gravel road mentioned in the first lines of “Here Comes Goodbye” is a real path he used to take back home where he once earned a living making handguns and rifles. Years later, on a trip back with his family, he recounted the moment he turned down that gravel road to hear his song blasting through the radio.
“It was hard to keep it together,” he said, choking back tears. “And you changed my life, and you changed my family’s lives. Thank you so much.”
The night was brought to a close by Neil Thrasher and Wendell Mobley’s co-written singles, “Fast Cars and Freedom” and “Take Me There.” But it was Flatts who took the stage last — not to sing — but to once again applaud the songwriters.
“We hope it will help commemorate our 10-year journey together,” DeMarcus said.
“You don’t get enough credit,” LeVox reiterated, “And we wanted to make sure you knew from us and everybody just how much you mean to us. And thank you for employment.”
“So here’s to the boys who make the noise on 16th Avenue,” Rooney toasted with a smile. “We love you.”