The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum heralded the opening of its Alabama: Song of the South exhibit with an elegant reception for several hundred guests Monday evening (Aug. 22).
The gathering was held in the high-ceilinged sixth-floor event hall that looks out on Nashville’s ever-changing skyline.
The guests of honor were Alabama’s founding members, Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook. Charlie Daniels provided the music.
The exhibit officially opens Friday and will run through July 16, 2017.
Guests mingled for an hour before the official program got underway. While waiting, they converged on the two fully stocked bars and foraged at food tables and carving stations laden with smoked beef brisket, corn and hulled pea salad, melon wrapped with Tennessee country ham, blackened catfish salad and jicama slaw.
Waiters circulated with trays of fried cheese grit cakes topped with blackened shrimp, deviled eggs with sweet relish and candied bacon and brie-stuffed mushroom caps.
Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, welcomed the guests and then introduced Daniels and his band to a standing ovation.
Daniels said Alabama was one of the few bands he opened for that he stayed around to watch, particularly drawn to their vocal harmonies.
“To be up here doing Alabama songs in front of Alabama is really weird,” he said. “So if we mess some of your music up, you’ll have to forgive us.”
With that, Daniels launched into a high-octane cover of Alabama’s Grammy-winning “Mountain Music,” interspersed with his frenzied fiddling.
“I see Randy grinning,” Daniels said as the song ended, “so I guess we’re OK.”
This fall, Daniels will join Alabama as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Daniels concluded his brief set with “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)” and exited to another standing ovation.
Young returned to give a brief account of how Alabama came into being. He said Owen’s father, Gladstone Owen, had inspired his son with the power of words by reading to the family the poems of Edgar A. Guest, who was known as “the people’s poet.”
Young declared that through their songs, Alabama had become “the people’s poets,” whose lyrics reached out farther than even Guest’s poems had done.
He concluded by reading from Guest’s “I Follow a Famous Father,” which ends, “I follow a famous father, and I must keep in mind/though his form is gone, I must carry on the name that he left behind/It was mine on the day he gave it, it shone as a monarch’s crown/And as fair to see as it came to me it must be when I pass it down.”
He said Owen had fulfilled that charge admirably.
Although Alabama’s former drummer and fellow Hall of Fame member, Mark Herndon, was not among the guests and is apparently still at odds with the founders, Young acknowledged his part in the band.
Young also noted that Owen had spearheaded efforts that have raised $600 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
He then summoned the members of Alabama to the stage as the crowd stood and cheered.
Gentry and Cook were both brief in their remarks.
“It’s an incredible honor to be here with people we looked up to,” Gentry said. He, too, acknowledged Herndon.
Cook, holding up an injured hand, said he still believed he was “put here on Earth to play guitar.” He then jokingly saluted “the people we invited and the people we didn’t invite but who came here anyway.”
Owen had a veritable honor roll of people to thank — from his father for teaching him “E, A and B [chords]” and buying him his first guitars to “the only club owner who gave us a bonus.”
He thanked, as well, the country acts who welcomed them to the stage early in their career, among them Ray Pillow and the late Jack Greene and Sammi Smith.
He also expressed his gratitude to the late John Vartanian, a former drummer with the band “who took us to the Bowery,” the Myrtle Beach nightclub, where the band was discovered.
And he thanked “the girls at the Bowery who danced” and thus enabled the band members to live on the tips they earned there.
Following the program, guests either went downstairs to view the exhibit or else diverted themselves at dessert tables piled high with Kentucky bourbon pecan pie tartlets, Southern banana pudding shooters with whipped cream, fresh fruit and assorted truffles.
It was that kind of night.