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Happy Trails: Following Montgomery Gentry on Tour
EDITOR'S NOTE: CMT.com's Craig Shelburne recently spent three days traveling in a GigTours bus with five winners, two radio personalities, two road managers, an aspiring country singer and a driver.

After three days on the road, I can see why most country singers love packing their bags and heading down the highway. And I can also understand why they're usually ready to come home again.

For most of us, this trip provided our first glimpse into life on the road. Even before breaking into the abundant supply of alcohol -- we were traveling behind Montgomery Gentry after all -- we staggered up and down the aisle of the luxury Prevost bus as it sped toward Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Contest winners in GigTours promotions like this are never guaranteed an opportunity to meet a country artist; they simply follow the star's bus as they tour. Winners stop for showers at hotels when the band does and try to eat on the same schedule. And like the band, they sleep in cozy bunks, wake up in unfamiliar cities and rely on each other to make the trip come off without a hitch.

Arriving in Cape Girardeau around 10 p.m., we missed the show entirely. Montgomery Gentry's road manager, Robin Majors, walked up to greet us backstage. He knew about GigTours from past runs.

"Are ya gonna meet us at the hotel bar after this?" he asked.

We all looked to one of our own road managers, Misty Maxwell.

"Sure," she said.

Within 20 minutes, we found ourselves with complimentary drinks in our hands, cautiously hanging out with Eddie Montgomery and an assorted cast of the duo's band and crew at the Holiday Inn. (Troy Gentry's wife joined them on tour throughout the weekend, so we rarely saw him.) At closing time, the party moved to the bus -- our bus. Eddie and a few band members hitched a ride. We cracked open another bottle of Jim Beam and passed around the guitar until the early hours.

That night, I could not sleep comfortably. Too much caffeine perhaps, or maybe it was the tight fit of my 6'2" body in a 6'3" bunk. Either way, the hum of the wheels rolling beneath the bottom bunk lulled me into a stupor, and I felt somewhat relaxed as I woke up in the immense parking lot of the Horseshoe Casino in Tunica, Miss.

After throwing about $40 worth of quarters in a slot machine, I found a pay phone and called a friend. "I'm so tired," I said. "These last few days have been rough."

"Didn't you just leave yesterday after work?" she asked.

"Oh yeah, that's right." I totaled it up in my head: No sleep for 32 hours, and two shows ahead.

We reunited with the band at 8:10 p.m. for the meet and greet. A security guard ushered our antsy group into a hallway backstage, where we anticipated one autograph and one picture with the guys. Despite signing about 50 autographs for the fans ahead of us, the duo remained cheerful and patient. And with only 30 minutes until showtime, we scurried back to the bus for one quick drink.

Before the show, the theater throbbed with loud snippets of music, from Southern rock to heavy metal. With Troy tearing it up on guitar and Eddie wildly twirling his microphone stand, nobody stood still for long at this Montgomery Gentry show. As the duo rolled through their hits -- "Hillbilly Shoes," "Lonely and Gone," "Daddy Won't Sell the Farm," "She Couldn't Change Me," "Cold One Comin' On" and "My Town" -- we boogied along for more than an hour.

After the show, we found some folks milling around outside our bus door. Some of us joined them, but a few others (including me) lounged inside. Small talk turned to children and grandchildren as we flipped through photos from our traveling companions -- mere strangers not long ago.

But that rare, elusive sense of calm vanished the instant that a cavalcade of hangers-on and loud fans followed Eddie onto our bus at about 1 a.m. I squeezed like a nervous child into the corner of the couch, surrounded by two walls, Eddie himself and a smoldering cigarette.

Somebody yelled, "Hey! Why don't you show Eddie what you were doing before!" All eyes turned to an unfamiliar woman in the center of the bus, who readily pulled down the neck of her blouse and out popped her breast. The GigTours passengers shifted uncomfortably, blocked by an aisle of assorted onlookers.

"Go get me that CD!" the woman yelled, covering herself up. We figured somebody should grab a Sharpie pen for the autograph, but when the man reappeared on the bus, the woman snatched the CD from him and pressed it into Eddie's hand.

"That's my demo," she announced.

"Where did you record it?" Eddie asked without a smirk.

"We did it ourselves."

The other man chimed in. "Ain't no love songs on it. Not like John Michael Montgomery. I know he's your brother, but he's got too many love songs."

Eddie said thanks, but it was impossible for him to shuffle them off the bus because about five curious folks crammed the aisle behind them. In a frantic mix of claustrophobia and sensory overload, I placed my hand on Eddie's shoulder for leverage, hoisted myself off the couch and disappeared into the empty, quiet lounge in the back of the bus, realizing how little privacy entertainers can find on the road.

I woke up in the hotel parking lot of a Holiday Inn in Fort Worth, Texas. I ordered a beer after lunch, checked out the Stockyards and cheered at a bull-riding competition within Billy Bob's, the famously huge bar where the band performed. And Montgomery Gentry once again worked the crowd into a frenzy -- not hard to do in Texas.

Eddie said farewell to our bus at 3:30 a.m., after a late-night round of Whataburgers. A few of us stayed up to watch Dallas pass by on our way back to Nashville, less than three days after hitting the road. But after the city lights dwindled in the distance, I returned to the back of the bus for a long, long sleep.
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