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Trail Notes

Every good and perfect gift comes from above!

by Jim Johnson

Robin, Brady, and I just returned early this morning from Tennessee where we were checking out a couple of colleges for Brady over an extended weekend. It was a notable trip and thought you might like to hear about it. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to attach pictures or streaming video) Our first stop last Friday was Nashville and Belmont University, Kari Basden’s alma mater. In order to make the most of the trip, I asked her for some places where we might go to hear live music after hours. She told us about the Bluebird Café, a small, store-front establishment which has been the launching pad for many a star.

We were too late to get reservations for a table, but decided we would go anyway and try to get some of the few SRO spaces. When we got there we felt like big-time tourists. Everyone else seemed to know exactly what the drill was—we obviously were guessing—and guessed wrong. We got in the line for those who already had reservations and by the time this little detail was revealed to us, the line for SRO had grown long. We did a pretty good job of hiding our disappointment by not whining or complaining too loudly and struck up a friendly conversation with the couple in front of us. Dan and Dawn were friendly and gracious. They clued us in on the rich history of the Bluebird Café and what was particularly special about the artists who were appearing this particular evening.

As it turns out, Dan is the Director of Marketing at the Grand Ole Opry. In passing he mentioned that Brad Paisley would be starring at the Opry the next evening. We asked him if any tickets were still available and he assured us that there were. He even said he would set some aside for us. Boy did he. Front row center! So last Saturday evening from 6:30 till 9:00 we got to be up close and personal with the folks at the Opry, folks like Brad Paisley, Emmylou Harris, Allison Kraus, Lane Turner, Restless Heart, and last but not least, Jesse McGregor and the Virginia Boys!

We were pretty much pinching ourselves throughout the whole show just to make sure this wasn’t a collective illusion and that we were really all snoozing comfortably in our beds at the Marriott Courtyard. Under our breaths we were asking each other “Can it get any better than this?” Well, yes, it can. After the show Dan came over and asked us if we would like for him to give us a backstage tour. So, off we went walking through the back halls seeing and nodding politely, as if we were RIPs (really important persons) to the musicians that we had just seen on stage.

As the tour was wrapping up, the 9:30 show was starting and Dan said, “Hey, you guys want to watch the second show from backstage, you’ll get to see a lot more that way.” We assured Dan that we really didn’t have anywhere else to be and that sure; we’d be able to stay for the second show. So there we were, in the wings, watching Brad and Emmylou do their thing, visiting casually with other performers who had completed their numbers, and drinking it all in. As the second show was finishing we walked back to the main reception area to help Dan put up some stuff and ran in to Brad Paisley in the hall. Brady, who is generally pretty gutsy in these situations, was true to form and struck up a conversation with him. I’m not sure hearing Brady say, “You’re the best,” made Brad’s day, but it made Brady’s to get to say it! All in all a fairly memorable night!

As we got in the car we were all speechless, which is saying a lot for the three of us. Finally three words came out of my mouth that conveyed what we all were thinking, “What a gift.”

Of all the people who ever got backstage, royal treatment at the Grand Ole Opry, we have to be among the least deserving. I can carry a tune if the person next to me is singing on pitch real loud. Robin has a nice voice, but she stopped singing seriously at the age of twelve after an embarrassing musical debacle on her dad’s live TV show in which she started playing her guitar and singing “The Cruel War” in different keys. Brady has some talent, but before last Saturday night he didn’t have much of a clue what the Grand Ole Opry was. But somehow, these three unsuspecting and undeserving souls got plucked from their ordinary existence and then were dropped smack dab in the middle of Country Music’s Holy of Holies. Grace. Pure grace. Unmerited favor.

Thus, our story is a reminder of The Story. God, in his endless grace, delights in picking up unsuspecting and undeserving souls and dropping them smack dab in the middle of his love and mercy. And, those who recognize the inestimable value of what they have been given, utter the same words we did, “What a gift, what a gift!”

This Thanksgiving may your heart be full of gratitude for the One of whom it has been said, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above.”

Jim