Michael Berry: Ramblings & Reminiscences on 6 Years of the RCC, & What 2020 Will Look Like (Vision 2020)
I’m sure many of you have by now watched the Ken Burns documentary “Country Music” that PBS has been airing on loop for the last few weeks. I’m sure that – like me – you bristled that some of your favorites were only briefly mentioned (as in, “Good grief, you gave less than a minute to GEORGE STRAIT, the man with SIXTY number one hits, more than any performer in any genre in history?”). Such a documentary is not definitive, it is a conversation starter. Like Ramon’s list of the 2 best country music songs of all time, where you get to take one off and put one on.
No documentary can be perfect, especially about something we are so passionate about as what IS (and is NOT) country music, but I bet that you also found yourself tappin’ your feet, singin’ along, and maybe even shedding a tear a few times. I found myself remembering songs my grandmother sang to me as I sat at her feet during the winter because the heat vents in her trailer came up from under the floor, which was covered other than the vent with a terrible orange carpeting. It was the 70s, and I’d call KOGT in Orange and beg them to play “Sneaky Snake” by Tom T. Hall, and I’d wait anxiously hoping to hear it.
This Friday night we’ll celebrate our 6th anniversary, and it’s free to everyone to come enjoy the evening. Saturday evening we’ll have Kipp Attaway and his hilarious comedy & music show, followed by the cast of Hee Haw (again with the memories that take me back to Nanny, my grandmother; she never missed an episode – SAAAA-LUTE!). You want 2 tickets? Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next year is a big year for us. 2020 will feature 40 or more of what we call “big” shows, meaning expensive bands. And we’ll return to supporting independent artists by giving them a chance to play our stage as openers and closers. What’s old is new again. But more on 2020 in the coming days, let’s reminisce for now. We’ll be rolling that out in the coming weeks, with a season ticket for 2020 that will come with all sorts of cool perks, as well as VERY cheap Standing Room Only (SRO) ticket that we’re trying to make financial sense at $10. $10 to see the big band nights? We’re working on how to make this work. More on that later.
As I watched that Ken Burns documentary series, I felt incredibly honored to have had the chance to see so many of the greats of country music, right here in Houston (Stafford, technically), on our stage. Merle Haggard played our stage April Fool’s Day, 2015, and a year and five days later he died on his birthday, April 6th, 2016. Willie Nelson played to by far the biggest crowd we’ve ever seen. Too big, if you ask me. Downright crowded. Ted Nugent required an entire 18-wheeler of power generation be parked in the lot (thanks, Generator Supercenter), as did Super Tuesday, 2016, when Ted Cruz attracted Fox News and the entire national and many international media to cover his campaign event at RCC. Kenny Rogers played his last show in the town of his birth and raisin with US, and retired a few weeks later at his planned final stop in Nashville. Billy Joe Shaver was trailed by the New York Times as he spent the day with us, as they portrayed his amazing career as a songwriter and outlaw. Ray Wylie Hubbard continues to play his many (and, amazingly, new ones continue to roll out) songs, but my personal RWH highlight was interviewing him on stage at a free show for Members when he unveiled his autobiography. He also convinced Tony Joe White to come play our place, and surprised us with a visit from Austin to stand offstage and watch the show himself, then spent some time with his old friend and even picked a few tunes for the fans.
Kris Kristofferson was featured prominently in the Ken Burns doc as being central to the history of country music. He was central to our stage a couple of years ago, as he performed the songs he wrote in a solo acoustic set that was, for lack of a better word that is more expressive, special. Rodney Crowell was a major part of the Burns doc, and his appearance on our stage was a fun show (but what we’ll remember first is that at his sound check that afternoon he sang ONLY Bob Dylan songs, doing his best scratchy-voice impersonation, and it was uncanny how good it was).
Sundance Head played a show along with his father, Roy Head, just 3 months before he hit it big by winning The Voice and getting to perform on prime-time national tv along with KISS. Little Texas reminded us that God Blessed Texas, Lorrie Morgan reminded us of her ties to Keith Whitley (and their son, Jesse Keith Whitley, played for us another night). Pat Green put on some shows that reminded us of a simpler time, at a slower place in our own lives, like our 20s floating the Guadalupe (or where you a Frio girl?) river. Of course, Roger Creager WROTE the official “River Song” dedicated to just that, and Cory Morrow has made us feel the Nashville Blues many times.
An enduring memory of mine is watching couples embrace in a big hug when Tracy Byrd plays Keeper of the Stars or Wayne Toups croons Take My Hand, looking over their lover’s shoulder to mouth to others, “This was our wedding song.” Charley Pride asked us if anyone was goin’ to San Antone, we rolled a piano on-stage so Ronnie Milsap lamented the Smoky Mountain Rain, Jamey Johnson said we should have seen it in color, and so many others shared their music, their stories, and their love for live music with us, like the Bellamy Brothers, Robert Earl Keen, Cody Canada, Bobby Bare, David Allen Coe, Earl Thomas Conley, Hayes Carll, Gary P Nunn, Johnny Lee, Mickey Gilley, John Anderson, John Michael Montgomery, Johnny Rodriguez, John Conlee, Kevin Fowler, Charlie Robison, Larry Gatlin, Sammy Kershaw, TG Sheppard, Moe Bandy, Shooter Jennings, Tracy Lawrence, Jack Ingram, Oak Ridge Boys, Steve Wariner, and so many more. Were you there?
As Houston brought the Super Bowl to Houston a few years ago, we were honored to be the party hosted by Dan Pastorini where Mean Joe Greene, Mike Ditka, Bob Lilly, and many other Hall of Famers (including Robert Brazile, from the Luv Ya Blue group that showed, even though Robert was not yet inducted in the HOF but would be last year) chose to gather and hear something truly special: the first, and only, time Mark Chesnutt, Tracy Byrd and Clay Walker have ever performed on the stage at the same time. The Beaumont Boys made a special memory for us all that night.
We’ve also hosted some really fun musicians who were not country, like Bret Michaels, Collective Soul, Eddie Money, former Sam Cooke songleader Grady Gaines, Los Lonely Boys, and more. When we opened our inside doors in 2014, the first show was Charley Daniels Band, and the next night was Marshall Tucker Band. What a weekend, and we were less than a year old.
We haven’t just done music shows, we’ve also hosted some incredible events, like “An Evening With” discussions with book authors Wade Phillips, Michelle Malkin, Sharyl Atkisson, and many more. In 2 months we will host our 7th annual Marine Corps Birthday, which is open to ALL Veterans, and the public, where we’ll feed and provide drinks to our Veterans and remind them we love and appreciate them. Shenandoah will play. It is free to all Veterans. We even hastily slapped together a greater Houston Veterans Day parade a few years back when the City of Houston canceled theirs after Harvey. We have hosted 6 straight years of the Danny Dietz Memorial event, raising hundreds of thousands for the children of fallen SEALs. The Chance for Hope charity organization raises a lot of money for children’s brain cancer research and assistance to families battling this malady, and they hold their successful event with us every year.
We’ve supported small business owners with networking gatherings and speakers. We’ve hosted book club meetings. We’ve hosted weddings, birthday parties, memorial ceremonies, bar and bat mitzvahs, anniversary parties, company expos, high school reunions, continuing education workshops, job fairs, and so much more.
Watching this documentary reminded me why we went to the trouble to start the RCC in the first place. It was NOT the love of the music. That’s icing on the cake. It’s the feeling we get when a crowd of like-minded people (many of them listeners of our show) gather together and make new friends and memories. It has renewed in our weary minds a love for what made us who and what the RCC is.
We’re excited about 2020, and a new vision, and waaaaaay more shows, and a talented team that has really come together well, and new staffing improvements (we’re bringing in a concierge to handle JUST the season ticket holders and their ticketing and special needs the night of shows, for instance).
Come see us this weekend and let’s talk about our shared memories, and I’ll share some of what we’re planning for 2020 that I think you’ll love.