A few months before the Americana Music Conference I had received an email baring a Hatch Show Print image of a young Porter Wagoner beaming and smiling and holding his guitar. he seemed to be thinking “I am the man, and kiss my ass.” This was an invitation to a tribute to the country music legend, Hall Of Fame member and and Opry fixture.
The tribute became a eulogy after Wagoner succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 80 on Sunday, October 28th.
Wagoner was riding high on the release of his Anti records album “Wagonmaster.” The album was produced, played on and shepherded by the patron saint of country music’s legacy Marty Stuart.
I made my way downtown from the Convention Center conference check in to the Tennessee State Museum where the amidst the current exhibit of Marty Stuart’s Sparkle & Twang a tribute was to be held. There was already a line forming, 20 or 25 of the faithful, and I sauntered up to the end of the line. There I met fiddler extraordinaire Barbara Lamb and her friend from Seattle (who’s name escapes me) munching on the remnants of a Subway sandwich. Lamb proved to be charming company and took time to point out the Nashville who’s who growing crowd.
With the price of admission (a $5 donation for the Museum really) came a ticket for a free beverage. As I was waining in line for my free Bub longneck I was fortunate to recognize Austin, Texas chanteuse Sunny Sweeney ahead of me. I told Sunny who I was and told her that I run this blog and she was sweet enough to state that she had seen my site. What a gal!
Then Rodney Crowell came walking around the side of the bar and I was barely able to mutter a hello and grab a handshake. But I did my best.
By the time I made my way back to my chair I noticed that the room was filled with hundreds of folks most of which where standing around the stage and seating area. Then there was a brief clamor and I saw Attorney General Janet Reno. Reno had been involved in the “Song of America” project and was in town to appear on a panel of the same name. The cool factor of the room just amped way up for me.
The show started with Jim Lauderdale doing what he does naturally, MCing the event. Singing “Slewfoot,” telling corny jokes (“I once told a the Grand Old Opry crowd, “I like classical music, like Wagner, Porter Wagoner.” – HAW!) and wearing a spangled Nudie suit Porter would be proud of, Jim mentioned that Marty Stuart was stuck out of town and not able to attend the event honoring his friend and colleague. It might have been true, but I just figured Marty was naturally too tore up to appear.
Wearing a Nudie inspired baseball cap Wagoner’s daughter, Denise, was in at a table up front with some other family members. She briefly spoke at the event and was clearly pleased with the turnout and the opportunity to pay respect to her father and receive the Americana Music Association “Americana Original Award” given to Porter posthumously.
Also in the audience was Wagoner’s pre-Dolly duet partner, a youthful appearing Norma Jean, who waived and smiled sweetly when announced.
Rodney Crowell, Jim Lauderdale, the Hacienda Brothers’ Chris Gaffney, Buddy Miller and Emmylou Harris (who felt moved to attend the event though she was not initially on the bill) all appeared to cover Porter songs and pay respect. Harris and Crowell sang “If Teardrops Were Pennies” as a duet as Porter and Dolly had done many years before. And Harris sweetly sang “Someone I Used To Know” with Miller on backing vocals. “We’ve been so inspired by him for so long,” said Emmylou, who sang two more Porter songs with Buddy before inviting Jim up for a lovely version of “Satisfied Mind.”
Mike Farris (late of the Screaming Cheetah Wheelies) hushed the crowd with a soulfully rousing version of “Green Green Grass Of Home.”
I had a chanced to see Wagoner and Stuart perform many of the songs on “Wagonmaster” in an intimate sold out show at Joe’s Pub on the East side last March and then briefly meet him backstage. I was then able to see him open for the White Stripes at Madison Square Garden a few days before my birthday last July. I attended specifilally to see Poter since I really can’t understand what the big deal is with the White Stripes, though I do respect Jack White for hand-picking Porter to open for them
I consider myself very fortunate to have had these events take place in my life and will treasure those memories.
In his brief but spectacular comeback period Porter reminded us all how elegant and eloquent country music can be.
Porter Wagoner Photo Near Stage
Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris and Jim Lauderdale
Wagoner’s daughter, Denise and Jim Lauderdale
Me and Porter