The first thing that strikes you when you make your way into the arena is that this is going to be different.
Typical of other concerts are the people lined up to buy the swag; CDs, posters and other memorabilia. What's different is the noise level, the number of white hairs , walkers and canes.
This is Baby- and pre-Boomer territory. This is going to be a love-in with Charley Pride. These are not critics, these are fans, adoring fans, who have seen Charlie perform before and who cannot wait to share another evening listening to a legend sing, hanging on his every word, dancing in the aisles and even singing the songs for him as part of the traditional tour event.
The woman sitting in front of me reminds me of the fact that because he is Afro-American, "his identity was carefully concealed from the public for a full three years by ensuring that there were no photos of him in the media or on his albums."
I am informed by another that "Charley had 39 first-places hits during his career," not to mention his countless albums. They speak of him with pride as if they are responsible for his fame. And to a certain extent, I guess that they are. They watched and helped this poor sharecroppers' son rise to fame.
The mood is festive and the crowd expectant. His band, The Pridesmen, strike up the music as Charley walks onto the stage at 8 p.m. and begins what will be a 90-minute music marathon of mostly his hits lightly peppered with other popular songs from his era ('60s and '70s).
He begins with “Eight Days on The Road” and the crowd rises as one to a standing ovation for a performer they obviously love.
His distinctive signature voice, his poise, his plain but classic dress all help create his no-nonsense approach to his show. His banter is heartfelt; he won't shake hands, but he will acknowledge anyone who approaches the stage wanting to get close to a legend.
With one exception, his backup band blends in well with the follicly challenged audience. And ahhh, that beautiful, legendary baritone voice that has spanned generations and is still recognizable albeit slightly weakened by age does not disappoint. Even the occasional memory lapses are covered by the adoring audience who sing for him, with him and make of him an even more adoring human legend.
The audience joins at every turn singing the lyrics to “Crystal Chandelier,” “Wings Of A Snow White Dove,” “Kaw Liga” and “Kiss An Angel Good Morning.” I got swept away and sang most of his songs, too. I'd forgotten that I knew those lyrics and that he was a big part of every musical family in his hey day and my youth.
Wow, and just like that it's 9:30 p.m. — 90 solid minutes of music, two encores, great new memories, and never did Charley Pride sit down, have a drink of water or falter.
At 76 years of age, his passion for his craft is palpable and a quality each and everyone of us should aspire to. Great concert, great audience, great man. Sing on Charley Pride. We love you.