A light rain was falling as we drove our tour bus down the long dirt driveway leading into “the Clubhouse in Rye Patch”, the concert venue in which we would be performing on this night. Buried deep in the woods of Ludowici, Georgia, the view out of the bus window was quite picturesque as we passed some horses in a field on one side, and a gazebo in the middle of a small pond on the other from which an inviting sign put forth the words “propose to get married here.” After getting the bus parked, I directed some stagehands to load our gear into the performance area, an open sided breezeway complete with “that dirt floor charm” and air that smelled of barroom pleasantries and rabbit poop. Randy Hauser, the other headliner, was scheduled to play after us, at 10 PM, and his band was in the middle of sound check as I scoped out the room. A couple of hours later, after Hauser’s boys had extensively checked the system, it was our turn to set up and sound check in this room now half full of people, and we proceeded to the stage. An hour or so later we retreated to the dining hall for a catered meal of pork, chicken, mac and cheese, steamed corn, and fried bread, which was followed by some showers in the bunk house.
Sometime around 6 PM, the first of three opening acts took the stage and began the night with a pounding rendition of the rarity “Sweet Home Alabama”, complete with double bass drum fills throughout. This over-the-top band of locals was an explosion of kinetic energy, and they proceeded to entertain the crowd with their hour plus set of cult classics. With the following two openers of this music marathon each playing close to an hour, the night was running behind, and it was just after 9:30, before we took the stage. By this point of the night, the place was wall-to-wall, and the audience of 1200 festive Southerners, ranging in age from infancy to 80, was now spilling out into the courtyard. Our five piece group delivered a walloping performance, and the crowd reaction was magnanimous, one of our best receptions so far this year. During one point of the performance, a couple of kids hopped up onto the stage, singing and dancing along. This prompted a couple of “young ladies” to follow suit on the opposite side of this small and already overcrowded stage. The feisty ladies had difficulty showing restraint, and their dancing quickly evolved into more of a grinding-like motion. By the end of the song more people were trying to get on stage which prompted some “security personnel” to start grabbing folks and handing them off the back of the stage. In the middle of the next song another girl hopped onto the stage, however this time, one of the house sound engineers grabbed her bouncer-style and she was gone almost as quickly as she appeared. This prompted one of the “security personnel” to hop onto the stage and place himself strategically between me and Rhett, who was standing about 5 feet away. For this, he received an instant rejection notice from me, and he vanished quickly as well.
We finished our 60 minute set to a roaring applause that didn’t subside until we climbed back on stage for an encore. Rhett strapped on an electric guitar and proceeded to play some licks before launching into Tom Petty’s “Last Chance for Mary Jane”. After a few verses, the song morphed into “Breakdown” followed by a few riffs of Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” and then into Pearl Jam’s “Alive” before returning the final dual lead guitar onslaught at the end of this carefully executed, fly by the seat of your pants style jam.
Our performance now finished, we quickly began to strike our gear amidst a chaotic stage that was now being rushed by Randy Hauser’s crew. We loaded up our bus, and a short while later Randy Hauser and band took the stage as I began to chase down the promoter for the settlement. Hauser’s performance was followed by the “Daisy Duke” contest, during which time another local band was setting up for the “after concert-show”, a strange ritual held by many local bar owners across the land.
A short while later and we were all back on the bus driving away, talking about the night amidst Rhett’s impersonation of ‘Damone’ from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. It was another fun weekend in the deep South and we were headed home.
The Saturday morning of April 17 started out like so many other one-off’s for all of us on the Rhett Akins tour, and on this day, it was the Kappa Alpha fraternity house at Georgia Tech in Atlanta that would be our destination. This particular day began in a slightly more than typical fashion with Rhett’s son, Thomas Rhett, and three of his best friends tagging along for this southern spring adventure.
We arrived at the frat house late afternoon to be greeted by our contacts who were fairly organized, and they did a good job helping us get situated (if you’ve ever played a fraternity, then you know this is somewhat uncommon). We loaded our gear onto a plywood stage which was set up in the middle of a courtyard in the back of the frat house, and proceeded to set up and sound check amidst the backdrop of the downtown skyscrapers of this enormous city. This particular concert had an 11:30 PM start time, typical for a frat party, so we had a good amount of downtime between sound check and the show. A few hours later, after some dinner and a little chillin’ in the front lounge, I went out to the stage to get some things set for the show. Upon returning to the bus, I felt a little bit of that pre-show lag common with such late starts, and we all started talking about how we felt like we were ready for bed. Sorry everybody, show time is in five minutes!
The show began and a wave of energy quickly spread from the stage, through the crowd, and back to the stage in that kind of perpetual circular motion that only happens at a live concert. It’s amazing how quickly adrenaline will turn exhaustion into an abundance of energy, and now the night was really starting to evolve as we stomped through our repertoire. The packed courtyard was standing room only, and the receptive kids were singing along with Rhett’s earlier hits as well as much of his unreleased later material. Still going strong an hour and a half after we began, Rhett decided to pull out some old-school tunes, and the crowd of energetic youngsters, many of whom were still in their late teens, seemed to know every word of Allman Brothers classics like Statesboro Blues and Melissa, songs that were released years before these kids were even born. After I sang Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower to give Rhett a quick break, he launched into some more fun party tunes that kept everybody singing and grooving along, ending the electric part of this show with Hey Ho Let’s Go, by The Ramones, a song we had never played before that seemed to only further ignite the excitement of the crowd. Although we walked off the stage feeling exhausted, it was a good feeling exhausted.
It was now 2:00 AM and we had played nonstop for 2 1/2 hours, substantially longer than our typical concert, but not unheard of for us. Upon the relentless chanting for more, Rhett decided to send up his son, Thomas Rhett, to stand in for an acoustic encore. Thomas Rhett, apparently inheriting his dad’s uncanny ability to instantly win over a crowd, kept the party going strong for another 45 minutes, singing some of his favorite tunes. When Thomas left the stage, the kids, still wanting more, were then treated to a second acoustic encore by Rhett himself, who was apparently inspired by his son’s performance. Rhett announced “If it’s all right with y’all, I’m gonna keep singing until our bus driver gets here.” Of course, he thought our driver would be there shortly, which he would’ve, but because of a communication error, it would be another hour before he would arrive. By the time I finally went out to tell our fearless leader that we could now leave, it was 3:55 AM, bringing the total length of this concert to four hours and 25 minutes, what is certainly the longest Rhett Akins concert I’ve ever been a part of. Although the party had dwindled to a smaller size than its peak a couple of hours earlier, those who were left were still chanting for more as Rhett walked away.
As we drove off into the night, with a Waffle House as our next destination, we all sat around the front lounge of the bus, basking in the wonderment of the night. Even the fraternity’s security personell said we rocked. As far as Rhett Akins concerts go, it may have been the longest mile we’ve walked yet, and thanks to everybody that was there, it was another great Saturday night in Dixie!