Last night was unique in oh so many ways.
It was The Listening Room of Mobile. There was a nationally known artist appearing that has several songs that climbed all the rungs of the ladder and reached the top of the charts when they were released.
Her name is Chely Wright. It was a night I will not forget and I must say I believe it is one she will remember for a LONG time as well.
It was the first time I stood in the back of that room and observed a full room of people, but could only name a handful of them. Most were strangers to me. Those strangers were great fans of Chely. Some drove 1-2 hours one-way to see her and did not mind the wait.
The show was delayed an hour and almost cancelled due to a problem with her plane. When she left Charlotte, her plane malfunctioned and had to return to the airport, so it was touch and go on whether she would make it at one point.
It all worked out and a roaring applause shook the rafters when she finally popped through those doors of The Listening Room. Eric Erdman met her at the curb and helped get everything set up for her and her guitarist Erik Halbig.
Only a few days before this show, she was written up in People Magazine about her return on Saturday night to The Grand Ole Opry House.
I had not heard of her, nor had I heard her until last night. She is a very tiny lady with a very beautiful, powerful voice. Her voice is powerful and her words are as well. She is a lesbian and has been out of the closet ,as she says, for almost 10 years.
She tells the tale of knowing she was gay at age 9, yet fearing people might find out. It had to remain a secret and she lived a conflicted life as she struggled to conceal the true person she knew she was inside. She got into a deep depression and was even suicidal at one point. I cannot imagine the pain of being a person who is driven to the point of being suicidal, all because of feeling forced to pretend to be something they are not.
She spoke of those times, then she spoke of good times. She declared this is the first time she has played in a ball cap and sneakers on a stage. She was exhausted for sure, but she had an energy that was revved up and ready to spill itself all over us….we found ourselves swimming in her music and her joy for life and we liked the way it felt.
She commanded the stage with her stories and her songs. Her voice was mesmerizing to me, if you have not heard her sing before, check out her upcoming schedule and correct that situation right away.
Chely grabbed us by the heart and embraced us with all she had to give…she was in control and she took us on a 90 minute ride into her world…it was a trip we wanted and a trip we needed and we were not ready for it to end. As she began to sing her last song she explained in detail why she does not believe in encores…so we knew this would be the last song of the night.
Her partner on stage, Mr Erik Halbig is originally from California but currently resides in Nashville. He is an excellent guitarist who knows her music, back-up sings with some of her songs and smiles the whole time he is on the stage. At one point Erik said “Chely, I have played with you for years, but there is someone in the audience that was in your band much longer….A gentleman rushed towards her from the audience and she cried the moment she recognized him. It was Preston Stanfill. He is a drummer/percussionist that played with her for 18 years (including the original Grand Ole Opry appearance). As they embraced I saw he had drumsticks and a drumbrush in his hands behind her back….Soon, Preston sat on the stage behind the other two, Eric Erdman brought a small table over, then a cardboard box and Preston played that box like it was the queen’s drum and he was at a recital. You could not have gotten that smile off Preston with dynamite.
Preston is well known locally, he plays a lot at Flora-Bama which is pretty close-by and has been in the music world for many years.
So, it felt like a mini reunion of great friends and musicians. It felt like a joining of the perfect audience with the perfect show. It just felt good, it just felt right and I was happy to be there to witness it.
I stepped up and helped Chely by selling her merchandise while she mingled, visited and posed for pictures.
I know she had to be tired but she never lost her warm and friendly way. She is a trooper in the face of adversity she keeps on keeping on.
So Chely Wright had a scary plane situation, an almost cancelled show, was unable to dress for the show or even to freshen up for the show, she performed in sneakers and a ballcap, she performed after fighting to get here and arriving late ….but her audience was so proud she was there, it seemed to negate all other negatives and she was determined to repay them in kind.
It was the Perfect Storm of issues that ended with a PERFECT show by Chely Wright, Erik Halbig and Preston Stanfill.
Thank you Chely Wright for your strength and your music
Thank you Erik Halbig for your back-up singing and beautiful guitar work
Thank you Preston Stanfill for joining the stage with your unique percussion box
Thank you Jim Pennington and The Listening Room for yet another great show