Backstage on Sunday at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, there stood a row of guitars. At least 100 of them of various shapes, sizes and colors. Nearby were several drum sets, microphone stands, trunks too numerous to count with the names of bands or individual artists on them, as well as stagehands and cables running everywhere.
Another big night of country music at the home of country music? No.
On this night, an entirely different genre was to hit the iconic stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Instead of the likes of Toby Keith or Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood or Rascal Flatts, Alan Jackson or Marty Stewart, the night would be filled with the heartfelt music of spirit-filled, Jesus-praising contemporary Christian artists — and God was in the house.
This was the culmination of the second annual K-LOVE Fan Awards Weekend, moving from its first-year home of the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville to the Grand Ole Opry just north of the city.
Well before the 4 p.m. start of the Red Carpet event, a solid throng of camera-toting fans began to swell along the East side of the Opry, each one with their own agenda of exactly who they hoped to see, snap a photograph of and perhaps even be lucky enough to get an autograph from.
Nevermind that the heat index was soaring into the mid- to upper-90s. Nevermind that security was focused on keeping the growing crowd in its designated place, which was to be a good 25 feet beyond the ropes that guarded the actual red carpet. Nevermind that there would be another throng of people — the media — stationed between the fans and the ropes.
One of those blocking the view of fans was me, myself and I. After saying a silent apology to those I would soon be annoying, I made my way to the ropes without hesitation. After all, the three of us had our own agenda — purely professional, of course.
Right there in front of me, doing an interview with a local TV station, was Colton Dixon, a somewhat local boy from Murfreesboro, Tenn., who had “The Hair” — a white Mohawk from forehead to neck. A season 10 and 11 contestant on “American Idol” (he finished seventh in his second try), Dixon had found his fame in Christian music and came to the Opry nominated for Male Artist of the Year.
As I was snapping photos of Dixon, a security guard approached a cluster of folks next to me and asked to see their credentials. They had none, but one of them said, “we’re family of Colton” and pointed to Dixon. Apparently that satisfied the guard and he moved on.
But I was intrigued, so I asked the woman closest to me, “did I overhear you are related to Colton?” She said yes, so I ventured further: “How’s his sister doing?” Schyler had also auditioned on “American Idol” but was eliminated far earlier than Colton.
“I’m his sister,” the woman said.
Ooops. After a quick recovery, the two of us chatted down the line until Schyler asked if I’d like to meet Colton. Would I? How about a big fat YES! And that, my friends, is how I went from small newspaper guy to a huge buddy of a rising contemporary Christian music star.
OK, not so much. We shook hands. He was very gracious and, 2.57 seconds later, I became barely a blip in his day.
I spent the next hour going back and forth along the ropes to see, photograph and attempt to speak with the performers. There was Danny Gokey, another rising start who got his start on “American Idol,” as well as the Newsboys, Plumb, Francesca Battistelli, Jamie Grace, Chris Tomlin, MercyMe, Casting Crowns, Big Daddy Weave, Tobymac, Crowder and so many others.
Just before the awards show was to start, the media was herded into a room backstage, where we were treated to food, beverages and a huge screen that would show the show being hosted by Matthew West and Candice Cameron-Bure.
Aside from those sitting in the front row of the Opry’s auditorium, I think the media had the best seats in the house. And when K-LOVE folks began parading the winners and presenters of each award to the podium just 10 feet from my chair, my job immediately went from pretty cool to extremely awesome.
Not only was I able to take photos, but also ask actual questions — and on a couple of occasions, even catch an artist as they made their way back to the show. Perhaps the best was Mandisa, who won Female Artist of the Year as well as Song of the Year for “Overcomer.” She was awesome to speak with and even signed an autograph for my granddaughter.
What I learned about these folks is that, aside from being super serious about their faith and love of Jesus, their personalities are rounded out by a just-as-super serious love of family, incredibe focus on spreading the word of God’s blessings through their music and surprisingly laced with humor.
The entire experience only served to fortify for me the daily blessings that K-LOVE provides through its positive and encouraging music. It’s safe to say that I left the Grand Ole Opry a different person, thanks to the fact that the voices on the radio have now become faces I’ve spoken to and hands I’ve shook.
— W. Curt Vincent is the general manager/editor of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.