Grand Ole Opry star Mike Snider set the tone for Wednesday's Stars Go Blue for Colon Cancer concert in Nashville, with his down-home music and good-natured humor. GAC's Nan Kelley, herself a cancer survivor after being diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in May of 2008, emceed the show and silent auction. Her husband, Charlie Kelley, is a colon cancer survivor who was diagnosed in November of that same year. He contributed a bit of humor himself, closing the show with a song he and singer/songwriter Peter Cooper wrote, 'Less of An Ass Than I Used to Be.'
In between, the audience was treated to music by Wade Hayes, Mike Reid, Gretchen Peters (pictured above), Barry Walsh, Peter Cooper, Rodney Crowell and Bill Miller.
Wade, Mike, Gretchen, Barry and Peter chose to present their music through an in-the-round, a songwriter tradition established in Nashville in which each songwriter talks about the song they are going to sing before they perform it. Wade started off the set with a question. "Do you want to hear old or new songs?" "Old," came the response, and he complied with his hit 'Old Enough to Know Better.'
While some writers choose to follow the theme of the previous song, Gretchen explained she was going to do a song from her divorce album, singing 'Breakfast at Our House.' Peter lightened the room with a story about arriving at the venue to find good food and great conversation before the show started. "I guess I'm just trying to tell you how hard this job is," he said as he strummed his guitar. He then performed a song that soon had the audience laughing along with him, 'Dumb Luck.' At one point he had everyone nodding when he relayed the story of a math teacher who told him he had to pass the course because he'd need to know what he learned later in life. "I didn't," Peter said and the crowd applauded.
Mike Reid, a hit songwriter who was also a pro-football player for the the Cincinnnati Bengals, performed his Tim McGraw hit, 'Everywhere,' at a slightly slower pace than Tim did it. "At this stage of my life, that's a peppy number," Mike joked.
"I feel so fortunate to be up here on this stage with so many talented people," Wade said when his turn to sing came around again. The singer, who had hits in the mid-90s, still looks the same as the day he drove into Nashville from Oklahoma. Fans might have seen him lately on the road with Randy Owens of the band Alabama fame. "These guys are doing these sweet songs so I'll do this one," the singer said before performing 'What's a Broken Heart for You,' off of his most recent album, 'Place to Turn Around.'
As the evening progressed and everyone became more comfortable with each other, they began to join in on each other's songs. Wade played guitar along with Mike's piano accompaniment, and Peter sang backup for the rest of the singers on the stage. After all, it was a night about sharing ...
Mike proved throughout the night that he's not only a great songwriter but an expert storyteller. "I moved to Nashville in 1980, and the first year I was busy trying to get something going. My wife, Suzie, and I were arguing with each other because we hadn't seen each other very much that year, and she said to me 'I feel like living with you here is like living with a stranger in this house.' Even as mad as I was I remember thinking 'That's a great line for a song title.' I went in and wrote it and Ronnie Milsap recorded it. After that first royalty check came, Suzie kept trying to pick an argument with me so I could come up with other song titles!"
After playing 'Stranger In My House,' Mike complimented Wade on the guitar solo he had improvised in the middle of the song. Wade chose to perform 'I'm Still Dancing With You.' Gretchen introduced her next song as one that had never been a hit. "It's been recorded a number of times and whenever I go somewhere and play it, everyone knows it." She then performed 'On a Bus to St. Cloud,' which met with loud approval from the audience.
Mike closed the evening with the Bonnie Raitt smash 'I Can't Make You Love Me' after thanking the audience for coming out to the concert.
The next segment of the show featured friends Rodney Crowell and Bill Miller. The two met in Switzerland at a huge music concert there and have been friends ever since. Bill opened their part of the show with a rendition of 'Amazing Grace,' played on the Native American flute. Rodney followed it with a song he wrote for a friend who had cancer, Ernest Chapman. "We went to walk at Radnor Lake and Ernest told me that he was going to have the bone marrow transplant for his wife and son, but, he added, 'I know I"m out of here.' He also told Rodney, 'I'm going to make more out of my next life than I did this one.'
"So I went home and wrote this song for him and I got to play it for him before he fulfilled his promise of leaving." Rodney then performed 'Still Learning How to Fly.'
The two friends traded songs and licks for another 30 minutes, breaking into everything from the blues to the spiritual 'Blessing Wind' by Bill. They closed out their set with a tribute to one of their heroes, Johnny Cash, by performing 'Folsom Prison Blues.' The event had gone on into the night, but most of the enthusiastic audience stayed until the end.
Charlie and Nan produced the first Stars Go Blue For Colon Concert last year, featuring Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Hal Ketchum, Jamie O'Neal and Peter Cooper. Proceeds from the event go to the Colon Cancer Alliance and the Blue Note Fund, which gives monetary gifts to colon cancer patients in need.