On the Goe: Country Jam with the one you’re with
It’s been six years since I last worked backstage at Country Jam.
On summer break from school, I joined my best friend Tate, several career roadies and the Stage Pro team to form the “local crew.”
We were a band of grunts assembled to build the stage, move sound equipment and change gear between sets. Basically, we did the jobs nobody else would do.
It was hot, exhausting, backbreaking work. Road managers for the performers verbally lashed us without mercy, calling out orders all day long. They sent us up the vertical scaffolding to adjust lighting and secure monstrous speakers that could crush us in an instant.
Generally, it was an awful, weeklong nightmare job. But we put up with it for one reason: the coveted all-access pass.
For music nerds such as Tate and me, nothing beats being part of a big show. Country Jam 2006 was a big show. Anyone who has been out to the fields of Mack for the Jam knows it is more than a series of concerts. It’s an experience perfectly designed to share with your best friends.
Country Jam 2006 was my first year out to the festival. Looking back on it, getting to meet Sugarland, learning insider secrets from Terri Clark’s guitar tech, or watching Alan Jackson’s massive headlining set from stage left wouldn’t have been nearly as special without someone to share it with.
The true greatness of Country Jam is not the performers. As long as you’re not blacked out from a SoCo Hurricane or suffering from exposure, Country Jam is a memory waiting to happen.
One evening, Tate and I were sent over to run spotlights for Carrie Underwood’s set. Essentially, we were getting paid to ogle the newly crowned American Idol. It should have been the best gig of the festival. It wasn’t.
A tyrannical monster from Team Underwood who was charged with lighting and directing the stage show criminally abused us for close to two hours.
Someone had failed to mention that we had no experience running spots and that we had only signed up for the job immaturely hoping Underwood would recognize our natural talents and somehow fall in love with us.
The show went live and we operated the hot spots as best we could. The stage director, particularly upset with the spot operator following the lead fiddle player, unleashed a creative and profanity laden monologue and dismissed the poor kid mid-show. He was unjustly fired.
In the moment, I remember looking at Tate. In his eyes I could see we were thinking the same thing. “This guy is the biggest ... ever.”
Country Jam 2006 will always be special for me, and not just because Gretchen Wilson sang “Barracuda” note-for-note.
At that time, Tate had moved to Bozeman, Mont., to become a fighting Bobcat at Montana State University. For that one quick, summer week, we were back together, being bored kids geeking out over live music. It was how it used to be, before I became this “grumpy” columnist.
Experiencing the Jam both in front of the stage and behind it, I’ve seen and felt firsthand how music can bring people together. This year’s Jam will be no different.
You better believe Trace Adkins or Blake Shelton’s 90-minute set will last eternally in the hearts of a group of close friends.
But the secret truth is, it doesn’t matter who plays Country Jam. It only matters who you are with.