More than 30 stars from country music took the stage at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena Wednesday night, Feb. 8, to honor one of their trailblazers, Randy Travis.
The three-hours-plus show, billed as “1 Night. 1 Place. 1 Time: A Heroes and Friends Tribute to Randy Travis,” featured Garth Brooks, Kenny Rogers, Alabama, Alison Krauss and a host of other stars saluting Travis in song and praise. It was truly one of those only-in-Nashville nights that continues to be the envy of fellow metropolises nationwide.
As fans are aware, Travis suffered a massive stroke in 2013 which was thought to be totally debilitating. But he has made miraculous strides in the years since, singing “Amazing Grace” at his Country Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony this past year and appearing at the CMA Awards show in November. A portion of the proceeds from the tribute concert will go to the Randy Travis Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises funds for stroke research and rehabilitation.
Many artists contributed more to the special evening than their performances, meeting with the media backstage to offer their unique takes on Travis’ enduring country music legacy. And whether country music legend or contemporary star, all agreed that the deep-voiced singer from North Carolina changed the shape of a genre that was spiraling downward. From his 1985 debut “On the Other Hand” to additional No. 1 hits like “Forever and Ever, Amen” and “I Told You So,” Travis left a significant mark on country music.
For Collin Raye, Travis was the ultimate game-changer. “The first time I heard him on the radio, I remember thinking that we need more of that,” Raye told the assembled media. “He had such a resonant voice. I was playing night clubs and casinos and such and country music was going through kind of a cheesy phase. There was a lot of thin, shallow stuff on the radio. And then ‘On the Other Hand’ comes out and ‘1982,’ and he brought the tradition back. He’s kind of a thread between George Jones and Merle Haggard and those who came after. Nobody sounds like him.”
Ricky Skaggs simply stated that, “Randy Travis has made such a great impact on country music and Nashville. I knew when I first heard his voice that he was unique.” He added, “This [show] is a great way to honor him and his achievements.”
Chris Janson didn’t hesitate when asked by Sports and Entertainment Nashville where Randy Travis stands in the pantheon of country artists. “He gets the number one spot for me,” replied the “Buy Me a Boat” singer with enthusiasm. “The first song I ever heard on the radio was ‘Diggin’ Up Bones,’ and it was the first song I ever learned to play.”
Josh Turner, the current star who draws the most favorable comparison to Travis, has been able to form a friendship with his musical hero. Turner spoke to that special relationship in endearing terms. “In a nutshell, Randy was really the motivating factor for me to move to [Nashville],” Turner said in his trademark deep voice. “He was a guy who seemed like he could live next door.” Turner also noted that Travis never changed his personality offstage, sharing a remembrance from an ACM Awards show.
“They came and got him during a commercial break and he stopped to talk to this lady who was an usher,” Turner began. “His handlers are trying to get him to go, but he stayed and talked to her. He made her feel like she was the only person in the universe at that moment, and that made me feel good. The perception I had of him was actually true.” Turner related that he visited Travis and his wife Mary often in the hospital, playing music to boost his spirits.
Tanya Tucker admitted that she felt “scared” for Travis after his stroke, but is now encouraged by his progress. “He’s really come a long way,” she noted with a smile. The tribute concert, Tucker added, will help Randy continue to mend. “I think there were times when Randy felt that Nashville had forgotten about him,” she said poignantly. “I kept reminding him that we hadn’t. I think he has to know how much we care for him and how important he is to country music and the fans. He’ll think back and realize how special this night was.”
Kenny Rogers likely summed up the feelings of all who attended the Feb. 8 tribute show. “I am just glad to be a part of this,” said “The Gambler” himself. “Randy is really an inspiration to all of us. And I hope he knows that.”