Stars Behind the Stars: Country Music Icons Band Together to Back the Blue in D/FW

– Word by Jordan Buford / Photos by James Villa –
Billy Bob’s Texas / Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Stars Behind The Stars (Billy Bob's Texas - Fort Worth, TX) 7/27/16 ©2016 James Villa Photography, All Rights Reserved

It came together rather last minute, but as soon as it was announced it was evident it would be a sell-out show, partly because of the acts, but mostly due to the cause.

Almost three weeks after the deadly shooting in downtown Dallas that left five police officers dead, Fort Worth’s legendary Billy Bob’s Texas was hosting a benefit concert with a slew of country artists, the proceeds benefiting the Assist the Officer Foundation.

The fact that it was on a Wednesday night was the only thing the event had going against it, just since it’s hard to get out in the middle of the week for most people, but upon arriving to Billy Bob’s it was evident that would be a nonissue. At six people were lined up outside of the honky tonk, and upon walking in, it was clear many more had been there as soon as doors opened, already inside getting some drinks, playing pool, or awaiting the beginning of the show.

By the time it was all said and done this would be a near capacity show as North Texans came out in droves to support the worthy and noble cause.

More than a dozen acts had been scheduled to perform, and a large reason so many artists were able to grace the stage was because the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame Band was serving as the house band for the night. Comprised of Mitchell Smithey, Wes Taylor, Charlie Shearer, Scott Moody, Curtis Randall, John Martinez, Angie McWhirter, Kyle Harris and Shawnda Rains, they had learned nearly fifty songs in all for this show, first backing up T.G. Sheppard, who performed one song before taking over duties as the MC.

It was about a quarter after six then, Sheppard noting what an honor it was to be hosting such an event before welcoming Johnny Lee to the stage.

Stars Behind The Stars (Billy Bob's Texas - Fort Worth, TX) 7/27/16 ©2016 James Villa Photography, All Rights Reserved

Lee was quick to express how sorry he was that anyone had to be there, given the circumstances, though he was grateful Texas had “showed up”. From new songs to classics, he treated everyone to a quick sampling of his material, ending with a song he noted Eddie Murphy had liked so much he sang it on Saturday Night Live. That was the only hint the patrons needed to realize he was speaking of “Lookin’ for Love”, which they all chimed in on.

The stage belonged to John Conlee next, and while he would return later on for a longer set, he only had one song at the moment, and that was the all too appropriate “Walkin’ Behind the Star”.

The musicians kept coming out, Kelly Lang being the next one to be introduced, and after performing one song on her own, Sheppard, her husband, joined her for a solid rendition of “Islands in the Stream”.

Gene Watson had the stage next, again doing just a small handful of songs, which included “Paper Rosie” and, of course, his signature tune, “Farewell Party”, which was touching and extraordinary.

With such brief sets and practically no downtime between bands, the night was passing quickly already, even though there was still a long way to go. John Conlee assumed the role of MC, just for a moment as he first spoke on what a worthy cause this was, acting as a stark reminder to just how important law enforcement is.

With that, he welcomed Moe Bandy to the stage, who breezed through “Bandy the Rodeo Clown” and another apt song for the night and the circumstance, “Americana”. It just promoted a feeling of brotherhood, reminding everyone we’re all in this together.

Janie Fricke seemed to get some of the loudest fanfare thus far. All of the tables in the area with the stage were nearly full at that point in the evening, while the sides were hard to navigate as people with GA tickets stood watching the TV screens of the live feed (which was also being broadcast on a couple of websites).

Stars Behind The Stars (Billy Bob's Texas - Fort Worth, TX) 7/27/16 ©2016 James Villa Photography, All Rights Reserved

She split her time, spending a bit of it as a guitarist, while another song found her acting just as a frontwoman; “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy” finishing up her time on stage.

The Bellamy Brothers were another act performing, who were almost giving a sneak peek of what their headline show would look like just a couple days after this.

David and Howard Bellamy appeared happy to be there for such a cause, smiling at the fans as they made their way on stage.

They opened with a love song, “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me?” having everyone singing along, as did the final song of the three-song set, “Redneck Girl”. With such quick performance times, it was hard for any act to really find their stride in such a short time, though The Bellamy Brothers managed to come closer than most this night, making their set one of the best of the evening.

T.G. Sheppard was still absent from the hosting duties, primarily because he was about to reclaim the stage to serve up another couple of songs, after which they took a break from the music to give shout outs to all of the sponsors of this event, as well as announce an anonymous donation they had received shortly before for $40,000. Apart from the sponsors, it was made clear that every musician was donating their time to be there, something that made everyone who set foot on the stage more respected than they already were.

T. Graham Brown did a little more roaming around the stage than most; and not only did he share his music with everyone, but also some jokes.

“A woman beat her husband with his guitar collection,” he began, saying once she got to court the judge asked if she was a first offender. “No, your honor. First a Gibson, then a Fender,” was the punch line that got a rise out of everyone, as he ultimately ended his time on stage with his first number one hit, “Hell or High Water”.

Stars Behind The Stars (Billy Bob's Texas - Fort Worth, TX) 7/27/16 ©2016 James Villa Photography, All Rights Reserved

The energy level spiked a bit when Collin Raye stepped out. One of the youngest performers of the lineup, he was also the most animated, darting across the stage from time to time, while others he propped his foot up on a monitor as he surveyed the crowd while singing hits like “That’s My Story”.

He was quick to say how excited he was to be a part of this night, saying as soon as he found out about it he offered to help in any way necessary, even if it included waiting tables. That got a few laughs, though you could tell it wasn’t much of a joke. He truly wanted to lend a hand in whatever way he could.

He was one of just a few artists that got time enough for four songs and he made the most of it, immersing everyone in what I would assume a Collin Raye show is all about, as he worked hard to ensure everyone had a great time and enjoyed themselves to the fullest all the way through “Love, Me”.

Once Raye cleared the stage, John Conlee came back out for a couple more of his hits. “Common Man” came first and garnered a great deal of cheering, though “Rose Colored Glasses” trumped it, the singer donning a pair of color appropriate sunglasses for it.

Then came the moment everyone had been waiting for. Easily the biggest name act on the bill, Tanya Tucker.

Everyone would have been fine if she had played an hour, and she even earned a standing ovation as she took the stage before people quickly sat back down.

Stars Behind The Stars (Billy Bob's Texas - Fort Worth, TX) 7/27/16 ©2016 James Villa Photography, All Rights Reserved

Tucker was all smiles as she strolled out there with confidence, knocking out “Some Kind of Trouble” and “Don’t Go Out” in quick succession, T. Graham Brown joining her for that latter one, making it a bit of a duet. The first time she really did address the spectators was to say her next number had become a bit of a Texas theme song over the years.

The response that statement got was near deafening, and once “Texas” got underway, the collective voice of the patrons almost overpowered Tucker’s, who was thrilled to hear everybody singing it back at her.

Before carrying on she informed everyone when that chaos in Dallas was unfolding, she was traveling from Austin back to Nashville, speaking of how concerned she was, particularly since she felt reasonably close to it. Almost as a tribute to those who protected the city and the five who died doing so, she did a cover of “Amazing Grace”, which bled into her own “Delta Dawn”, Brown rejoining her for it, while Raye also came back out to help sing the tune that concluded her time on stage.

Her voice sounded as incredible as always, Tucker still being a powerhouse singer as she danced around on stage, clearly enjoying herself, which made the audience enjoy her set all the more.

One thing that had been promised this night was an appearance from Randy Travis, who came out right there at the end, Tucker making her way over to him to give him a hug before he was helped back into the wings of the stage.

With the night winding down, Mark Wills stepped into view, the youngest singer on the bill getting in touch with the night by playing “Looking for America”, a song he said he thought went well with the night and everyone seemed to agree, the song talking about how things have changed in the country.

Stars Behind The Stars (Billy Bob's Texas - Fort Worth, TX) 7/27/16 ©2016 James Villa Photography, All Rights Reserved

He ended on perhaps the most rocking note of the night, “19 Somethin’” letting him go out on an intense high note as Wills reminisced about his childhood and youth in the song.

Originally scheduled to go on much earlier, Ronnie McDowell wound up with the next to last slot, the singer bringing back the patriotic vibe as he had everyone sing the “Star Spangled Banner” midway through his set, which was capped off with a fan favorite, “Older Women”.

It had been a little more than three hours, which had passed surprisingly fast, The Oak Ridge Boys being charged with closing this thing down.

The quartet wanted to end this show with a bang and did so by hammering home that American pride, beginning with, what else but “American Pride” and soon sharing a story of what led to them writing the following song. September 11th was mentioned, that tragedy being the initial catalyst for what would become “Sacrifice… For Me”, while a good friend of theirs losing his son in the Iraq war a few years later further fueled their desire to write the song.

It was noted they typically sang it, but for this occasion decided to simply recite the track, the story seeming to have even more weight by simply being spoken.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been an Oak Ridge Boys show without some hits, “Elvira” being the one the folks all seemed to be awaiting.

That was that. A relatively early end to an incredible show that left everyone feeling pretty positive, knowing they had at least done a little something to help contribute to those that risk everything to keep our cities safe.

Considering all of this did come together last minute, it went off without a hitch.

It did feel rushed, but that was unavoidable, and the main purpose wasn’t to hear one specific act but to indulge in several that wanted to lend their time to help out. The only thing that did leave people scratching their heads was wondering where Mickey Gilley was. He was listed on the scheduled set and appeared on the poster for the show, yet there was no explanation as to why he wasn’t there.

Did that ruin the night? Absolutely not. Was it disappointing? A bit, yeah.

Still, The Oak Ridge Boys, Tanya Tucker and the slew of other artists that performed made it well worth venturing out on a Wednesday night, making it known they are all seasoned veterans who still know how to give the fans just what they want to see and hear.

The talent was topnotch, and kudos to them for taking time out to be there and put on the show, as well as Billy Bob’s for hosting it and everyone else that made it possible. It was great to see North Texans coming together for such a good cause.


James Villa