October 30, 2013
This week’s post celebrates events in Nashville and includes this writer’s observations, along with mini-stories from fans and students. What a trip! I will post in two sections. Part I will showcase Barry’s visit to Middle Tennessee State University and Part II, which I will post in a day or so, will recount the events at the Grand Ole Opry.
The Nashville Miracles –Part I
The little miracles began in early afternoon, Monday, October 28, as I approached the entrance to Tucker Theater on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University. On a cloudy but comfortable day, fans were already gathered in front of the theater doors and seated on the stairs, determined to be in the audience when Barry Gibb gave his presentation that night. At 1 p.m. , six hours before the evening’s event, the very young and the young at heart were arriving. Some sat in folding chairs, others stood in small groups talking about their Bee Gee experiences. Even after hearing hundreds of stories, I found myself again shaking my head as I pulled out my notebook to interview anyone who wanted to talk. Stan, age 67, and his 52-year-old wife have been fans for decades and first saw the brothers in Vegas with Olivia Newton John. Stan assured me that Bee Gee music is always playing, sometimes on I-Pad, sometimes on Sirius radio and sometimes on the DVD’s which are watched over and over on a 60 inch flat screen TV. Driving from West Virginia, Tom first saw the Bee Gees in 1971, then again in ’73 and ’79 and last attended the Heart Ball in 2012. Bonnie traveled from Chicago and first saw a concert in Milwaukee in 1975, where she met Robin and Barry. She is the proud owner of an ex-Bee Gee car, the 450 SLC Mercedes with the license plate BEE GEE on it. It is her prized possession. Kim brought me to my first tears of the day when she talked about Andy, telling me she often flies to Los Angeles on business and every trip, without fail, she buys a bouquet of flowers and visits Andy’s grave to place them there. Caroline was in the front of the line and just returned from taking her 73-year-old mother to London to see Barry’s concert there. She explained that one of her biggest miracles in life was being at the Sunrise Millennium Concert and meeting all three brothers. Perhaps the most intriguing story came from Ricky, who lived in Birmingham, Alabama in 1978 and was a Bee Gee lover from the time he and his friends went to clubs to disco dance. He was in junior college, going to the Hollywood Cavalry Club, which had a flashing lighted floor. The director of Saturday Night Fever, John Badham, lived in Birmingham and got his idea for the film from this club. Ricky enthusiastically explained how he loved to dress in his satin shirts and Bee Gee attire. His first concert of many was in ’79, and he proudly claims to be the best Maurice Gibb fan ever. Many fans were using the word “miracle”. “It’s a miracle that Barry’s doing this”; “it’s a miracle he’s still singing to us”; and from a woman just out of the hospital, “it’s a miracle I got here to see him.” It was clear that Barry Gibb fan loyalty is fierce. By mid-afternoon there was a long line of fans down the street, and at 5:30 the doors opened and fans rushed in to claim their seats. I was lucky to be seated in the very front of the stage, and once situated, quickly set about chatting up the students in the theater. The camera operator was beyond excited. Tech students were nervous. Two young girls, ages 19 and 20, said they were Bee Gee fans since they were 8 and 9. Kyle, a 19-year-old Theater Management major, spoke with me about how much he loved the Bee Gees’ music. He commented that two of his slightly older friends (in their 20’s) got him into the brothers’ music. Another student gushed that this was a “chance of a lifetime”. A music student told me he was honored to “hear a Gibb speak”. A female student with a huge grin said she sang with her mom since she was a tiny girl and knew “every single Bee Gee song”. I found the students to be filled with anticipation and clearly respectful of the man they were about to hear speak. Two seats away from me sat Kevin, who caught Barry as he was entering the artist entrance before the event. Carrying his guitar, Kevin asked Barry to sign it and talked of his mother’s love for Barry. Kevin told me that Barry asked him if his mother was still with him and Kevin replied that she had passed away and wasn’t with him. Barry told him, “Yes, she’s still with you.” Recounting this little story with tears in his eyes, I marveled at how Barry’s sensitivity to his fans’ feelings gave this man a special moment he would treasure forever. Kevin was overcome with emotion, another little miracle. Just before the event began, I stood and turned to look at the overflowing crowd and noticed that there were 18-year-olds mixed with 30-somethings, interspersed with the gray-headed fans whose devotion started in the 60’s. Stephen Gibb came out from backstage, and I felt somehow comforted knowing that he was looking out for his father. Linda, of course, was in attendance, rock of support that she is. She continues to amaze me just with her presence. Barry’s entrance caused a stir, as he was presented with the Inaugural Fellow Award, and the ovation was loud and appreciative. I listened carefully to those around me who were whispering “ooohs” and “ahhhs” and “wows” at their good fortune, because Barry Gibb didn’t give a lecture to the crowd; he gave a full performance. Question after question came from Professor Keel, the head of the Recording Industry Department. Barry answered the questions openly with honesty, enthusiasm and humor. In between questions, he sang his heart out for the audience. The gentleman next to me, Rick, said, “This is a miracle. We’re getting a whole Barry Gibb concert.” There was that word again. I glanced around often to look at the students’ faces. They were mesmerized, smiling, staring and lost in Barry’s performance. As a teacher, I found this incredibly gratifying, young minds witnessing a musical icon sharing his talents. Admittedly, as an emotional fan, there were two sad moments that had me reaching for the tissues. The first came at the beginning of the “talk” when Professor Keel welcomed Barry and thanked him for coming. He softly said, “Well, it should be Maurice and Robin with me, but it’s just me.” That brought on the tears for many in the crowd. The second sad twinge of the heart occurred when Barry sang “NY Mining Disaster”. As wonderful as this song is, it just isn’t the same without Robin and Maurice’s close harmony. Fans later told me post-event that they “could just hear the three brothers singing this together.” The Mo and Robin fans were out in force and quick to point out how wonderful Barry was when he acknowledged his brothers’ contributions, which, of course, he did often, mentioning at one point Robin’s lyrics and how Mo played all kinds of instruments. They were right there with him all evening. A highlight of the night was Barry’s good-natured willingness to take questions from the crowd. As an obviously adoring fan asked him to “say happy birthday to my mother”, Barry asked what her mother’s name was and she replied, “Tammy”. Without missing a beat, Barry strummed his guitar and sang the “Tammy’s in Love” song made famous by the Debbie Reynolds’ films. As the fantasy night was coming to an end, fans rushed forward with albums and pens, hoping for an autograph. Admittedly not an autograph person (I really would prefer a nice conversation over lunch, Barry) I’d promised Kym from California that I’d try to get her “Spirits” CD signed. She’d mailed it to me from 3000 miles away, and with good luck, since I was right in front of him, Barry signed and I got out of the line of fire. Noticing the wonderful country singer Kelly Lang standing nearby, I approached her and said hello and asked her about working with Barry. She smiled and spoke of her affection and friendship for Barry, and it was a sweet moment for me to watch the animated face of another successful artist complimenting Barry. She is a lovely lady, who took the time to share her thoughts with me, very much a Maurice Gibb kind of person, I thought, warm and kind. So what should the Gibb fans around the globe be most aware of about this night? I think it might be how every person I interacted with had certain feelings in common. I made a list of descriptive adjectives of praise for Barry, and the list is a long one. After the event ended, students were gushing about Barry, saying they “wished music today was half as good as Gibb music.” I loved that comment. The fans view the Bee Gees as the writers of the music that tells the stories of their lives, affects their hearts, and enriches them; and they view Barry Gibb as a gracious, humble, sincere man who they admire and love like family, and that’s all there is to say.