• My backstage life, 10 minutes at a time


    Singer/songwriter Antsy McClain is the leader of the Trailer Park Troubadours.


    Having so many dear friends who are traveling musicians is a double-edged sword: We share a unique bond, but we never see each other often enough. We have to rely on the brief proximity of crossed paths and shared festivals. It often seems like we’re gasping for breath as we catch up, a flurry of backstage activity around us, our stories interrupted by the words, “10 minutes to curtain.” Along with the exhilaration of the reunion, I always take away a small sting that I wasn’t able to express how much these friends mean to me. I’m sure I don’t need to, but I feel this way every time I’ve been with family or dear friends for a too-brief reunion, running off to the airport or back to the highway for a long drive home.

    Sometimes I feel like I make albums as an excuse to hang out with my friends. I feel like the family reunion organizer, that great Aunt who picks out the location, chooses the date and contacts everybody in the family with hand-written invitations on aged, flowery stationary.

    And later, when everyone’s together under one roof, catching up and hugging, I take it all in with a smile and a deep sigh of satisfaction. We’ll enjoy this moment in time, we’ll miss the ones who couldn’t make it, and grieve for those who have left us, living forever in our memory. The music we make will contain the echoes of their voices, the squeak of their hands on strings. And just like at all family reunions, when we hug each other, we will feel the warm grip of their arms around us.

    This feeling has never been more real to me than last night at a cozy theater in Nashville as I got to see my friend, Tommy Emmanuel, perform. His concerts are amazing. If you haven’t seen him live, put it on your to-do list. You’ll thank me for it. I brought my daughter Emily, an extraordinary young woman with a rare musical gift (If you have my latest album, you’ve heard her sing), and she was excited to see Tommy for the first time.

    As brilliant as the concert was, my lasting memory will be of escorting my daughter backstage to say hi to Tommy and his lovely partner Clara. Hugs abounded. Brief stories were shared of recent trips and tours to come. Gina, Tommy’s manager, was there with our passes and hugs as we entered the theater. The gifted John Knowles, Pam Rose and Anthony Snape, who performed with Tommy last night, emerged from dressing rooms while we were there, again with hugs and smiles as I introduced my daughter to them and caught up.

    After an all-too short reunion, Emily and I found ourselves in the seats waiting for show time. She leaned over to me and said, “When folks see you at these things, everybody just throws their arms out with a big hug — not that stiff ‘hello, good to see you’ thing,” as she pantomimed a rigid handshake, “That is so cool. I want to be like that.”

    My first reaction was to puff up like a proud peacock and think, “She gets it! I’m the COOL DAD!” Ha. (Those desperate junior-high school patterns die hard, don’t they? Accept me! Please! Like me! Think I’m cool! Puh-Leeeeze! Ha.) But after only a few moments of reflection, and a glance at her changed expression, I realized the truth: This wasn’t about me at all. This was about being a link in a long chain of human family bound together by something unseen and ethereal, yet very real: music, art, self-expression and a lot of hard work to get us here.

    And I sighed with gratitude. This wasn’t my reunion – this one was organized by someone else – but I am a cousin in it, and I feel honored to be so. And I got to share it with someone who means the world to me.

    So today I’m grateful to all my friends who share your hearts and souls with the world in whatever capacity you can. The next time we meet, there may not be time for much more than a hug and a few precious words, like the ticker tape of headlines scrolling across an ever-moving television screen. But to have a link in this long, winding chain is glorious to me, and I’ll take whatever I can get, whatever this short, hug-filled life will give me.

    • You nailed the brevity and (hopefully) warmth of the quick-catch-up, Ants. And how great that Emily saw that just because a “reunion” (nice metaphor, floral stationary and all) is brief doesn’t mean that it can’t be both vibrant and vital; an excellent thing for all of us to keep in mind no matter our line of work.

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