New Years Eve with Garrison Kiellor, Uncle Bammer and Musical Legends at the Ryman Auditorium

Is it Possible that Time and Experience Are Mellowing Me?

Having spent a good share of my existence frequenting bars, parties and going anywhere things might be unpredictable at any given moment, New Years Eve ceased being synonymous with hangover quite a few years ago. The final straw, I believe, might have been in 2010 when I found myself celebrating and singing Karaoke with Uncle Bammer at The Moose Breath Saloon in Billings, Montana. Bammer was dressed as he always is on the final night of the year — in nothing but a bath robe and pink, fuzzy, bunny slippers.

To put the inanity of this emerging image into perspective, it may be helpful to know that Bammer is a biker. In the 1970’s he was an Enforcer (bodyguard) for the President of the most notorious motorcycle club in the World. Although he is now retired and usually rides on 18 wheels instead of two, Bammer always has been and always will be a biker. With his long, graying, sometimes braided beard, he even looks like a biker turned trucker… even when dressed in a blue bath robe and pink, fuzzy, bunny slippers!

We had been politely asked to leave several drinking establishments prior to finding ourselves drinking shots of Hot Damn schnapps and singing karaoke out of tune at The Moose Breath. The year 2011 was only moments away when it was Bammer’s turn to sing Hank Williams.

As he took the stage and began to sing, Bammer experienced a premeditated wardrobe malfunction that makes Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl flash shrivel in comparison. And there was, at no time, any doubt that this was not an accident. But the music continued.

Bammer sang as if nothing were unusual. The crowd reacted in a myriad of ways. Some covered their eyes, while others hands went over their mouths — and Bammer continued to sing. There were whispers and shrieks as my uncle croaked out the words to I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry. And when the song was finally over and the gasps and laughter died down, the microphone was returned to the reluctant Karaoke host. Bammer tied his robe shut, quickly downed his drink, and then after being politely asked to, we left to sing Auld Lang Syne from the parking lot.

But that’s another story.

After that, some of us began referring to New Years Eve as amateur night and figured our chances of starting a new year waking up in jail would be diminished significantly if we refrained from hitting the bars for karaoke, Hot Damn and free champagne at midnight. The next year I joined my mother and great uncle at the American Legion’s Bingo fund raiser and the excitement has waned even further in subsequent years.

I had made no plans to celebrate New Year 2019, so when a friend invited me to use an extra ticket she had to go see a show, I humbly accepted. The show was being held at the historic Ryman Auditorium in the heart of Nashville. The Ryman was opened in 1894 and is known for its outstanding acoustics and the legends that have graced its stage. The one time tabernacle has hosted The Metropolitan Opera, Vienna Boys Choir, Enrico Caruso and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. It was also home to the Grand Ole Opry for 30 years; where Patsy Cline sang, where Johnny met June and where Hank Williams made his debut in 1949.

Being a former radio announcer, I was doubly excited that the show we would see was a live production of A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor. The show was not only airing live on PBS radio throughout the nation, but was also being aired live on PBS’s Great Performances television program. I was impressed.

While my experiences in broadcasting have been pretty extensive, I was awed not necessarily by Keillor’s performance, but by the massive amount of effort and talent that was invested in the production. Keillor served mainly as a mechanism of transitions between various musical acts that performed wonderfully.

Musical legends from both in front of the microphone and at the control panel entertained the sold out crowd. Suzy Bogguss sang several songs and joked with Keillor. Jerry Douglas, Buddy Emmons and Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver all participated, as did producer Cowboy Jack Clement and Tim Russell. The Old Crow Medicine Show delighted the audience with some fine mountain pickin’ and grinnin’. Even Keillor took the mike on several occasions throughout the evening and tried his singing voice on.

Because January 1st is the 53rd anniversary of the death of Hank Williams, many of the performers had a desire to pay tribute to one of the most influential musicians to ever stand on the stage they now played on. Robin and Linda Williams performed several songs that were either written by or written in honor of Luke the Drifter.

The biggest treat of the evening for me came when Emmylou Harris took the stage and sang several of her hits, as well as music she recorded with The Nash Ramblers. In a voice as fresh and unique as the first time I heard it, she paid tribute to John and June Cash, who Emmylou said were an ideal couple that exemplified the word love. Sam Bush and Jon Randall, both former Nash Ramblers, also joined Harris on the stage.

To end the three hour program, everyone joined together and held hands for a Grand Ole Opry style rendition of Will the Circle Be Unbroken? The crowd demanded an encore and Keillor returned to the stage one more time to enlist the services of the Old Crow Medicine Show to perform a few more pieces.

While Garrison Kiellor and The Prairie Home Companion radio program have brought their fans back to simpler days, the real talent this past New Years Eve at the Ryman Auditorium were the crews who combined their skills to bring the show to not only a live local audience, but provided it to a nation wide public television and radio audience also. At the Ryman, the audience is able to see and hear the reality behind the lights… camera… action!

Although this New Years Eve celebration lacked a lot of the fun, excitement, risk and drama that were naturally included partying with Bammer, a night seeing legends perform among the spirit of the many legends that preceded them at the Ryman Auditorium wasn’t half bad. And the chances of waking up in jail were greatly diminished. Happy New Year!