June 14, 2019
It started out as a hushed whisper, a faint noise coming from the distance. As it grew closer, the volume of it grew as well. The whisper transformed into a soft murmur, my feet moving faster as the anticipation ballooned in my chest. Sweat was forming in my palms as I shook my wrists. The feeling in the air was electric, the excitement building with each passing moment. The noise kept growing, kept increasing, as I made my way down the long stretch of hallway. On either side of me, the beige colored stone walls blended together. I kept my eyes transfixed on the door at the end of the hall, a large black metal thing that seemed to loom in my future. I rotated my shoulders, stretching my muscles as I neared it. Wiping my hands on my dark blue jeans, I stopped outside the door. The noise was almost deafening now, the hushed whisper now a roaring chanting. A smile came across my lips as I grabbed the door knob and pulled it open.
“Chris! You’re on in five!” Peter Gayle called out from my right as I stepped into the backstage area. I glanced, seeing the bald man standing by the sound booth. The taller man had a headset on his head, the microphone near his mouth. I nodded at him, following the familiar path to the left. There were people running around in all directions, trying to get everything set for the performance. Towering black curtains hung from the top of the stage, hiding everything that was happening behind the scenes. Roadies and stage crew members were dragging around equipment, setting things up where they needed to go for my set. Over the loudspeakers, I could hear music blasting out at the crowd. This was an attempt to keep them entertained while the stage was changed between acts. The band that was performing before me, The White Stars, were off the stage now and settling into their tour bus behind the arena. They had managed to get the crowd going, their unique country sound setting the mood for the night.
“That crowd is on fire tonight.” Jack Shaw said appearing next to me as I peered out behind one of the curtains from the shadows. My best friend and lead guitarist smiled at me as I turned to face him. His long shaggy black hair was combed out of his eyes and his typically white flannel shirt was on his torso. He was tuning his guitar; a bright yellow number he’s had since we met thirteen years ago. The forty-year-old guitarist grinned, nodding his head towards the crowd. “Pretty sure they might maul you if you get too close.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” I replied, returning the grin.
“Thirty seconds!” Peter called out as he jogged over to me. He handed me my earpiece and the battery pack. I shoved the tan device into my ear and tucked the pack into my back pocket. “Someone test the piece!”
“Ian to Chris. Testing. Ian to Chris.” A voice said in my ear. Glancing over my shoulder, I gave the younger man in the sound booth a thumbs up to let him know it worked. He returned the gesture, adjusting a few things on the sound board. The rest of the band walked over, each of them stopping next to Jack and I.
“Alright, gentlemen. Let’s make some noise.” I said, smiling at them all. Ryan Anderson, the keyboard player, held up the rock symbol as the bass player, Tony Reynolds, nodded. Our drummer, Frank Pierce, twirled his sticks in his fingers as he let out a loud excited yell. Jack patted me on the back as the band ran out onto the stage, maneuvering their way through the darkness. The crowd must have been able to see the outline of them in the shadow because they let out a collective cheer. Once Tony was at his bass, he started to play a low beat that vibrated through the air. A stagehand walked over to me and held out my acoustic guitar. I thanked him, putting the strap over my head so it rested on my shoulders. He disappeared and I felt a wave of calm wash over me.
“Chris! Chris! Chris! Chris!” The audience began to chant, the anticipation of me coming stage growing. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, taking it all in. This was it. The most magically moment of every night. When time stands still and it’s like the most important person in the world for that moment is you.
“You’re on!” Peter said into my ear piece. Opening my eyes, I gripped the neck of my guitar and ran forward. The lights kicked on as I stepped onto the stage, the backdrop lighting up as well. I spotted my microphone in its stand at the front of the stage, the lights blocking the view of the crowd for a moment. As I ran forward, I could make out the faces of the lucky people in the pit up front. Their faces lit up when they saw me, the noise level going through the roof now.
“Ya’ll ready to make some noise?” I asked into the microphone. The cheering became loud, almost to the point I couldn’t hear myself think. “I’m Chris Montana and welcome to the Bring It On Back tour!” Behind me, the band broke into our opening song. I strummed the guitar, recalling the words as my cue came. “Back in the woods, grown in the sticks. Came a backwoods boy who didn’t give a lick. Raised on trucking, mudding, and fishing. He was born with just one mission. To raise some hell, loud enough for everyone to tell….” I trailed off as the band picked up before the chorus. “Bring it on back to the countryside. A place where we party all night. Where the drinks are cold cause we do it right. Music is always played loud and we are always proud. Bring it on back to the countryside.”
“CHRIS! CHRIS! CHRIS!” The crowd cheered as the song played on, coming to an end. I couldn’t help the wide smile on my face as it rose throughout the arena. They were chanting my name. A name that just two years ago meant nothing to nobody. Now, 30,000 people were screaming it in hopes I would see them. The people in the front row were reaching their hands and arms out, attempting to reach me. I bent and gave high fives down the row, some of them screaming after I touched them.
“I think y’all are ready for a show.” I said in the microphone as I walked back over to it. There was a collective roar of a ‘YEAH’ as the crowd agreed. “I’m so glad everyone made it out for the show tonight. I’m hoping we meet your expectations. Hard to believe that I get to stand on this stage each night and perform for y’all in every city. You guys really are the best fans a guy can ask for.”
From the corner of my eye, I spotted Scott Hall. He was pacing in the wings of the stage, a cell phone on one ear and his hand on the other. My portly manager didn’t seem too happy as he glanced out in my direction. His thinning back hair was combed back on his head and the grey suit he was wearing made him look out of place at a country concert. He caught my eye and made a motion for me to move on to the next song, indicating I was taking up too much time talking to the crowd. Annoyance sank in and I turned my attention back to the crowd.
“Ya’ll, I wanna see who can make the most noise tonight!” I exclaimed, setting my guitar in its stand next to me. I pulled the microphone from its stand and walked to the edge of the stage. “When I say ‘Oh’, you say ‘Hey.’ Ready?”
“Chris, you’re kind early for this. Scott’s freaking out.” Peter’s voice said in my ear. Reaching up, I pulled the ear piece out and pointed at the crowd.
“Oh!” I called into the mic. The crowd returned with an astoundingly loud ‘Hey!’ “Oh!” They repeated it, seeming to be louder. “Oh, oh, oh!”
“Hey! Hey! Hey!” They returned. I let out a laugh and ran back over to my guitar. Picking it up, I signaled the band to start the next song.
“I saw you sitting there, with your dark brown hair. Eyes the prettiest shade of green I’d ever seen. I tried to catch your eye, your friends thinking I was just some guy. I caught that bright smile on your face, making the rest of us feel out of place. I was about to give up, when you walked up and said…” I strummed the guitar, the chords for the chorus coming up. “Oh, hey. I didn’t see you sitting there. Oh, hey. I couldn’t help but stare. You’re the only one in this bar that hasn’t tried to go too far. So, hey. Do you mind if I sit? So, hey. We might be a perfect fit. We’ll never know if we don’t try. You just might be my kinda guy. Oh, hey.”
As the song came to a close, the crowd exploded in applause. I raised my hand and bowed, clapping along. The band was on fire tonight and I could tell it was going to be a show everyone talked about for a while. The crowd had electrifying energy that made me want to be on the stage all night. We went through a couple more songs, hitting a couple of my smaller hits. We try to keep our bigger ones for later in the set so that no one leaves after them. I finished the first part of our set with a cover of a Johnny Cash song before slipping off the stage for a first quick break. Scott was waiting for me by the area where the band’s drinks were kept.
“Chris, what the hell!” He exclaimed.
“I don’t have time for this right now.” I replied, grabbing a can of beer and pouring it into a red plastic cup.
“You know you were supposed to do the new song. Why did you skip it?”
“Because I don’t like it.” I said, gulping the beer. “What else do you want me to say?”
“That you’re going to do it in the second half.” He answered, crossing his arms. “Or else.”
“Or else what?” I asked, eyeing him. “It’s my show, Scott. I’ll play what I want.” I brushed by him to head back to the stage.
“The label wants to see you tomorrow morning. First thing.” He called out, making me stop. “And I think we both know what’s going to happen.”