I once asked a friend of mine what it was like seeing a certain legendary performer in concert. Her reply was, "It was a privilege." Well, if you ask me today what it was like seeing the Oak Ridge Boys at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas this weekend, my reply would be the same. It was indeed a privilege.
Now, that's not just because they sang the hits their audience knew - American Made, Y'All Come Back Saloon, among them - but because they did everything so well. They're in great voice and it was clear they returned the love the audience gave them. Their enjoyment of what they were doing and their enjoyment of working with one another and their musicians was obvious.
Their set list was made up of - naturally - their hits and some songs from their two new albums, Back Home Again and It's Only Natural.
The Oaks - lead singer Duane Allen, tenor Joe Bonsall, baritone William Lee Golden and bass Richard Sterban - last year celebrated the 30th anniversary of their mega-hit Elvira and the audience was on its feet when that song was performed. Among the other highlights: Allen's lead singing on I Get To, a number in the grand Oak's tradition of Thank God For Kids (which they didn't perform, much to the disappointment of a woman I met after the show who was not comforted when mentioned that they did my favorite song, Ozark Mountain Jubilee); Golden's rendition of the John Denver song Back Home Again was so nice to hear and he also sang lead on Before I Die, song that contains the great line "Before I die, I wanna hit the Mississippi in a boat I've yet to buy"- great because that procrastination applies to so many of us
Richard Sterban - whose "oom poppa oom poppa, mow mow" is the part of Elvira that everyone remembers - sang lead on the hit Dream On. When the song ended, Bonsall pointed at Sterban and said to great applause from the audience, "We're the only band with one of those."
In between songs the guys took time to shake the hands of fans who came up to the stage and even posed for those with cameras. That was, indeed, unusual and showed a real appreciation for those who appreciate them. Nice to see.
This year, Bobbie Sue turns 30. The song was one of their biggest hits and sax player Dewey Dorough, who was such a key part of its success, was there. He came up on stage with the guys and played with them. It was terrific.
In a city like Las Vegas, where first-rate musicians are the norm, the Oak Ridge Boys band - Don Carr (lead guitar), Chris Golden (drums and percussion); Jeff Douglas (guitar and dobro), Rex Wiseman (fiddle, guitar, mandolin); Chris Nole (keyboards) and Jimmy Fulbright (bass guitar) - stood out.
The evening ended with Joe Bonsall singing Sacrifice...for Me, a song he wrote that is on It's Only Natural. It is an ineffably moving and very human acknowledgement of the people - soldiers and pubic servants - who give their lives to keep us safe and free and was a fitting end to a terrific show.
It is, finally, worth noting that the Oak Ridge Boys are a rarity in music. Someone like me, who usually prefers rock 'n' roll, blues and Broadway music, as well as someone who likes rock and/or rap, can find something in their music that is appealing. I tend to think the appeal lies, first, in their talent. No others do harmony better than they. Second is universally recognized humanity in their subject matter. They sing about facets of life that touch us all and, as a result of how well they sing and what they sing about, they have very broad appeal. Perhaps that's why their audience at the Golden Nugget ranged in age from about nine years old to very senior citizens.
To find out when the Oak Ridge Boys will be in your area, check www.oakridgeboys.com. They will be back at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas in December for the National Finals Rodeo.
Photo credit: Phil Johnson