It's been almost six years since I began writing about country music, and one of the questions people often ask is what are their favorite singers really like?
Coming into this experience, I had no expectations of what "the stars" were like, only that I hoped they weren't like some of the rock musicians I'd heard horror stories about.
When I interviewed my first star, Travis Tritt, he immediately put my fears to rest. He laughed heartily as I told him how my young son immediately recognized any Travis Tritt song that came on the radio. He, in turn, told me about his young children and about life down on his farm in Georgia.
I know that artists have an image they try to project, but I've been struck by how sincere almost every one of them has been and how they really are just like you and me in many ways. One morning, Wynonna Judd called from Walt Disney World and proceeded to talk to me for more than an hour and a half, mostly about the struggles she's been through in her life.
"For 20 years, I struggled to be successful, and I forgot who I was," she told me. Then she spent the rest of the interview talking about struggles I've been through in my life.
Jeff Bates didn't want to talk about his music. He was more interested in focusing on how he relishes getting up each morning now that drugs don't have control of his life. Then we spent time talking about how I could help a friend with a drug problem.
Vince Gill is just a regular guy. When he showed up at Country Concert in Fort Loramie, Ohio, he had just come from the local Bob Evans restaurant. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops when I talked to him before his show. Turns out that's how he went on stage.
Phil Vassar always has a hug for me, then again he has a hug for everyone. He's one of the classiest guys in country music.
They don't get any friendlier than Eddie Montgomery. The first time he met me, he flung open his bus door and shouted "Heeeeyyyy." He sits down with me every time he sees me and talks about what the troops are doing and how he's proud to be an American. After his shows, he and his buddy, Troy Gentry, are back on their bus, partying with their fans.
Sometimes I feel like a fan. Garth Brooks was the reason I got turned onto country music in the early '90s. And I got to sit there and listen when he broke into a phone conversation I was having with Trisha Yearwood to talk about some chores they had to do. When Yearwood told him she had to get back to the interview, she added, "I love you, baby."
More than anything, it's been fun watching some of my favorites grow into superstars. When Keith Urban was opening for Kenny Chesney, he told me, "I'm not sure why you'd even want to talk to me." Dierks Bentley? He's been one of the most gracious guys I've met. He's allowed me to spend hours of time with him while he's been on tour with George Strait and Chesney.
So what I tell people most of the time is that, yes, the stars are great, and you should be proud to be a country music fan.
Brian Dugger's country-music column appears the last Saturday of each month.
Contact him at:firstname.lastname@example.org.