(SEDALIA, Mo., digitalBURG) — Unseasonably mild weather marked a special night at the Pepsi Grandstand Wednesday. The crowd was a lot different on this night; motorized chairs and grey-haired heads marked the audience. The multitude of fans gathered to see the Oak Ridge Boys, who are celebrating their 40th year as a vocal quartet.
Early in the show, lead singer Joe Bonsall paused the performance for some celebrating. Sedalia Mayor Elaine Horn presented a plaque to the group recognizing their years as performers. She also declared Aug. 14, 2013 as Oak Ridge Boys Day.
“It’s mind boggling celebrating 40 years together,” said Richard Sterban, bass vocalist for the Oak Ridge Boys. “If you asked us 40 years ago if we’d still be doing this at a high level none of us would have believed it.”
B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, celebrating their 20 years at their current installation, and Apache helicopters, both from nearby Whiteman Air Force Base, passed by overhead throughout the evening, a true symbol of the special night.
The Oak Ridge Boys went on to give a plaque to Missouri State Fair Director Mark Wolfe in appreciation for having them perform at the Fair this year as part of their 40th anniversary tour.
Once the group got into the thick of their playing, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve heard the Oak Ridge Boys before, as my parents had some of their Christmas albums. Seeing them live was a completely different experience though.
A four-vocalist setup is something I’m not used to, and the way the group puts vocals together and the way they highlight each member’s voice makes it really special. They played many of their number one hits across the myriad of gold, platinum and double platinum records.
The crowd, whose age was accentuated by a new vendor – seat cushions – wasn’t on their feet as much as the crowds for other performers, but they were equally as loud in their ovation.
One of the things that really stood out to me was when some of the songs were approaching their end, the music dropped out and the vocalist – either solo or as a group – would hold a note. Something about it, coupled with the lyrics, gave me goosebumps.
It was refreshing to hear a band with lyrics that matter. The songwriting ability appealed to me on a level not many bands can accomplish, especially not bands of today that hash out songs with absolutely no depth behind them.
As the sun went down and beers flowed freely, the fans in attendance started to come alive. They were dancing and singing along. Near my spot on the track, a couple was dancing a two-step to one of the slower songs, “Mama’s Table.”
There were many pauses to highlight the group and its members, including the band playing behind them “The Mighty Oaks.” They also gave tribute to George Jones before playing “Same Old Me” to “honor the memory of the Possum,” Bonsall said before the start of the performance.
After playing the emotionally charged song “Sacrifice for Me,” the group received its first standing ovation. Bonsall said that the reason they’re still going after all these years is because they “have not yet found a reason to stop.”
“There are several reasons for (why we’re still together),” Sterban said. “Over the years, we have developed a friendship between the four of us that is second to none. That does not mean we haven’t had disagreements. We’ve developed a respect for each other and that’s really important. We’ve developed a respect as men, in our abilities, and we realized long ago we do need each other. And we pull together as a team. After all these years we’re still having fun. We look forward to bringing our music to our fans.”
The crowd got on its feet for “Elvira” and remained there as the band closed the evening with “Bobby Sue.”
This has been my favorite concert of the State Fair thus far. The lyrics are deep and literally when delivered by the quartet gave me goosebumps.
It made me think of how many other people have been touched by this group over the last 40 years, which is when current members Duane Allen, William Lee Golden, Bonsall and Sterban were united as the current lineup.
It occurred to me the reason is because music like this can appeal to anyone. It’s no secret that country music is not my preferred genre of choice, but seeing these guys live really appealed to me. Country is turning into today’s pop music, and that is good for exposure.
It also means that a lot of music is churned out because it talks about popular topics or features sounds that appeal to the masses, even though both may not be something original or something with deeper meaning.
“When I look at country music today, it’s really not what we’re about anymore. These young people in our business have made our business bigger and better than ever before,” Sterban said. “Years ago, when we had “Elvira” and we crossed into pop music, we had young kids then singing along with us. We had to cross over for that to happen. Young people now don’t have to do that, they’re listening to country music.”
Check out an extended gallery of Andrew Mather’s photos from the concert here.