A review by Tommy Jackson
For two-plus glorious hours, a big crowd at the Oak Ridge Boys Theater seemed oblivious to Obamacare, government shutdowns, Syrian weapons of mass destruction, and any other of the various gloom and doom stories that play nightly in our living rooms. The stark contrast to the above was a concert by America’s ambassadors on behalf of God, country and family at the theater that carries their name in Branson.
The concert was pure magic, but then you knew that going in. As I listened to these wonderful songs, I could see the universal smiles and nods of approval from all across the auditorium. “These are the people these songs are about,” I thought. The songs are the same kind of songs that have been sung around the family piano or else the Sunday afternoon church picnic from generation to generation. The Oak Ridge Boys’ message is the same as getting a warm hug from your grandchild, checking on the elderly neighbor down the street or feeling a lump in your throat and your eyes tearing up when the Colors are presented. It’s a great-grandmother in the nursing home holding the infant that bears her name. It’s the elderly veteran saluting the Flag from his wheelchair. It’s the police officer, firefighter, or soldier sacrificing their own lives in order that others might survive.
This group, which has now been together for more than 40 years, has that rare knack of making the audience feel special and that the performance is aimed right at them. How do the Oaks accomplish such a feat? It’s easy actually, because, to us, an Oak Ridge Boys’ performance is as sincere and genuine as it gets. It’s like a son scoring the winning touchdown for the high school team on Friday night and being cheered by thousands, but at the after church meal on Sunday, he’s just a part of the family. That’s how it is with The Oaks. They’re out front, sure, but to them and to the audiences that understand and love them, they are just a part of the family. Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban could just as easily be sitting by you at the dinner table talking baseball as they are playing for millions the world over. People leave an Oak Ridge Boys show happy. Of course, I don’t mean “happy” that it’s over, but instead “happy” and “content” the way an excellent meal leaves you. It’s a warm, comfortable feeling.
The concert itself is a wonderful experience of time travel, going back even before The Oaks made the move from gospel to country in 1977. This show even included the wonderful “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor”. The powerful lead vocals of Duane Allen took that song on a trip all the way down Grammy Lane. As Bonsall recalled, “We didn’t have two quarters in our pockets, but we had a Grammy.”
This show featured a lot of extra “oomph”, which is difficult because an Oak Ridge Boys show has always been full of oomph. That “oomph” is great energy, great arrangements, and obviously great performances. At this show, I was blown away by the arrangements. I’ve heard “Bobbie Sue” for years, but at the show I’m referring to, “Bobbie” blew me away. It refuses to leave my head more than two weeks after the show. It was also great hearing “Beautiful You”, “Sail Away”, “Dream On” and many others from that long, long list of Oak Ridge Boys hits.
In the years I go back with the Oak Ridge Boys (which is 1977 in my case) I have never ever seen a member of the audience leave with a frown on their face, or a complaint coming out of their mouth. Audiences love these songs and, of course, these singers. I’ve often thought, if anyone could bring Washington together, it would be these guys, because after an Oak Ridge Boys’ performance, how could anyone not be in a good mood, no matter their political affiliation? May they keep on, keeping on.
Tommy Jackson is a former Arkansas newspaper editor who now writes a weekly entertainment column.