Country superstars to perform at Cave City Watermelon Festival

Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Mark Chestnutt

Country music superstars Mark Chesnutt and group Shenandoah will perform at this yearís Cave City Watermelon Festival; Shenandoah on Friday, July 26, at 8 p.m. on the Bank of Cave City Main Stage and Chesnutt on Saturday, July 27, at 8:30 p.m. on the Bank of Cave City Main Stage.

Areawide Media (AWM) had the opportunity to interview Chestnutt, and Marty Rabon of Shenandoah, in preparation for their upcoming trip to the festivalís main stage. Reporter Lauren Siebert asked readers for questions, along with her own questions for the two artists.

Chesnutt began with his background in music and rise to fame.

ďIíll give you a quick rundown. I grew up in a family that loved music and I have an older brother, my daddy was a singer and loved to write songs and sing them and would record them and had a studio in the attic. He had some connections in Nashville and would send the stuff heíd write to them and heíd make regular trips there. He never did play the clubs or anything. A lot of people think my dad and I played clubs together but that was not true. He wasnít a drinker and didnít like clubs. He wanted to be a songwriter. Dad was doing all that and listened to Hank Williams, George Jones and Merle Haggard and my mom was playing Fats Domino, Elvis Presley and those kind of people. She was into the old rock and roll and my brother was into the new rock and roll. This was in the 70ís and he was bringing home Led Zepplin records, ZZ Top and others. All that stuff, I was soaking it up like a sponge. I still love it to this day. Iím not a guy that just says everything else but country sucks, Iím not one of those guys. I like all kinds of music with the exception of hip-hop and rap. Iím just not a fan of that. Music is music and I like great music. It doesnít matter what it is.

I used to play drums in a rock and roll band as a teenager, but at the same time I was playing Conway Twitty at home and in the front seat of my first car, we had 8-tracks and later cassettes and we had my front seat of my car and then later my truck was scattered with everything you could imagine. There was an Aerosmith CD a Kiss CD there was Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Ray Price, you name it.

Back in those days, rock and roll was real rock and roll, country was real country and blues was real blues. Now everything is kind of blended so much that a lot of it is kind of watered down to me.Ē

AWM: I know you just kind of answered this one but who was your idol growing up was there one that stood out above another?

A: Aside from my dad, there were different [ones in] stages of my life. When I was a little kid, it was Hank Williams Senior. I love Hank Sr. and I know every single song. I learned them. I was just like my daddy and my dad was my hero too, because he could sing and play just like Hank Williams. Dad introduced me to George Jones and he was from here too from Beaumont Texas and so George became, for a long time, all I would listen to. I went through cycles and when I was an older teenager I was all about Hank Williams Jr. I was Bocephus. I tried to grow a beard, got a hat and sunglasses so I could look like him and all I had was peach-fuzz.

Old Habits 8 track playing in my truck thatís the reason I started driving a pickup truck was because of Bocephus. Thatís when I became a redneck. One week I might be into Hank [Williams] Jr., one week it might be Merle or Van Halen. Iím copying all of them. Theyíve all rubbed off on me.

AWM: What was the inspiration behind ďIt Sure is Monday?Ē

A:I didnít write that song. Dennis Linden wrote that and it was a great song, believe it or not I worked a lot of day jobs as a teenager. I quit high school as a junior because I didnít care about school anymore. I was all about singing in the clubs. I was already singing three nights a week at that point. My mom and dad had to go with me to get me through the door but I was singing with the bands but later on, I had to get a job and I was working some pretty hard jobs and singing every weekend and a night or two a week. It was rough and so that song hit me. It rang a bell and I think it really does for everybody. The way I live my life now, itís the opposite, now when my buddies are all off fishing, hunting and frying fish, Iím out there on the road working weekends but Monday is always a good day for me because I usually come home on Sunday nights for a couple days.

AWM: Of the songs youíve done, which is your favorite?

A: The one I like to perform live more than any others is ďIíll Think of Something.Ē Hank Jr. recorded that in 1974 and I donít know if that was a big record of his but Iíve loved it since it first came out and I ended up recording it because I was singing it in my shows and had been singing it since it came out. So they said we need to cut that song itís a big hit for you. Sure enough it became a number one. I still love that song so much. When we do it live on stage it hits me right in the heart because itís a true story for me and a lot of other people like me. As far as other favorites, I guess just because I had the freedom to pick just about every single song, almost all of them. I had pretty much creative freedom. There were some songs I recorded I had to do because my record label wanted them done. Itís political when you get a record deal in Nashville.

Like you said, ďBubba Shot the JukeboxĒ, my label did not want me to record that. They thought it was a joke and pitched it to me as a joke and so they played it for me and theyíd played it for everyone in town and I thought, I know some old boys in southeast Texas, itís still wild down here and it has happened. So I thought it was a good song and we cut it and it became a big hit. All my songs have back stories.

AWM: Would you ever consider doing a 90s hits album collaborating with different artists and which artists would you collaborate with?

A: Iíve never been interested in doing that. Itís been brought up and I know a lot of other singers have done that but in my opinion, Iíve heard other singers do that but nothing beats the original. I think once itís done, itís done. Iíd rather record brand new material and leave the classics be.

AWM: You have a son named Casey, is he following in your footsteps?

A: Casey is my middle son. Heís 22 and is a Marine. This is his fifth year of service. Heís been on five deployments but before he joined the Marines, he was a singer and still is. He picked up a guitar and started singing when he was just a little kid and kept getting better and better and better and by his teens, was really good and started playing clubs and restaurants. Things had changed, he didnít need his parents to bring him because they had the open air places where as long as he didnít drink, he didnít need a parent with him. When I started, it was a beer joint or restaurant but now theyíre all mixed together but he was singing for a living, going to school and working. He started playing around here and Louisiana. He has a big name around here and is a great singer. Heís way better at his age than I was at his age.

Iím very proud of him. When he gets off on leave or I get around to see him, heís at Camp Lejeune but heís deployed right now.... Heís wanting to come home and go into law enforcement. He really doesnít want to do what Iím doing and Iíve asked him several times and asked him before he went to basic training. I know a lot of people I have contacts to help him get started but he told me heíd seen all the crap I put up with his whole life and he wants to do it for fun and doesnít want to turn it into a job. Iím glad of that because even through heís a Marine, his life expectancy is a lot longer than mine.

AWM: It was brought up ďFriends in Low PlacesĒ might have been written by you, is that true?

A: No. I didnít write it. A friend of mine Earl Bud Lee co-wrote that song and when I was in Nashville recording my first album after Iíd signed my record deal and we were right in the middle of recording the album and my producer said we needed one more song, they pitched me ďFriends in Low PlacesĒ.

We hit it off and became instant buddies and I loved the song and the demo I heard was Garth Brooks singing it because he was a demo singer before he got a record deal. A lot of them I cut heíd sing the demo and it was him singing and it was nothing like his record or eventual recoding of that. It was nothing like the demo and was more like I recorded it. I loved it and recorded it and had no idea Garth had it on hold and was going to record it for his next single. Nobody told me that. But thatís Nashville for you. Nashville is all about letís throw it to the wall and see if it sticks so we both recorded it and I didnít know he was recording it for a record. He found out I cut it and got mad and went in the studio and cut it the way he did it and it was never going to be a single for me. We already had our singles picked and I just cut it because we needed another song. So Garth cut it with plans of it being his first single off his new album and sure enough, it was a gigantic hit.

AWM: If you werenít doing this, what would you be doing?

A: Starving. No if I wasnít a singer, Iíd probably be playing the drums for a singer. I started out as a drummer first before I ever picked up a guitar.

AWM: What is the key to success?

A: Staying with it. Hard work. Anything you wanna be successful at you have to learn everything you can about it and work hard at it. Even if itís talent. A lot of people say talent makes it but no. You have to surround yourself with the right people, you have to work hard and canít be lazy at all. You have to sacrifice. Iíve sacrificed a lot . I have three sons and I wasnít around my wife had to raise them. I was on the road all the time and I missed a lot of birthdays, ball games but if youíre going to build a career you have to really go for it you canít half ass it.

There are different ways to do it now. There is social media and there are people having a lot of success. Cody Johnson is the main one who comes to mind. He just signed a major recording deal and got that attention from doing social media. Iíve been opening for him because he sells out arenas and now heís a great entertainer and if he would have dropped everything and moved to Nashville, he probably never would have had the opportunity because he spent all his time learning how to perform and entertain an audience and learning how to self promote. Itís changed. When I was coming up it was you had to go to Nashville and self promote.

Staying at it, learning all you can about it and learning whatís going on. You cannot be lazy.

There are a lot of temptations coming up in music. A lot of people that had a lot of talent that are gone now that could have achieved a whole lot more but couldnít resist the temptation. You have a lot of yes people around you. You need someone who really cares for you and will tell you no. To stay away from whatever it is. Watch the Dewy Cox show. Look it up because theres a lot of stuff thrown at you in this business that can really kill you and if it doesnít, it will shut your career down. You have to stay with the right crowd. Drugs and alcohol is a huge problem in the music business and always has been. You have to be smart about that.

AWM: What kind of legacy do you see yourself having left, still leaving and want to leave when itís all said and done?

A: I want to be remembered as a good singer. I did learn from the best and I was friends with George Jones. He taught me a lot and told me basically what I just told you. Listen to your elders, thatís another piece of advice. Iíve been married to the same woman for 28 years and donít plan on changing that. Iíve stayed in my hometown. I want people to always know Iíve always lived here born and raised here with my family and friends Iíve known my entire life and they kept me grounded. If I moved to Nashville I donít know I would have made it and Iíd been dead by now. I want people to remember me as a grounded person.

I like to party and have a great time, but I want to be remembered as someone who still had some morals. The music is what you leave behind and the music will never go away or disappear. You have to be smart in what you record and the way you handle yourself and I want to be remembered as a gentleman and a great singer. Somebody who stuck to my guns and didnít get changed. Thatís another story. When you get started you get people coming at you wanting this or that because itís their interest. I fought tooth and nail and I ended up recording some songs I didnít want to because they had [me do them] and the majority of the time I fought and stayed true. I wanted to just do country music and all these years later, Iím still doing it.

Marty Rabonís first concern was if there would be watermelons set aside for the group. ďWe didnít know if all that rain had messed everything up. We played there a couple years ago and honestly, truly, we carried home 12 of those 60-80 pound watermelons! Iím telling you, they are the catís meow. We love them!

Marty Rabon of Shenandoah

AWM: Tell me a little about Shenandoah.

A: Weíre celebrating 30 years of being in country music and that really actually was the reason for the latest album we have, Reloaded. We wanted to let everyone know what weíre still doing. Weíre at it. Still love people, still loving doing what we do. The best way in the world we could prove that is to show everybody we have no plans of going anywhere and still plan to be here for years to come. It had been 20 years since we had any music out there for them to listen to.

AWM: I asked readers for questions they would like answered during the interviews and a lot of people still really enjoy your music, remember and seek you out when you come within driving distance.

A: As far as demographic and age value, thatís what weíve been running into a great deal there is a resurgence of what weíre doing. I think the enlightening of people wanting the 90s country music back and weíve found a younger audience. Itís the same thing with Willie Nelson being 80 and thereís people my age and younger that really love Willie and he continues day after day to recreate himself and I thinks thatís a healthy way to be. Thatís the reason for the direction we went and it was no different than what weíve done in years past. We tried to cut the kind of songs weíd cut in years past.

One of the greatest compliment weíve gotten is, Ďit sounds like you never went anywhereí. I would like to attribute that to the producer we used, Jay Demarcus [of Rascal Flatts].

We could have recorded the songs the way we did in the late 80s and early 90s but when it went to radio it would have sound dated but the greatest part of having Jay involved was his vision and so much knowledge of what today makes a great sound and record.

AWM: Why is it important to keep the ďtrue sound and style similarĒ? And how do you do that?

A: Country music at that time [Shenandoahís first record deal] in 87-89 were calling it middle of the road country and it wasnít the traditional side of a Haggard or Jones record, it was a T.G. Sheppard and a type record that it wasnít what the norm was of what everyone was used to hearing. I do believe it is kind of where we are now in the music business where there are a lot of people thinking thereís a force of music going on that doesnít sound like what I like. Iím gonna say there is enough room for everyone out there to do what they want to and anything that ever lives, grows, and sometimes it takes branches and goes in a direction. Its the importance of being able to see it grow and still remain to be able to have other acts out there that are viable . One of the things thatís helping the movement youíre talking about is because people are getting relief from acts like ourselves and the Joe Diffieís and Diamond Rioís and Patty Loveless. The late 80s and early 90s was when country music was at itís biggest and was literally right in our wheel house.

AWM: Is there a church on Cumberland Road?

A: Yes, there actually is.

AWM: Just out of curiosity, you were a founding member and then took a 17 years break. Why did you take a break and what brought you back?

Every one of us [the members of the band] during that time of about four years of lawsuits over the name Shenandoah and we were working like it was going out of style, 215-210 days a year to just pay attorneys and settlement fees and it was because we were given a name and a trademark search was not done. Everyone was burned out. The keyboard player left in Ď94, bass in Ď95 and I left in Ď97 and everyone was just plain worn out.

AWM: Of the songs youíve done as a group, what is favorite and why?

A: I would have to say ĎSunday in the Southí, because itís a song that probably has more to do and says more about who we are than anything, about where we come from. We come from a heritage that loves and cares for the old ways of being good to people and loving on people and church work and dinners on the ground and thatís really kind of where we are. I think it says more about us than anything else.

AWM: Letís talk about accomplishments as a group. A million plus records sold, CMAs and ACM and Grammys youíve seen that measure of success and here you are 30 years plus, running full steam ahead and put out this most recent record, but never lost the fan base you had. What do you attribute your success to?

A: What I honestly believe, more than anything, is you have to be willing to out work the lazy worker and if youíre seriously trying to find something, youíve got to out write the lazy writer. Youíve got to work with the one willing to come along beside you and while doing it, focus on what youíre doing and trying to do. In the end, people will always win if they work. Our quest was to be able to stay out here and do it and the only way to do that is to have people like what you do. For people to come see you and make the changes and stuff they have to take out of their every day and make the time for that day to leave and go see Shenandoah. Or leave the night before. Itís about the fan base and support.

One thing weíve always tried to do is not beat anyone out of that. Normally weíre contracted for 90 minutes and if we do more than that normally, itís because someone has yelled out a request but if we can occupy someoneís head space for 90 minutes and get them involved at the end of it theyíre energized, clapping, hooping and hollering and if thatís the end of the show, weíve done what we came to do. We were hired to play music but what we want is to entertain people. If we did that and at the end of the night what we find is they became part of the show instead of witnessing one. They become part of the show.

AWM: I am sure you do a little collaboration and seek out your own sound but as a group, do you have influences youíd give credit to for your sound?

A: The first part of that is I think itís a whole of what everybody has from the background theyíve come from that contributes. Micromanaging peopleís feelings is a bad habit to get in. Either you trust someone enough to know they play good enough then let them do it.

You have to allow people to be who they are and in doing songs and stuff like that and do the right things and make the right kind of music you like, when it comes to a collaboration, itís got to be somebody you click with.

There are a lot of great writers out there and youíd like to center on somebody but you know when you sit down you know you could get something together and itíd be an honest to goodness collaboration.

AWM: Anything else our readers need to know?

A: Weíre ready to come to Cave City to throw down on some of those watermelons but are also wanting to come and extend the hospitality and love we found last time we were there and exude as much as we receive when we get there, pick and sing and give everybody exactly what they wanted and then some when they come see the show.

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