Saturday, May 31, 2014

And the rest of the story...the Clint Black Concert

If anyone doubts the power of social media to make connections, read on... 

Many years ago, I had the chance to tour the White House with country music great Clint Black and a friend (read that story here). An item on my bucket list has always been to see him perform again and maybe, just maybe, be able to meet him again.

That chance materialized when he came to Florence to perform at the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center. When I learned about the concert, I set out to make the right connections to meet him again and find out if he remembered that fun adventure at the White House with the same clarity that I did. 

I figured that every day in my professional life I make connections using various communications tools to make a case. So maybe I could use those same strategies to make contact with Clint’s people and convince them I wasn’t some middle-aged crazed fan.

I thought about the resources I had available to me to get my story to him… old photos, relationships, social media and a good story to tell.

First, I posed a question on Facebook asking if anyone had connections to the country music world or Clint Black's “people.” Then I turned to relationships in Florence through work colleagues, personal friends and news media contacts. Both the Facebook and the personal relationships turned up some good leads that I started pursuing.

Then I went to my personal archives (i.e. old scrapbooks in the attic) to find the collection of photos and memorabilia from that visit to the White House. Fortunately my personal archives from that era are very well organized. I just snapped some photos of the old photos with my iPhone and set to writing a blog post that described this once‐in‐a‐lifetime experience.

In the meantime, one of my personal relationship leads panned out to the point I was assured of a place on the pre‐concert meet and greet list should Clint decide to do that.

But I knew there were more options to pursue.

The next day, I posted the story of that White House adventure on my personal blog. The post included a bunch of photos, and I tagged Clint Black's fan page on the off chance his "people" actually monitor the posts (with 700k+ fans I really had little hope on this one).

Much to my surprise, the next morning I had a nice email from Clint's manager. Clint had seen my post and was inviting me to the meet and greet before the concert!

I evangelize every day at work about how social media is a common thread that can weave together just about everything we do. This connect point with Clint and his manager really illustrated that good can come from social media when used the right way.

The “meet and greet” with Clint didn’t disappoint. We were part of a very small group waiting to meet him, and his “people” were very gracious. We were led into a green room space with a backdrop like those used at the Academy Awards.

The manager arrived first and asked if anyone had photos for Clint to sign. I had enlarged a photo from the White House visit, and he took it back to the bus to be signed. Since I had no negative, I quickly discovered a scanned and enlarged version of a 24-year-old photo yields a very fuzzy duplicate. 

When Clint arrived, he was dressed in black from head to toe with the signature black hat. A few butterflies flitted in my stomach as I kept telling myself...he’s just a guy my age who happens to wear a black hat and has sold millions of records.

He made his way through our group kindly speaking to everyone in a hushed voice (the manager had warned us he tries to keep his voice soft leading up to a performance). I was the last in line with my friend Eleanor who was my “date” for the night.

He said my name and gave me a hug…not quite like long lost friends but still it was cool. We popped through the requisite photo snaps while quietly talking about the fact he did, indeed, remember going to the White House. Although he admitted his memory was a little hazy on how it all came to pass.

Then, he was ushered off to make his final performance prep. The manager handed me the fuzzy photo with an autograph that seemed so appropriate for this middle-aged adventure.

"To Reba…The past is always a little blurry. Clint Black."

Yep, he’s right. Maybe the start of lyrics to new song?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Killin' Time until the Clint Black concert

I have worked in, or around, politics for my entire career. For that reason, most of the "grip and grin" photos in my office are with politicians. While meeting and having photos with a president, congressmen, senators, heads of state from around the world, legislators and local officials were thrilling experiences, my secret vice is my collection of photos with country music stars.
So when I got to go to the White House with a country music star, I was over the moon.

My love of country music started with a high school friend. This was back in the late '70s when the first of the "new wave" of country singers was coming along on the heels of the greats like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. I came to love Reba McEntire, Lyle Lovett and the Statler Brothers in college.  
Backstage with Merle Haggard

Later, as a young professional in Washington, I often had access to concert tickets and backstage passes thanks to lobbyist friends. One friend often got us backstage passes for the likes of George Jones and Merle Haggard.

But my biggest country music thrill came in 1991 when I got to visit the White House, ride the tour bus and visit backstage with Clint Black and his band. At that point, Clint Black was a successful newcomer on the country music scene opening for Merle Haggard.

"Smartly dressed" in the
White House press room
This once-in-a-lifetime treat was a birthday gift from a friend who worked for Lee Atwater at the time. When Clint Black’s “people” called Atwater’s "people" to request a White House tour, my friend Rhonda (who was then-assistant to Atwater) arranged their tour...and got us on it too.

I remember it vividly. Rhonda and I spent hours deliberating over the appropriate dress for a visit to the White House with a country music star. Jeans and boots would have never occurred to us, so we dressed "smartly" in pared down work attire.

Tour bus parked next
to the Treasury Building
Clint's "people" told us to meet the tour bus on the corner by the White House on that hot Sunday afternoon. Rhonda and I were giggling like two kids waiting anxiously for the bus on the first day of school. This was back before tight security and street barriers kept the White house very off limits. So when the bus drove up, we just hopped on, and it parked on the street next to the White House...easy as that.

ith quick introductions all around, we made our way to the White House gate. While I had been on several White House tours before, I couldn’t contain my excitement while trying not to be the star struck groupie (after all, Clint was about my age and not a whole lot taller than me without his hat).
Oval Office in the background

Photos were still allowed in the White House back then, so I snapped and snapped shots of this great adventure. Now almost 24 years later, the photos have survived in one of many scrapbooks in my attic. They chronicle our extended tour of the Oval Office, press room and West Wing. Looking back on the photos and seeing the look on my face, it's easy to remember I was just this side of giddy.

Entrance to the West Wing
I snapped shots outside the West Wing office door and at the press secretary's podium. I have pictures of the band posing behind the desk in the Oval Office and Clint playing the piano in the grand foyer of the White House (he was actually singing happy birthday to me!)
Singing Happy Birthday

I've wondered occasionally when I hear a Clint Black song on my ITunes if this was a cool visit for him and his band or "just another day at the office" for a country star.  
Now, 24 years later, I have tickets to see Clint Black in concert in Florence later this month. Maybe we'll have a chance to reminisce about that adventure at the White House?
Clint and the band
Relaxing in the Red Room