The Oak Ridge Boys Award Winning
By: Gina Kay Singerhouse
On a dark and cold fall night, we travel down the lonely highway that leads us deep into the Wisconsin countryside. Our path is lit only by the stars that shine in the darken sky.
The tires of my Expedition hum as they make their way over the asphalt. The date is November 26th, but it sure looks and definitely feels like December as the snow covers the barren ground and the air is bitterly cold.
We, my photographer and I, are on a mission. A mission, that began nearly a year ago. A mission that will add one more piece to a puzzle, that happened so long ago.
Our destination is the Pablo Center At The Confluence, a brand new theatre located in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Our mission, you might ask. Our mission is to proudly present a group of talented entertainers with two fan voted Spirit Awards. One of those Spirit Awards carries more weight than you can ever imagine.
For twenty-nine years, four talented men have traveled over the river and through the woods to spread Christmas cheer. Joe Bonsall, Richard Sterban, William Lee Golden and Duane Allen, also known as The Oak Ridge Boys, have spread their Christmas spirit throughout the land.
This year, the boys will travel to thirty-two cities in eighteen states to share their Christmas cheer. Shine The Light On Christmas tour will appear at:
Nov. 14 The Mansion Theatre / Branson, Mo.
Nov. 15 The Mansion Theatre / Branson, Mo.
Nov. 16 The Midland Theatre / Newark, Ohio
Nov. 17 Vern Riffe Center for the Arts / Portsmouth, Ohio
Nov. 18 The Maryland Theatre / Hagerstown, Md.
Nov. 23 The Arena at Southeastern KY Agricultural and Expo Complex / Corbin, Ky.
Nov. 24 Honeywell Center / Wabash, Ind.
Nov. 25 Rialto Square Theater / Joliet, Ill.
Nov. 26 Pablo Center at the Confluence / Eau Claire, Wis.
Nov. 27 Bridge View Center / Ottumwa, Iowa
Nov. 28 Topeka Performing Arts Center / Topeka, Kan.
Nov. 29 United Wireless Arena at Boot Hill Casino & Resort / Dodge City, Kan.
Nov. 30 Cheyenne Civic Center / Cheyenne, Wyo.
Dec. 01 Alberta Bair Theater / Billings, Mont.
Dec. 02 Clearwater River Casino & Lodge / Lewiston, Idaho
Dec. 03 Morrison Center / Boise, Idaho
Dec. 05 First Interstate Center for the Arts / Spokane, Wash.
Dec. 06 Toyota Center / Kennewick, Wash.
Dec. 07 Chinook Winds Casino Resort / Lincoln City, Ore.
Dec. 08 Chinook Winds Casino Resort / Lincoln City, Ore.
Dec. 09 Little Creek Casino Resort / Shelton, Wash.
Dec. 10 Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort / Suquamish, Wash.
Dec. 12 Jensen Grand Concert Hall / Pocatello, Idaho
Dec. 13 Southern Utah State College America First Event Center / Cedar City, Utah
Dec. 14 DeJoria Center / Kamas, Utah
Dec. 15 Vilar Performing Arts Center / Beaver Creek, Colo.
Dec. 16 Budweiser Events Center / Loveland, Colo.
Dec. 17 Casper Events Center / Casper, Wyo.
Dec. 18 Rushmore Plaza Civic Center / Rapid City, S.D.
Dec. 19 Mary W. Sommervold Hall at Washington Pavilion / Sioux Falls, S.D.
Dec. 20 Adler Theatre / Davenport, Iowa
Dec. 21 Crystal Grand Music Theater / Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
Dec. 22 Crouse Performance Hall / Lima, Ohio
Dec. 23 Schermerhorn Symphony Center / Nashville, Tenn.
We arrive early to ensure that everything is set for the official Spirit Award presentations. I watch as eager fans of all ages enter from out of the bitter Wisconsin cold air. Each person brings with them the sense of warmth within their hearts.
The energy and excitement builds as attendees emerge from the darkness to take their seats in this beautiful two-month old theatre. It is humbling to know that people still enjoy the true country music that the Oak Ridge Boys have preserved.
I watch as longtime fans, of this incredible band, greet each other with handshakes and hugs. Many of them have become longtime friends, due to four talented men and their music.
As the clock progresses towards show time, we begin our trek backstage. In my hands are two Spirit Awards, one that contains more weight than the other does.
On December 15, 2017, we were entertained by the Oak Ridge Boys when we experienced their Celebrate Christmas tour. The experience was like no other as they displayed a refined show filled with everything that any music aficionado would enjoy. (You can read more about this show on our website at: http://www.strictly-country.com/oakridgeboyschristmas.html)
On this night, we honored that previous show with the 2018 Spirit Awards President’s Choice Award for Best Performance of The Year with their Celebrate Christmas Tour. Joe Bonsall and William Lee Golden proudly accepted the award on behalf of the group.
Nonetheless, it was the second Spirit Award that held more weight than any other Spirit Award I have ever presented. The story behind this Spirit Award began back in May 1943. In 1943, the world was at war when a then eighteen-year-old boy marched into a United States Army recruitment center to enlist. Little did he know the challenges he would face and the love that would encompass him. The young man became known to the world as G.I. Joe, the father of Joe Bonsall.
In 1999, Joe Bonsall honored his parent’s love with a song he wrote called “G.I. Joe & Lillie.” The song was then recorded for the Oak Ridge Boys 2006 patriotic album Colors. That same year, Joe Bonsall captured the story of his parents and shares how they met during the tale end of World War II, in his book called G.I. Joe & Lillie.
In the book, Joe Bonsall shares the story of his father who served from D-day to D-day plus 50 before being struck down by enemy fire and left for dead. His tale does not end there. During his recovery time, he met Lillie and soon they were married. The book captures a true hero’s story amongst the madness of war. More so it tells one tale that is real American history.
In 2017, Strictly Country was graced with a copy of the book as well as the Oak Ridge Boys album that contained the heart-felt song “G.I. Joe & Lillie.” We were so impressed with both that we nominated the song for the 2018 Spirit Award’s Spirit of America Award for songs for soldiers and Song of The Year Award. Each of us eagerly waited as fans voted, when the results were sent to us we all screamed as we found out that the story of G.I. Joe & Lillie would continue.
Back in January, I contacted Joe to tell him that the fans had officially voted to present the 2018 Spirit Award’s Spirit of America Award to the Oak Ridge Boys for their song “G.I. Joe & Lillie.” His response was priceless…
“On behalf of all of the guys—Richard Sterban, Duane Allen, William Lee Golden and myself—thank you so very much for awarding us the Strictly Country Spirit Award of 2018 for ‘G.I. Joe & Lillie.’” shares Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys. “That means so much to me especially; because I wrote that song and I wrote that book to honor my parents. Very few people get to do that and I had that honor… to honor them and others like them who sacrificed so much for the freedom that we enjoy today. The Greatest Generation is what we call them. So thank you again everybody, this is really much appreciated by me and by all of the Oak Ridge Boys. It’s an incredible honor! God bless all of you. See you down the road!”
Here we were, down the road. As I stood backstage, patiently waiting to honor Joe Bonsall with this award, all I could think about was the heroism and love that G.I. Joe and Lillie embraced. In my mind’s eye, I could imagine the smiles that were upon their faces as their son would accept this award in their honor.
Out of all the Spirit Awards I have presented through the years, this one was the one I was truly honored to present.
In mere minutes before the show began, the official presentation took place. When Joe’s eyes graced over the award, he stood a bit taller. A smile from ear to ear came over his face, nonetheless, a subtle hint of a tear came to his eyes as he knew that his parent’s story did not end with his book. The story of G.I. Joe & Lillie will continue in Spirit Award’s history.
I could share with you nearly everything about this show; nonetheless, this show is one that you need to experience live. No words in the dictionary can describe the roller coaster of emotions that the Oak Ridge Boys bring their audiences on. I will say that it was nice of them to share their version of “Silent Night” as the world celebrates the 200th anniversary of its release.
Over the course of their career, the Oaks have developed many lasting friendships; none more prominent than that of Santa Claus. I wonder what the boys had to do to get Santa to appear in their show? Perhaps someday they will tell us.
As we left the venue, I noticed that many were walking with a little bounce in their steps and more light in their hearts. In the dark Wisconsin winter’s night, the light in our hearts shined a bit brighter…all because of the four ‘wise’ men named…
Joe, Duane, William Lee and Richard…
The Oak Ridge Boys
(© Strictly Country Magazine - November / December 2018.)
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