Standing in My Father’s Shadow - Soapbox, Jr.
August 23, 2023 may go down as the most surreal moment in my life since Dad went home on July 6, 2020. This was an emotional night for me, and despite the melancholy that this night held, it also bore the mark of jubilation—but it also could have been incredibly daunting, but for the grace of God.
A couple of months back, the Academy of Country Music announced that Dad would be posthumously honored with The Merle Haggard Spirit Award at the 16th Annual ACM Honors show at the iconic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
For those unfamiliar with these specific awards, this is not the big flashy ACM Awards which usually air in the spring. These accolades encompass a range of industry tributes, recognizing venues, promoters, musicians, and also paying homage to individual songwriters and artists. Unlike the unexpected thrills of the CMA Awards, ACM Awards, or the Grammys, the honorees know in advance that they are receiving awards, so there’s no element of surprise with the ACM Honors.
Since dad was unavailable, the responsibility of representing him fell upon my shoulders, along with my mother, my newly-wedded wife, and some of our dearest friends and CDB employees, past and present.
When the question of who should accept the award arose, Mom made it adamantly clear that she didn’t want to do it, so the responsibility fell to yours truly.
I’ve delivered a few speeches in my lifetime, most of them came about after Dad “changed addresses.” However, I had never faced an audience of this magnitude, potentially reaching millions once the broadcast airs in September. Needless to say, the looming scale of it all could easily have been overwhelming.
I spent the weekend leading up to the awards show refining ideas and shaping my speech. I dedicated several days to drafting and re-drafting. My aim was to capture the essence of my father without becoming monotonous. He was one to keep his speeches concise and to the point. His speech during the Medallion Ceremony, when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, is probably one of the shortest in the Hall's recent history.
But this was a proud son’s heartfelt tribute to his departed father, however, I still wanted to do it in a way that he would have approved of.
The days leading up to the awards show were a whirlwind of activity. While I consistently polished my speech, I found little time to actually rehearse it. Fortunately, the production team had a teleprompter on standby, just in case.
We arrived at the Ryman at 4:55 for some press for the event, and a brief interview before showtime at 6:30. The early awards consisted mostly of behind-the-scenes industry awards, venues of the year, concert promoters, musicians, with most of the artist awards to begin around 7:15.
As I sat there, I started feeling twinges of nervousness, I was having to clear my throat while I was sitting in the pews and I was concerned that I would end up coughing or a sudden frog in my throat. What if I trip going up the stairs?
Silly things like that.
Finally, the moment arrived. Our friend, Storme Warren took the stage to introduce Dad’s award, and once again, Storme told everyone that he was the reason he moved to Nashville, then he introduced a moving video tribute featuring kind words from @Reba McEntire, Storme, Darius Rucker, Lainey Wilson and others.
Who was scheduled to do the musical tribute for Dad remained a mystery, even as I saw three people taking the stage in front of the house band. At first glance, it appeared to be Chris Stapleton in the shadows, but to my surprise, it was actually a transformed Billy Ray Cyrus joined by F I R E R O S E and Travis Denning.
The trio delivered a solid rendition of Dad’s “Long Haired Country Boy,” and to my surprise, they did the later version that Dad performed which omitted references to marijuana and getting drunk.
After their performance concluded, Storme introduced me and I rose to accept the award.
Here goes nothing…
Mindful of my wife’s advice, I made sure to button my jacket and ascended the stairs to the hallowed ground of the Ryman stage. and graciously received the award from the young lady who presented all the awards that night.
Before I began my acceptance speech, I acknowledged to the audience that Billy Ray had performed the version my father favored, but also realizing that being backstage, they probably didn’t hear it.
The moment was finally here, do or die…
This is what I said:
“I’m sorry Dad couldn’t be here to accept this award, but he’s currently booked in the most glorious venue anyone could ever dream of playing in.
Mom and Dad moved to Nashville in 1967, with $20 to their name, two-year-old me and the clutch out of their car.
But Dad always said that he was living proof that the Lord will give you the desires of your heart, and the Lord provided our family with more success than we could have ever imagined.
The road kept him away a lot when I was growing up, but I knew he was making sacrifices for us to have a better life.
To me he will always be the best there’s ever been.
Thank you to everyone who had a part in Dad’s career. And I’d never have time to thank everyone, the fans, thank you to the Academy for giving him this award.
He would be deeply honored and humbled.
Mom and I miss him terribly, but we know that we will see him again thanks to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Dad left behind a legacy of music, patriotism, helping our veterans, honoring our Lord, and standing up for what
he believed in.
My mission is to keep that legacy alive for as long as possible.
We’ve got some exciting projects in the works, to help further that legacy.
You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
As Dad always said, let’s all make the day count.
Love you, Dad
Whew… would you believe it!? Somehow, I managed to get through it without flubbing a line or making it blatantly obvious I was using a teleprompter. It was mostly a safety net. I had committed the first few lines to memory, and all I really needed it for was a point of reference, and maybe a nudge every now and then.
I guess it went over pretty well. The speech got several moments of applause throughout, but I can’t remember how many for sure, it was all a bit of a blur.
As we exited the stage, Storme gave me a high five, and told me I hit it out of the park, which was comforting to hear.
As we entered the photo opp area backstage, Billy Ray and company were back there waiting on me and Billy Ray said they hoped that they did Dad justice. I thanked them for the tribute and for doing the version that Dad would have preferred. It turns out it was Firerose’s idea as Billy Ray said the credit should go to her, so hats off to you, Firerose.
A series of camera clicks captured the moment. Then came the bittersweet handover of the award, the emblem of our triumph. Soon, it'll bear the engraving of Dad’s name, a reminder of tonight's glory and shipped to us in a few days.
It was a relief that I was able to pull it off, but the odd thing is, I don’t remember if I said everything I wrote, I keep thinking to myself, did I do that line? I’m pretty sure everything correctly, but it just almost seemed like an out-of-body experience.
The biggest thing for me was that once I stood on stage, there was no stage fright, despite the audience. I was addressing some music business bigwigs, accomplished artists and songwriters, but somehow, the least talented guy to take the stage that night pulled it off.
I have no doubt that the Lord above and my Dad helped me get through with no major catastrophes.
But there was one moment that hit me like a ton of bricks, but I kept it in check. When I was on stage, I looked down at the shadow on the floor that a stage light behind me was casting. If I hadn’t been focused on the speech, I would have probably had to pause and absorb the moment.
The shadow looked like what I imagine Dad saw when he took the stage because I was wearing my cowboy hat. It’s not as big as the ones Dad wore, but the shadow exaggerated the shadow making it look a lot like his.
I was literally standing in Dad’s shadow, and it was comforting.
I hope he liked what I said, and I hope the length was just right.
When can you expect to see the speech, the ACM Honors will air on September, 18th… BUT, I have no idea if my speech will make the show because of time constraints.
The main portion of the show was over 4 hours long, and the show is scheduled to run from 7 PM Central/8 PM Eastern to 9 PM Central/10 PM Eastern, which with commercials ends up being about 90 minutes, so who knows if Dad, Billy Ray and I make the cut.
Now there were still a lot of behind-the-scenes industry folks who were honored after the first hour of the marathon show which probably wouldn’t be ratings magnets, so I imagine many of those will end up on the cutting room floor, but it just depends on how much time they have to work with. If for some reason we don’t make the cut, I’ll ask the ACM if they could please release the segment on YouTube so we can share it with Dad’s fans.
It was an honor and a privilege to accept the ACM’s Spirit Award for Dad, and I have no doubt that he was there in spirit himself.
And I hope I did him proud, because I’m sure proud of him.
He’s the best there’s ever been.
Things don’t get much easier on Friday night, I’ve been asked to say a prayer for an event to raise money for MTSU’s Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center in Murfreesboro.
Prayers would be appreciated.
Let’s all make the day count!
Pray for our troops, our police, the Peace of Jerusalem and our nation.
God Bless America!
— Charlie Daniels, Jr.
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