“I brought my handkerchief,” she said. “Bill was his ‘little brother.’ That’s what he (Gill) called him.”
Owsley sat in the second row of the audience surrounded by several members of her family at a concert dedicated to the memory of her son William Owsley.
William Owsley, an Anniston native who died last May, toured with Gill’s wife, Amy Grant, during his music career in Nashville and they became fast friends. The couple attended his funeral at Parker Memorial Baptist Church in May 2010.
Less than a year later, Gill made the trek back to Anniston to play the final concert of the 2010-’11 Knox Concert Series.
He opened the show on a dark stage and when the lights went up, he was standing at the microphone, guitar ready. Dressed in blue jeans, a T-shirt, jacket and cowboy boots, he started playing for the standing-room-only crowd in the 41-year-old Anniston High School auditorium.
This year marks the 65th Knox Concert Series, said Patricia Smith, a member of the board of directors of the series. Scheduling Gill, winner of 18 Country Music Association awards and 20 Grammy awards, is a coup, but he’s one of many high-profile acts the board has brought to Anniston over the decades.
Smith is proud of the caliber of the artists who perform in the series year after year. The board members strive to bring in musicians of great talent and acclaim, and they have landed some big acts, including both Gill and his wife, Grant, who played for the series about five years ago.
“We have really been trying to get him to our venue for several years,” Smith said. “I think the stars were just in the right place.”
Of course, she added, the series does have a reputation for being a good host for the artists. That’s important, because that makes them comfortable about coming here, Smith said.
Being a good host takes the work of lots of volunteers. Smith estimated there were at least 70 volunteers at the school and people had been working there since 7:30 that morning. Because it’s impossible to just throw a concert together in one day, other volunteers work to schedule, organize and advertise the concerts.
The Knox Concert Series, begun in 1946 by a group of Knox Music Club members, presents five concerts a year along with The Nutcracker ballet during the Christmas season.
The group hosts a variety of performing styles, but its mission is to present classical music to area residents.
“We are a classical-based organization and trying to preserve the classical music in our society,” said Smith. “But we also have a mixed offering.”
This year, the group presented the Russian National Ballet, Bowfire, a violin orchestra, Aaron and Charles Neville, the Polish Philharmonic, as well as Gill. The variety draws not only season ticket holders, but people coming to see a specific act.
Jerry Leake, a board member since 1993, said it’s not unusual to have people travel a few hours for the concerts.
“When we have someone like Vince Gill, some will travel nationwide following them and some will travel region-wide to see them,” Leake said.
Gill’s concert had not only sold all 1,200 seats, there were 150 people on a waiting list hoping to pick up tickets that season ticket holders couldn’t use.
John and Suzanne Mountain of Temple, Ga., were some of the lucky Gill fans who were able to buy tickets. They thought about seeing him at another venue, but when they saw he was going to be in Anniston, they decided to come here.
The couple has been to the series for other performances and they like being able to see the performers in the small venue.
“No matter where you sit, it’s good seating,” John Mountain said.
Jerre and Linda Rinehart of Oxford bought tickets to the concert as gifts for each other for their 45th wedding anniversary. It was Gill who drew them this year, but it’s the quality concerts that may draw them next year.
“He just happened along on our anniversary,” Linda Rinehart said. “It worked out really well. Last year we came to see Bernadette Peters. That was my birthday.”
Her husband added, “On the way up here she told me that we were going to get (season) tickets.”
The successful end of the 2010-’11 concert series isn’t an excuse to rest for the Board of Directors, though. The board is busy lining up next season’s acts — Tchaikosky St. Petersburg Orchestra and My Fair Lady have already been scheduled — and selling tickets.
“We are already working on our next season,” Smith said “We’ve already sold 25 percent of our season tickets.”
Before the concert, volunteers were roaming the aisles taking orders for season tickets. State Sen. Del Marsh, a season-ticket holder, was one of those volunteers.
“I love the diversity they normally have through the year, the different types of entertainment,” Marsh said. “I think this is great for the area. It’s impressive a town the size of Anniston can have these type of quality acts come to town.”