"I just ate. These high notes are going to be a problem," quipped Vince Gill as he walked onstage in the 200-plus theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame as its 2009 Artist-in-Residence.
Gill's dinner must not have affected him too much, as his voice was clear and pure when he launched into two classics, Don't Let Our Love Start Slippin' Away, and Trying to Get Over You. Surrounded by six guitars, and a trio that included Mike Bubb (upright bass), Peter Wasner (keyboards) and Billy Thomas (playing what was essentially a wooden box with a glove and drum brush), Gill opened the set up to requests from the crowd.
"I always loved listening to John Denver," he said, citing Denver's Old Guitar as an inspiration to him when he was a kid. "All songwriters write songs about their guitars. I thought I should too," he said before recalling how he acquired a classic 1942 D28 Martin guitar as a kid and playing his own self-penned guitar ode, This Old Guitar and Me.
Gill spoke about his strict father, who Gill claimed was a "lawyer by trade and a redneck by choice." Gill's father told his son for years that he had an idea for a song; finally Gill sat down with fellow songwriter extraordinaire Rodney Crowell with the idea and they wrote the left-field It's Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night that Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long. After explaining to his none-too-pleased wife, Christian music darling Amy Grant, that the song was not about her, Gill began to wonder how his father came up the idea. "Then, I realized I had written the song about my mother."
After filling requests for One More Last Chance, his profound country spiritual Go Rest High on that Mountain and When I Call Your Name, Gill rolled into his mild admonishment to the country industry, Kindly Keep It Country, which comes from a fabricated radio station made up by Gill and a band he was touring with several years ago, with the call letters KKIC and the slogan "Kindly Keep It Country."
Several industry luminaries were there to support Gill, including Jim Fogelsong, Harold Bradley, Jo Walker-Meador and Statler Brother Jimmy Fortune, whom Gill called onstage for a rendition of the Statler hit, Elizabeth. "Don't look at me for the high part," joked Gill, before Fortune let his lofty tenor boom over in the small auditorium.
According to Gill, forgetting the words to songs has plagued him throughout his 20-plus year career. He recalled forgetting the words to his own hit, When Love Finds You when he sang at the wedding of Rascal Flatts singer Jay DeMarcus, then forgetting the words to the National Anthem during a World Series game. A baseball fan, Gill says he was nervous before singing the anthem, and recalls that his mind went blank after the words, "Oh say..." "When in doubt, look for the fat man with the hot dog in one hand and beer in the other. He was singing every word, and I just followed him through the rest of the song."
Gill then brought Danny Flowers up for a rousing version of Tulsa Time . When asked what he was going to do while Flowers sang and played, Gill responded, "I'm going to go finish off those finger sandwiches in the back," before settling in on an electric guitar behind Flowers.
Gill told of his first songwriting session with Max D. Barnes, the man behind the heartbreaking songs Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes and Chiseled in Stone . Gill had the idea for a song of a couple whose relationship was dying. Barnes looks at him and says, "No, that's too sad. You need to make it positive." Gill looked at him and said, "But you wrote Chiseled in Stone. How can it be too sad?" Barnes asked Gill to look around the massive home that all of Barnes hit songs had afforded him. "You might want to listen to me," said Barnes. Gill did, and they wrote the next song in his set that evening, Look at Us, which became a megahit for Gill.
After declining a request for his duet with Barbara Steisand, he then sailed through What You Give Away and a beautiful song written with Leslie Satcher, called Bread and Water , based loosely on the life of Gill's brother, who never quite recovered after suffering through an auto accident.
Gill attempted to end the almost two-hour set with the rocker Liza Jane, but the crowd would have none of it. They stood and applauded until he and his band came back for an encore of Never Knew Lonely , Pocket Full of Gold and Oklahoma Borderline. . "I'll race you all to Taco Bell! They have some good enchiladas."