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Leave Them Boys Alone, Let 'Em Sing Their Song

I've been trying to work out in my head the latest development in the Morgan Wallen soap opera. Quickly becoming one of the more complex figures in music, Wallen is once again in the news and once again it's not clear cut. Sunday, April 23, Wallen canceled a sold out show in Oxford, Ms, just before his set was supposed to begin. The stated reason was vocal issues and doctor ordered vocal rest. Immediately the circling vultures waiting for him to fall dive bombed to pick at the pieces.

I'm going to approach this with two different scenarios in mind. First under the assumption that the stated reason for cancellation is true and second under the assumption that the rumors surrounding the event are true.

Scenario One:

Vocal cord issues are the most frightening thing that a performer can experience. From personal experience I've had laryngitis and been unable to talk on the radio for two weeks at a time. It was a simple case and the doctor assured me I would be fine yet I was scared to death it would be the end of my career. That's a minor issue.

In years past I've been to shows where the performer probably should have canceled and instead powered through. The first time I ever saw Cross Canadian Ragweed was at Arizona Pete's in Greensboro, they were opening up for Dierks Bentley, and I was there for Ragweed. Cody Canada walked on stage and said, in a very hoarse voice, "I just want yall to know that I've been sick and my voice is shot so I can't sing any of the soft stuff so we're just gonna play loud as shit and scream our asses off tonight." He proceeded to give one of the most badass performances I've ever seen.

I recently heard a story about Luke Combs playing back to back shows and on the second night, after playing a three hour show, apologized because he voice wasn't up to par and gave everyone their money back. I've seen Hank Williams III play shows where he literally screamed so much that at the end of the night while he was signing autographs for everyone couldn't even say his name. That's what we want from our heroes. We want them to be invincible deities like sports stars who go out and play hurt and don't let anything stop them from doing their jobs. We're selfish.

I've seen many complaints that Wallen's show wasn't canceled until minutes before he was set to take the stage, fans leaving the venue after watching HARDY and Ernest play their sets and spending thousands of dollars on tickets and merchandise. The tabloids immediately jumped on this and have yet again ripped at his flesh so I thought I would put this in to perspective. Many of you may recall an incident in 2021, it happened in Charlotte, NC, in which Sturgill Simpson similarly canceled his appearance on the Outlaw Music Fest Tour. Like with Wallen, the announcement was just minutes before Simpson was scheduled to take the stage and he too was experiencing vocal cord problems. No refunds were given for the Outlaw Music Fest show. The tabloids and complaints were strangely silent.

What is the proper response to this? It's recently been announced that an ambulance chasing lawyer has begun a class action lawsuit against Wallen. The claim is that, in addition to refunding tickets, either he or the promoter should also be liable for the cost of hotel rooms, gas, airfare, and other expenses. This enters extremely dangerous territory and here's why:

Aaron Watson, who I consider the be the gold standard for "class act" powered through a show at Billy Bob's Texas in April 2022. The following day he said his vocal cords felt as if he had been eating glass and his doctor told him he needed to go on strict vocal rest, no singing, no talking, for a month or risk permanent damage. Concerts were canceled with less than a days notice while recuperated. Near the end of 2017 Wade Bowen, another Texas singer who I consider to be the definition of a class act, began having trouble with his voice following a show and found his vocal cords were hemorrhaging, bleeding in to his throat, and would require surgery and still may not ever be able to sing again. He canceled about 8 months worth of shows. Keep in mind, with bands like Aaron Watson and Wade Bowen, not playing shows means they are out of work and their entire crew is out of work. That's the danger our heroes risk when they "power through" vocal issues. These are just two of many similar cases. Reba McEntire, in 2022, was also put on vocal rest by her doctor and had to reschedule multiple shows- this list could go on one on. If this lawsuit is successful it will mean the end of live music forever. Artists will face legal backlash for protecting themselves and their careers. Why perform at all when you would be forced to choose between career ending injury and a lawsuit?

OK, there's scenario number one. What about scenario number two? This one, admittedly, delves in to much murkier territory because it's filled with what ifs. A rumor, that at the time of writing was not confirmed, is that Wallen did not have vocal issues but was simply too drunk to take the stage. Supposedly a security guard has stated on TikTok, the home of truth, fact, and unquestionably reliable information, Wallen was backstage and couldn't even stand and had to be loaded in to an ambulance to be taken from the venue. Best Crowd Management, the company working security for the event, has addressed this TikTok video saying "A hired employee of BEST Crowd Management made false claims at it related to last night's Morgan Wallen concert and we do not stand behind the details in his statement. Please refer to Morgan's social media pages for details." His employment future should be entertaining to say the least. He'll probably be replacing either Don Lemon or Tucker Carlson next week.

The fact this rumor has any credibility at all shows how badly Wallen's trust has been damaged. It falls in line with a pattern of behavior that is, unfortunately, all too believable. As I highlighted in my last article addressing Wallen, he has a history of making decisions that negatively impact his career while under the influence of alcohol. He's gotten in fights, he's been kicked off of TV shows, and of course there's incident that will forever haunt him, he's used despicable language. A blown show isn't outside the realm of possibility. I said in 2021, and I will say it now, it is my opinion that Morgan Wallen has a drinking problem.

And how dare we be angry. Particularly in the country music world; what moral high ground do we hold? Our heroes are legendary for blowing shows. We look back on George Jones who canceled so many gigs he became known as "No Show" Jones. The legendary Hank Williams Sr. was fired from the Grand Ole Opry due to missed or intoxicated shows. Keith Whitley was once quoted as saying "I thought everybody had to drink to be in this business. Lefty drank, Hank drank, George Jones was still drinking, and I had to. That's just the way it was. You couldn't put that soul in your singing if you weren't about three sheets to the wind." Waylon Jennings dubbed it "Hank Williams Syndrome" in which all of the artists thought they had to live their life on the edge just like Hank in order to make it in the business. As fans we like it that way. We enjoy the thrill of someone out there living the rock and roll life style because we're not able. We love the idea of Waylon Jennings cranking up Buddy Holly's old motorcycle on the third floor of a hotel room at 3am, Kris Kristofferson crashing a helicopter in Johnny Cash's back yard and getting out with a beer in his hand, we love that Merle Haggard was in the audience in San Quinton when Johnny Cash was on stage performing, and when Billy Joe Shaver shot a man and then asked for his bullet back. These are the things of that are legend in country music but, the world is short on legend, so we settle for notorious. This is part of why we buy the ticket. We want to feel like we're a part of the circus. Interestingly enough Waylon Jennings had song about that too, recorded just after he got sober, called Workin' Without A Net.

"Up on the high wire, I hear the crowd begin to call, Some want you to fly, some want to see you fall."

In America heroes are in even more short supply than legends. We no longer celebrate our heroes for their accomplishments, we no longer want to see them save the world or even create great works of art. We are infinitely more interested in catching them in an extramarital affair or using racial slurs, or referring to someone with the wrong pronoun, or ripping that tag off of a mattress. In fact, to continue the country music philosophy lesson, Don Williams espoused on the subject way back in 1977 when he said "I don't believe...that Superman and Robin Hood are still alive in Hollywood..." Even in the '70's Don Williams realized we are more interested in killing heroes that celebrating them. This is the moment that some dumbass will claim that I'm calling Morgan Wallen a hero and here is where I respond "he is a hero to somebody because he's good at what he does." There's a reason everyone in Nashville today is trying to sound like Morgan Wallen. Go listen to Tim McGraw's song $7500 OBO and tell me he isn't trying to sound like Wallen. This is a man who has made it in the industry 50 times over and has nothing to prove- every kid trying to make it in Nashville today considers Morgan Wallen a hero in the simplest sense of the word, after all they are clearly trying to imitate him.

So, what do we do? For starters we pray that Morgan Wallen gets sober and gets himself under control. I pray that for anyone I see struggling with the things I think he is fighting. I have seen very successful singers beat those demons back and continue to be successful. Johnny Cash comes to mind. Waylon Jennings beat a $3,000 a day cocaine habit cold turkey by locking himself in a cabin for two weeks. Brantley Gilbert went to rehab. Keith Urban went to rehab. My friend BJ Barham beat those addictions. Every one of them echoed the same fears: "will I still be able to write, will I still be able to perform, if I'm sober?" And I can say resoundingly yes, all of them were able. I have also seen many not beat those demons. Keith Whitley, Hank Williams Sr, Townes Van Zandt. My prayer is that Morgan Wallen becomes legendary for being one of the former and not one of the latter.

What else should we do? I highly recommend we heed the words of another Waylon Jennings song, one he recorded with Hank Williams Jr. and Ernest Tubb.

"Hank Williams was the king of country soul,

My daddy took me to see him in Lubuck but he didn't show,

Now the people got mad and they all went home,

First thing we did was put his records on,

I guess we should have left him alone and let him sing his song"

Photo Credit: By Morganwallen8020 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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