The Keyboard Player and Me

One night way back in the early aughts, I found myself a long ways from home, signing copies of Population 485 at the late lamented Davis-Kidd bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, when a man placed his copy before me. I took a look at him and said, “Should I make it out to Hobie?”

“How do you know who I am?” he said.

“You’re the keyboard player for Sawyer Brown!” I replied. In the years leading up to Population 485 I paid a lot of the rent by writing about life on the country music circuit. I’d seen Hobie in videos, and backstage a time or two in passing.

And thus began one of those odd, intermittent, easy friendships that spring up when you hide out or hit the road or do a combination of both for a living. About once a year Hobie passes through these parts on tour, or I pass through Nashville, or some other place the band is playing, and we catch up backstage or on the bus. Over the decades he and his bandmates have welcomed me, then me and my wife, then our little family of four. What I love above all is the ease of it. Catch up, compare a few notes, tell a few old stories, and be on our separate ways.

That night back there in Nashville I was on my first-ever book tour. Population 485 didn’t rule the charts or make me rich or put me on tour like Sawyer Brown, but twenty-plus titles later that book still drives the van. And from that moment to present, my now-and-then conversations with Hobie have helped me navigate my middling successes, my minor flops, and still maintain a fresh love for what I do. And when I have something new in the hopper, I often share it early with Hobie (his parents were both English teachers, and he has taught college literature classes between tour dates).

And of course there’s the delight I share with millions through the music of Sawyer Brown, soundtrack to some of my best backroad rides, then and now. Many a smile to the mile, but also songs like “Cafe on the Corner,” which I revisited while writing Forty Acres Deep.

Anyways, here’s to Hobie, and here’s to the boys in the band, still gettin’ after it.

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