Our Most Captive Audience
On The Road Again
For the past several years our family has had the opportunity to travel and play music in different countries. We are set to return for our third Ireland tour in January of 2019 and are currently on our second tour in Canada this summer. It is an honor to share the American culture through our music while creating fun memories and stories along the way. The full-time Branson show is our dream job, but it is fun to shake things up a bit, explore very different venues, and grow as a band.
In addition to touring internationally, our new 2018 Branson show schedule allows us to take short road trips to a larger region. In June we played evening shows in the cities of Abilene and Hays, Kansas, through BDS Productions reuniting with old friends and making new ones. We were treated so well and had a great time. It was a blast!
We also added an early afternoon program at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility. This would be our first opportunity to perform in a correctional institution. Randy and Emmett Franz said they had spent a lot of time in and out of prison (playing music, of course) and that it would be a great experience. We accomplished all the extra paperwork for ourselves and our equipment for pre-approval. Surprisingly, both the banjo and Matt made the cut.
Ellsworth Spiritual Life Center
Inside Ellsworth Correctional Facility stands a small beautiful chapel called the Spiritual Life Center (SLC) which seats around 300. It is the pride and joy of the prison and the community. The surrounding private and corporate community raised funding for the materials, and the “offenders” built it themselves. We passed through security and questioning, then were escorted to the chapel. It actually had a great stage and a complete sound system. Everyone was so proud of the chapel and eager to assist us in any way.
Two guards were stationed in the back of the room during the standing room only concert in case they were needed, but, truth be told, we have never played to a more appreciative and attentive crowd. They cheered for all the instrumental solos, clapped along during our upbeat bluegrass songs, teared up during Beulah Land, gave a standing ovation for More Than a Name on a Wall, and screamed out “GET IT, MAMA!” louder than we’ve ever heard.
A Moving Experience
After the show, every single man stood in line single file to get our autographs on specially made postcards with our pictures. They thanked us for taking the time to visit their facility. They said they laughed at how Matt picked on us. It reminded them of their childhood and siblings. They loved how proud we were of Julianne as she sang and played her mandolin. I was humbled by how they said they saw Jesus in our family. They were grateful to us for coming out of our way to bless them. One comment I remember in particular was from an older gentleman with tears in his eyes. As he shook my hand he said, “You made me feel free for an hour.”
Overall it was a bittersweet experience. We all walked to the van thoughtful of the contrasts we had witnessed, men who were paying the price of imprisonment for crime, yet some were full of love and hope there. The Christian community was loving and strong for each other. The love shown from the chaplain, his wife, and the town who cared for these men and sacrificed to make it a better place. We all agreed we wanted to reach out to this segment of society again.
It was a great reminder of the hope and promise God offers everyone and how beautiful it is to share that message with others. Our dad has always prayed Philemon verse 6 over our family’s music. “And I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” We all have so much for which to be thankful.