“My grandpa made me come over here and stand in line,” the girl tells him. “He said he did it himself 30 years ago.”
Gray laughs and asks her where grandpa is now. She points over to a seat in the nearby bleachers, where an older man sits with a smile, watching the scene unfold.
“How about we go over and talk to grandpa?” asked Gray.
The three chat for a spell. Grandpa has pictures of himself and Gray from three decades prior, each holding a beer after a show.
“Me and you with a beer in hand is probably still going to happen,” Gray told him, “but not with your grandkids around!”
It’s full-circle meetings like these that keep things fresh for Gray, even after 40 years on the road. He keeps the shows unpredictable for fans and the band, ignoring set lists and inviting audience participation.
“What do ya’ll want to hear right now?” Gray will yell, picking a song from the uproar that follows. Every show is a different kind of animal than the last.
“There’s no order to our chaos,” he said, chuckling. Hits like “Can’t You See” and “Heard It in a Love Song” usually get the most requests, he said, but the band doesn’t shy away from deep cuts that have been gathering dust in the attic.
“I’ve played songs I haven’t played in 20 years, because of requests,” said Gray.
Larry May, owner of CD Cellar in Anniston and a key organizer of the concert, said he’s excited to see such a well-known and beloved band make its way to Anniston.
“I’ve listened to them since I was a kid,” said May. “They’re everybody’s favorite around here.”
May knew he’d chosen the right band when, before even announcing publicly that the Marshall Tucker Band was coming, he started receiving congratulations for booking the band.
“I was like, ‘Who told you?’” he said, laughing.
May believes events like this are the key to revitalizing Anniston’s downtown district. Introducing visitors to area attractions like the bike trails, fine dining and recently opened brew pub will help outsiders see Anniston as a destination, not a stop on the road to elsewhere. It will also help reacquaint Anniston natives with Zinn Park, May said.
“The city put a lot of money into making Zinn Park safe,” May said, noting that the new playground, planned splash pad for next year and other recent concerts have had a positive impact on the area. His hope is that concert-goers will enjoy not only the park, but the many restaurants and businesses within the surrounding blocks.
Gray is more than happy to help Anniston kick things back into high gear.
“Letting people down is something that is not going to happen,” said Gray. “We get up there because y’all come, and we rock the people’s socks off every night.”
Benjamin Nunnally is a freelance writer in Jacksonville. Contact him at email@example.com.
IF YOU GO…
What: The Marshall Tucker Band with guests High Cotton, Doublewide Soul and Riley Green.
When: Oct. 25, 7 p.m.
Where: Zinn Park, 14th Street and Gurnee Avenue, Anniston