Every good outlaw has a partner. A trail buddy comes in handy when he’s traveling the territory traversed by Waylon and Willie, Haggard and Jones.
Jamey Johnson, who carries on the tradition of outlaw country music perhaps better than anyone around, is no different.
His sidekick will be along for the ride when he moseys into Lynchburg on Saturday, Aug. 24, to close the first Lynchburg Music Fest, an event with three stages and 30-plus bands on the historic square and in Wiseman Park.
Johnson’s partner in crime goes by the name of Ole Maple, and she’s an Epiphone EJ200 acoustic-electric hollow body cutaway that’s been along for the travels since … well, let’s let the storyteller tell the story.
“I bought it in Bailey Brothers Music in Montgomery, Ala., in 1995. I hadn’t been out of (Marine) boot camp in Parris Island too long, and I had a little money. I walked into Bailey Brothers, and I played every guitar they had on the wall. I guess it must have been about four hours of me checking out every one they had, and I kept coming back to this one.
“It was unique, and it felt right. It felt good to me … My thinking at the time was I get good enough playing that guitar with that deep V neck, there won’t be another guitar out there that will give me much trouble. It was a pretty good workout to play.
“It just sounded so good, too, especially with the big hollow body with the sound hole open. It sounded good in the room, but it sounded good on the amps I was playing at the time. This guitar’s got the best of both worlds. Whatever I wanted to do, it was capable.
“Best of part about it was it was affordable. I spent about $500 on that guitar. I made most of that back,” he chuckles.
Casual fans more often notice the many autographs on Ole Maple. The first autograph Johnson got was Willie Nelson’s back at a concert at Auburn University in 1997. Johnson was just an aspiring singer-songwriter in those days. He ran back to the car to get it when he saw fans in line to get items signed outside Nelson’s bus before the show.
“I had Willie sign it on the side of it, not on the face like where all those signatures are today, on the side, up top, where I could see it.”
The second autograph, in 2008 was big, too – Willie Nelson.
You read right.
“Over the years that signature got worn off from putting it in and out of the case,” Johnson said. “It was just gone. A Sharpie doesn’t last too long on a lacquered up guitar if you don’t cover it up and protect it with something. I learned a valuable lesson from that.
So in 2008, when Johnson “opened up for everybody else” at Farm Aid, Nelson signed it again, this time on the face. When Johnson played, he noticed fans turning their heads sideways.
“He signed it upside down if you were looking at me playing. One of the funniest things he ever did. So I’ve kinda adopted that strategy.”
Signatures also include those of George Strait, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Neil Young, Emmylou, Jessi Colter, Whispering Bill Anderson, John Anderson, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Don Henley, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Bob Seger, Hank Cochran, Lee Ann Womack, Dean Dillon, Randy Travis, Kris Kristofferson, Kid Rock, Charley Pride and Alabama’s Teddy Gentry, Randy Owen and Jeff Cook from his home state.
“It’s got a lot of signatures on it, and I’m proud of each and every one of them; these are people who mentored me in my music even before I met them. And there’s a lot more to put on there. We’ve just got to get some more lacquer and keep it covered up.”
Johnson’s dad played guitar, and his guitar was a maple guitar. His dad wouldn’t let him touch it as a kid. Later Johnson wrote a song about it called “Old Maple Guitar.” He didn’t write “Old Maple” on “Ole Maple,” but he has written most of his greatest songs on it: “High Cost of Living,” “The Guitar Song” and “Give it Away,” and his best-known song, and the song he calls one of his favorites, “In Color.”
“In Color” won “Song of the Year” from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association in 2009.
“And over the years, how many thousands of shows, that guitar’s been through an awful lot and she’s held up to every bit of the demand I’ve put on it. It’s like an old friend.”
The two-day multistage event will be hosted in downtown Lynchburg and Wiseman Park Aug. 23-24.
The festival will run from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day.
Friday’s lineup will be headlined by Easton Corbin. Others on the Friday main stage are Joe Diffie, Cassadee Pope, Craig Campbell, Keith Anderson, Taylor Phillips, Zach Donegan, Logan Wheat, Vending Machine Bandits and Macy Tabor. One more act for that night is expected to be released soon.
Saturday’s lineup will be headlined by Jamey Johnson. Others on the main stage Saturday are Montgomery Gentry, RaeLynn, David Lee Murphy, Lee Gibson, Michael Allen, Matt Dillon and Becky Buller Band. One more act – expected to be a big name — is yet to be released.
Sponsors for the event include Lynchburg Winery, Flex Up Fitness, American Craft Distillers, CrossFit 931, Lynchburg Cigar Co., Adventurous Soul Travel Agency, Barrel House BBQ, Henry & McCord Law Offices and Miltec Rapid Manufacturing Systems.
Ticket prices are set to increase and move into Tier 2 pricing on Tuesday, July 9. Tier 1 pricing is $110 a ticket for general admission two-day tickets. The Tier 2 prices are $120 for general admission two-day tickets. Go to www.lynchburgmusicfest.com for more information.