Darin and Brooke Aldridge, Progressive Traditionalists
IBMA showcase; Monday night. We made our way to some empty seats up front. My advice to the kids was they were prepared and had no reason to be nervous. In spite of that my heart pounded and my eyes were moist. They were here. Barring power failure or some such catastrophe, they were gonna stand and deliver.
It was quiet for a moment. Glasses clinked around the room as folks finished dinner. Darin came out first. He wore his Sunday best. He took just a moment to check the mic. Brooke was in a pastel evening dress. Even an old bluegrass doc could see was she was elegant. The boys were in dark pants and light shirts with ties. The band carried a class professional persona before they struck the first note.
Right out the gate it was perfection. Brooke’s vocals filled the room, and Darin’s harmony matched her with every phrase and trill. The instrument fills augmented the words with just the right touch.
They broke into their wonderful country duet, ‘The Sweetest Waste of Time.’ Someone dashed out of the room. I later learned they had gone to alert Eddie Stubbs, the voice of WSM radio. I have no way to know what they said, but I expect it was something like, “Eddie, you gotta hear these kids.”
Not only did Mr. Stubbs hear them, but so did radio listeners everywhere. Eddie Stubbs is the voice of WSM, the original country music radio brand, and I understand he put them on a live feed for the WSM listening audience. He interviewed them after the show.
The crowd packed in tight. I noticed several moved up as close to the stage as possible. My new friend from France, Henri Deschamps, tapped me on the shoulder. “Hey Doc, they are good.” It was a proud moment for North Carolina. The Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet now belong to the world.
The keynote speaker for the night had been Mr. Pete Fisher, the General Manger of the Grand Ole Opry. I thought of his words as they sang. Mr. Fisher said we need to respect tradition, and yet not have it be an anchor that weighs us down. The man had already made good on his word when he inducted the Stanley Brothers into the Opry. There are few groups more traditional than the Stanleys.
At the same time Mr. Fisher is correct that to maintain and develop a commercial presence in a music world that changes faster than old Doc can type, we must push forward. We have to balance the old and the new to stay alive.
As Darin and Brooke played, it struck me this is exactly what they do. Darin has studied the Stanleys, and every bluegrass and country artist he can get his hands on. He and Brooke made that heritage the foundation of their sound, and yet knew their destiny was to create their own.
And they are unique. From the first line the music jumps off the stage as something you’ve never heard. Somehow though it still strikes a nostalgic chord deep inside. You know you must have been there before, but you can’t quite recall where.
The closest analogy I can make it they sing in a Louvin Brothers duet style, except one voice is female and one is male. I asked Nashville veteran Jerry Salley and he said he thought that was about right. He went on to say in that style he felt Darin and Brooke were unrivaled in today’s country music. Don’t take it from Doc, I’m just a music lover. Ask Jerry; he knows the business.
Mr. Fisher also talked about the importance of brand. He was right again. What brand can ever symbolize country music more than the Grand Old Opry? When I interviewed for med school, some old Professor asked me what I knew about opra. I pondered that a minute and said, “Sir, I don’t know too much about opra, but I can tell you all about the Grand Ole Opry.” I got in, and I hope I’ve done okay for a country boy. I’ve sure done my best.
So do Darin and Brooke. When Mr. Fisher talked about brands, I was reminded of the words of Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon. Someone asked what he sold, and he said, “We don’t sell cosmetics, we sell hope in a bottle.” Mr. Revson understood the importance of brand. The rewards of brand can only come from the responsibility of quality and consistency. As Mr. Fisher said, (paraphrased) “You must not just meet, but exceed expectation without fail.”
Darin and Brooke do that. Like Charles Revson, their brand is also hope. They respect their elders and tradition but still push their music to new boundaries every time out. They sell hope too. Old guys like me who love music and rely on it to see them through the hard times know young people like Darin and Brooke are gonna keep the tradition alive. As groups like this emerge, we can know our music will never die on the vine from failure to move forward. At least for this music lover, that is what I look for in a brand.
As Mr. Fisher said, we all must strive to exceed expectations in whatever we are called to do. Darin and Brooke do just that, and North Carolina sure is proud of them for it.