“And just who do we have here? You’re not trying to sneak in backstage, are you?”
Grant’s gruff demeanor, however, was met with giggles. “It’s us, Mr. Thomas: Katie and Lena Erickson,” Rennie’s oldest explained with a huge grin. She then turned and pointed out who was with them. “And this is our friend Hailey with little Tommy, who we’re watching for his mom, and – of course – Daddy’s friend, Josie.”
“A likely story,” he growled, working hard to maintain a somber stare. “Where are your passes and photo IDs like this?” He asked, holding up his own hanging from the lanyard around his neck.
Lena’s eyes grew wide at the challenge and stepped back, but Katie just stood her ground. “No one gave us any,” she tossed back matter-of-factly, her hands now firmly on her hips.
“So, why should I let you all in?”
“Because ... because ... we’re with the band,” Katie’s little sister finally responded, her tiny voice practically begging him to let them through.
Grant couldn’t help but laugh. They were all just too cute. “Good enough,” he chuckled. “But first, how about we have all of you young ones step over to Debbie’s table right there and she’ll get you set up with your own passes and IDs.”
“You almost had them crapping their shorts for a minute there.”
Glancing up from the departing children, he met the previously silent brunette’s gaze and smiled. “Hi, Josie. Yeah, I couldn’t resist,” he replied with another chuckle. “My own grandkids are still too young to do that to but give it a couple years.”
Looking down at his clipboard, he lifted a small stack of laminated paper off of it and gave it to her. “Here’s your official packet for getting in and out past all the security guards throughout the park tomorrow.” Gesturing over his shoulder, he motioned toward a pickup backed up behind the stage. “Some of your bandmates arrived a little bit ago to unload. All we’re missing now is the main man himself. Is he still over at Stage B?”
Josie nodded. “Yeah, he’s doing a quick sound check over there with Rowdy and The Jays, now that he’s filling in for their lead guitarist.”
“Poor guy,” Grant responded quietly. “Somehow Rowdy avoids getting hit when that rigging fell but still cuts his hand all up. So, Ren’s going to be able to play with them and you guys?”
“He seems to think so.” Glancing over at the girls, Josie couldn’t help but chuckle as they took turns getting their picture taken in front of something that looked like it belonged at the DMV. Looking back at Grant, she appraised him with a bemused look. “And just how did you get roped into standing guard over here?”
He laughed. “It was simply a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Gesturing toward Sarah, who looked to be tied up with some media people with cameras a ways off to the far side, Grant continued. “It’s actually all tied up with that accident over at the other stage. When it happened, Sarah had to start shuffling people around and she asked me to cover this spot for the few hours.”
“How is Sarah, by the way?”
“Doing pretty well, all things considered. She’s getting stressed out, though, and that boss of hers that showed up today is only making things worse. Thankfully, Nina – Rachel Vargas’ personal assistant – is helping her.”
“Who, Mr. Lanci?”
Grant shook his head. “Actually, Tim’s a great guy. No, I was talking about her immediate boss, Charlie Ross. He blew in this morning with the rest from the label and began throwing his weight around, trying to take over. What an ass.” A large smile spread across his face, however, as he looked over Josie’s shoulder and watched as a long awaited someone pulling up in a golf cart.
“And speaking of annoying talking donkeys...”
“Oh, you wound me, Grant,” the overworked guitarist teased as he brought the cart to a stop. “But only a true friend would be that brutally honest.”
“Daddy!” The girls immediately swamped their father, bouncing up and down, all excited about their brand new photo IDs and passes on lanyards around their necks. Hailey still had monkey boy on her hip, so she came and stood by Josie.
Grant couldn’t help but smile. “It would seem you have a few new additions to the band,” he called out.
“I can see that,” came the amused reply.
Josie smiled, as well, but Grant thought it seemed a little strained – especially around the eyes – for some reason.
“As someone who calls this area home, how concerned are you that this concert might be a drain on manpower and resources that could be better used elsewhere?”
Sarah watched as Rachel graciously fielded the question from the TV reporter, but inwardly seethed because she knew where the criticism came from. The idiot was standing behind the camera with a smug look on his face.
“As you said, Cheryl, this is home and my husband’s roots go deep here,” the supermodel replied with a winsome smile, “so we have a personal stake in all this. And I have to say, from what I’ve seen, the criticism couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
“Well, first off, apart from paying for an outside firm to take care of security, all of the money raised for this music festival is staying right here.” Pointing back toward the food court, she continued. “Just check with our many food vendors back here. Two weeks ago, quite a few of them had lost their livelihoods – their restaurants, cafes or catering trucks gone. Now, thanks to donated funds, they are back in business and able to provide for their families again. Plus, not one of them is working tomorrow for free. They are catering the festival for us and we are gladly picking up the tab.”
“I’m going to kill him,” Sarah hissed quietly, as Rance’s graceful wife went on to tell the reporter about how nearly all the hospitality RV’s and campers would be donated to local NGO’s for housing reconstruction crews over the next couple years.
“I don’t know ... that might make going back to work next week a little problematic, don’t you think?”
Despite her anger and building frustration, the tall blonde couldn’t help but smile – with a little eye rolling, of course.
Rachel’s assistant, Nina, for her part, simply gleamed up at her with that pixie grin of hers.
“He just pisses me off, you know?”
“Understandably so. He’s a condescending, egotistical sack of shit that’s trying to undermine you for some reason – but you’re looking at this all wrong.”
“How so?” She asked, taking a peek over at her boss, who at least was appearing more and more unhappy at the direction of the interview.
“Your boss may be here, but he’s not your boss here. This isn’t a Stone Mountain production, it’s a Sarah Gaines production, so just ignore him. Look around, everyone else is ... well, everyone but that reporter, but Rachel’s got that well in hand now. Just remember – this is your show, so act like it, okay?”
Sarah just shook her head in amusement at the audacity of the diminutive assistant. “Do you talk to your boss this way?” She asked, looking over at the other St. Louis TV stations, queuing up for interviews. She had expected the Great American Country channel (GAC) folks to show – and the on-air personalities from 93.7 The Bull would be doing live feeds from the park all day tomorrow – but the arrival of all the news crews was a bit of a surprise. Thankfully, both Rachel and Ty were around to handle the media interviews.
“Absolutely—at least once every couple of weeks, whether she needs it or not.”
“You know, I think I believe you.”
“See, I knew you were smart,” Nina shot back with a dimpled smile, before getting a bit serious. “Now remember, your boss’s boss is here, too, and he’s no dumb bunny. Just dance the dance of the innocent and keep giving the ass enough rope to hang himself.”
“And come Monday?”
“Your problem will not be whether or not you have a job, but which one you want to have.”
Sarah thought about it for a moment and then nodded her head. “Okay, that’ll be the plan. Now, how are things going over at Stage B?”
Nina glanced down at her iPad. “Rance was able to get a hold of a certified welder, so the repairs to the light rigging are ahead of schedule. It should all be done in the next hour or so.”
“And the injured?”
“All three were treated and released by the EMT’s, pretty minor stuff thankfully.”
“One of those was in the band, right?”
“Yeah, Rowdy Keller. He cut his hand and while he’ll still be able to sing, he can’t play. Evidently, Rennie’s agreed to fill in for him on guitar.”
“Will that be a problem tomorrow?”
“Don’t think so,” she replied, scanning the concert schedule. “We’ve moved things around a bit, so their set starts at one, while Hatchery Road won’t be going on until about six over here at the main stage. Speaking of which,” Nina paused as she flipped back through her tablet, “Rennie, Josie, and the gang are up for the sound check here in a few minutes.”
“Alright, well, let’s check in on Ty and then stop in at the mixer.”
The sound check was in full swing by the time they reached the GAC crew, who were set up not too far behind the sound and light guys. The spot was perfect, as it afforded a wonderful view of the stage in the background while they did their interviews.
Listening to the performance, Sarah found herself a little disappointed. It was still good but it seemed a bit flat, like something was missing. Perhaps it was just because it was a sound check. The sight of Rennie’s girls dancing by their daddy with their own tambourines, however, was absolutely precious. She was so taken in by the sight, that she almost missed something that Ty was telling the lady interviewing him ... almost.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa ... you invited someone to perform and you didn’t tell me? Ty, you can’t be doing that! You’ve got to let me know ahead of time!”
Completely focused on the potential problems the star had just dropped in her lap, she charged in totally oblivious to the cameras, the on air personality, and the fact that the interview had not finished. Ty, for his part, seemed unaffected by Sarah’s interruption.
“What? It’s no big deal ... they’ll come out and do a song or two.” The country star shrugged. “Sorta like a cameo.”
“No big deal? Argh! Ty, you are such a guy! You never think this stuff through and you always leave me to clean up the mess.” She ran her hands through her hair in frustration when she suddenly caught something else that he’d said. “Wait a minute ... they? Who’s they?”
He shrugged. “Once folks back in Nashville heard what we were doing and that Rennie was here, I started getting calls from almost everybody.”
Willing herself to show no fear, she subjected the unapologetic star to the stare all women are seemingly born with. “Ty ... who’d you invite?”
“Well, not everyone...”
Sarah, however, did not give him time to answer. “Ty, I can’t believe you did this. Did you even give any though to where these people are going to stay? All the RV’s are full.”
“Actually, they’re bringing their own. One’s already parked over next to mine.” He explained, gesturing nonchalantly with his thumb over his shoulder. “The rest should be here in a couple hours.”
Stunned by the news, Sarah’s head swiveled as she desperately sought to see who he’d invited. “What? Someone’s already here? Who is it?”
A sudden thought, though, caused her to stop and return her focus back to the singer. She knew who it was. “Wait ... Ty ... you didn’t!?”
“Why not? She’s only collaborated with Ren over Skype and she wanted to meet him in person.”
“Reba ... you invited Reba?”
“Well, yeah, she’s one of them,” Ty answered, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “She wanted to come.”
“Where is she?”
By this point, Lori Owens, the interviewer for the country music channel, was struggling mightily to contain her laughter. As it was, it was all she could do to not fall out of her director’s chair.
“Backstage. She wanted to surprise them.”
“Oh, crap! Josie’s going to flip!” Spinning around to look at the stage, she turned just in time to see her friend do just that when country music legend made her presence known.
“Yeah,” he tossed back with a loud chuckle, “it would appear that she is.”
Sarah just shook her head in disbelief, realizing the bad boy of country music had just fulfilled one her best friend’s biggest dreams. “Ty, sometimes I don’t know whether to slug you or kiss you.”
“Well, you know which one I would prefer.”
She snorted. “Yeah ... that’s not going to happen. Now who else did you invite? Wait a minute ... is that... ?”
Helen and her sister had made it to the security stop at the left side of the stage and were going through the process of getting their own IDs and passes, when the country superstar walked past them. Helen, however, missed her – being focused, as she was, on how cute her girls looked dancing with their tambourines by their daddy and how good he looked. Both sights only deepened her melancholy.
She had turned to get her laminated items from the tall, older black man at the table, when she heard her sister say something. Curious, she turned back to her. “I’m sorry ... what?”
“I said,” her sister replied slowly, motioning back to the stage, where Andy was on the receiving end of a bear hug from a familiar woman with red hair. “It appears your husband also knows Reba McEntire.”
“Exactly! Go ahead and catch them in a few shots but not too many. Go light on the girls at this point, too. No way of knowing how their mother will react.” Grant’s eyes momentarily moved to that very person beside the stage and then back to the young man in front of him. “Tell you what, I’ll approach her and her sister to see about that for tomorrow. Now, what’s your plan for after the sound check?”
“My thought was we’d grab Lori and catch up with Ms McEntire and Ms Wells for a couple of short interviews, do a short sit-down with the band, and then wrap up the day with some filler shots around the park, while it’s still relatively empty.”
“Were you able to... ?”
He nodded and jumped in immediately. “Yeah, that was a really good idea, actually.” Turning around, he pointed to a scaffolding tower for both speakers and lighting. “Manny gave the okay, so Jackie took one of our smaller cameras up there and set it up for those time delay shots, both for the setup today and then of the crowd filing in tomorrow, like you suggested.”
“Great! Well, I must say, I’ve been very impressed with you and your crew, Aaron. Keep up the good work!”
“We aim to please!” Shaking hands, the incredibly skilled but young field producer headed up to rejoin his crew still in the midst of shooting backstage, leaving Grant to enjoy the music. Well, that and sorting out his email – his inbox was totally swamped.
“What station are those guys with?”
Engrossed as he was in his smart phone, Grant was caught unawares by the question. Glancing up, he saw the modest height, salt and pepper hair, wire rim glasses, and confident demeanor, and recognized Timothy Lanci immediately. It took him a bit longer, however, to rewind and understand the question.
“What? ... Ah... ,” he stalled until he finally connected the dots. “Oh! You mean the video crew.” With a look toward Aaron and his unit, Grant turned back to the Stone Mountain CEO and shook his head. “Actually, they’re freelancers I hired last week to document all the damage, both with broadcast quality video and still photography. When you guys turned down Sarah’s request for a production crew to do behind-the-scenes and concert video, it just made sense to have these guys come back out and do it. I’ve been very impressed, so far.”
The lawyer’s wording had been deliberate, and it provoked the response he desired.
The Nashville businessman, dressed casually in jeans, a knit shirt, and penny loafers, quickly rose to Grant’s back-handed challenge. “What do you mean: ‘We turned down Sarah’s request’? We did no such thing. Where did you hear this?”
“Actually, I was there when she put in the call. I only heard her side of the conversation, so I don’t know for sure who she talked to – evidently it wasn’t you – but it was a pretty quick and firm rejection. I have to say, I was surprised, but we were able to come up with a viable Plan B in short order.”
Grant knew who the culprit was but felt it wasn’t his job to tell Tim. Stone Mountain was his company; he needed to figure out who the bad apple was for himself. Watching the man’s eyes narrow and range across the field until they found their target, gave the corporate attorney a good sense that the other man knew exactly who the problem was. What stumped the practical guy in him, however, was how stupid this whole situation was to begin with. It was way too easy to unravel with a well-placed comment – speaking of which, it was time for another one.
“Tim, is everything okay?”
Distracted by the unexpected information, the music executive gave the taller man a bit of a perturbed stare before shrugging his shoulders. “Surprised, that’s all. Just went from no camera units here to, what, three?”
Grant shook his head. “Four, actually, along with a TV truck and a couple production people from GAC. Sarah’s even recruited a few folks to use small, handheld cameras backstage and in the audience tomorrow.”
“Fan’s eye view—clever. I imagine she’s already... ?” Suddenly, Lanci waved his hand to forestall any response Grant might give. “Why am I asking you?” He asked with a self-deprecating chuckle. “I should be talking to Sarah, shouldn’t I?”
Knowing no comment was necessary, Grant simply smiled. Game, set, and match. Well ... not match, exactly. That would come when he and Tim negotiated Stone Mountain’s purchase of the video footage.
“You don’t get it, do you? I’m perfectly happy being right here, right now, playing for all these people. We don’t have to do some big shindig somewhere else to do right by these folks.”