Irlene Mandrell wows at Welcome Back Hanceville concert

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Irlene Mandrell performs in Hanceville Saturday, April 27. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

HANCEVILLE, Ala. – A great crowd came out Saturday to enjoy the Welcome Back Hanceville concert featuring Irlene Mandrell and other guests. The weather was perfect as the city welcomed everyone downtown for the free concert. Cody McCarver and Vicki Lynn Maxwell also gave great performances. This was one of several concerts the city will bring to Hanceville in the upcoming months.

Prior to the concert, adoring fans had the opportunity to meet with Mandrell at the Hanceville Drug Company. She took time to visit with each person, signed autographs and posed for pictures. Before she left to rehearse for the show, she sat down for a chat with The Tribune.

Mandrell and her sisters rose to fame in the late 70s and early 80s. Barbara, Louise and Irlene’s hit show “The Mandrell Sisters” made them household names. Irlene is the youngest of this talented musical family and she went on to be a cast member of the legendary comedy show “Hee-Haw.”

Where are all the Mandrell sisters now?

Mandrell: We are all kind of around Nashville. We are almost like a triangle in Hendersonville, Brentwood and Ashland City, which is kind of cool to me because Barbara always said that we are like a triangle. We are just as close to each other and how we feel about each other. I felt that’s weird. We are keeping that pattern going.

Is this your first time visiting Hanceville or Cullman County?

Mandrell: Yes, but I’ve been to Alabama a lot for different events. Hanceville is fun. I got to meet the people at the meet and greet, walked through the town and been to the civic center where we set up a few things. It’s just going back in time. It feels like, especially being here today where everyone knows me because I’m appearing here, when we used to do the show when you walk in and your friends and new friends are all feeling still like family is really cool.

Mandrell on being accessible to her fans:

I’ve always just gone shopping or do whatever I did even when the TV show was going on. We were known really well then. I remember right after the show had aired, because people say there was a 40 million viewing audience. Louise and I went to Disneyland while we were out there because we were raised in California. When we were kids, we went to Disneyland a lot. So, we went and people recognized us at Disneyland and Louise was like “Wow! That was fun! We’ve made it and this is cool!” We love people and we love people to know us because it makes it feel like they are part of our family because we are a family. We were a family show. Everyone got to know our family and we kid just like everyone does in their family.

Were there ever any sibling rivalries?

We would disagree once in a while. Really not even often. Our daddy was our manager. He was also a World War II veteran and policeman. Both parents were hard-working. My mom was a musician. We had so much in common and raised the same way because we were together all the time, even on the road. We just had the same opinion. It seems like almost all the time we had the same opinion. When they would do a big production show or something, like Louise is now in California getting ready to do a big dinner show, “Calamity Jane,” a big production. She would have Barbara there and both would walk around with a legal pad making notes of the show and things they should change. I guess constructive criticism and each person would go “Oh yeah, I wondered about that and wondered what you would think.” It was something like that. Not even disagreeing just trying to help each other. It was never to tear anybody down. We were competitive if it was cards, trap or sporting plays. We all do shotguns and sports and stuff. But not (competitive) when it came to business.

So nobody tried to be the standout?

Well Barbara really was already when we did the TV show, and Louise and I were part of her band. I get it now, but I was so young as a drummer and we would work county fairs or state fairs together and stuff. While Barbara was getting ready to do interviews like we are doing now, Louise and I were out riding roller coasters and eating corndogs and stuff and I felt sorry for her. I didn’t get it. I always just wanted to play drums and be the best drummer I could be. Then later years, a photographer wanted to do some pictures and I got interested in doing some modeling and went in there and did some different things. I was lucky. It’s not like I was a runway model. I’m not tall enough. Then when the show came about, Barbara just called and asked, “Would you like to do a national television show with Louise and I? You’d be doing some drumming and some dancing.” I was like, “Yeah!” I always wanted to learn to dance and we had never danced before then. It was just God sent. It was just a blessing from God.

Did you have a favorite guest?

Bob Hope was incredible, and Danny Thomas. I was raised on the road doing shows with big artists, so I knew a lot of them and of course I was impressed with them, Conway and Loretta and Jerry Lee Lewis. I had never met people from TV shows I grew up watching as a kid so they were important to me. Phyllis Diller, I actually got to do a comedy skit with her, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. We did a barroom scene where they had breakaway bottles and chairs that was choreographed. Dale was just sitting there singing as we’re fighting around her. It was amazing. I can’t believe I was there doing that. Good memories and lucky to have it on tape.

You were also on “Hee-Haw”?

I did the last eight years of “Hee-Haw,” and it was fun going in. We had just finished our show and I was  just being a spokesperson and traveling and doing that stuff. I stayed in California to do some acting lessons because I love acting, but I got to guest star on “Hee-Haw.” I already knew a lot of the people who were regulars, but when guest starring, I got to know the rest. Sam Lovullo was the creator and he was Italian. I went in with dad and we were talking about me going in and having a spot because I wanted to go in with my own spot. I was a “Kornfield Kounty operator, can I help you???” Then I said, “One problem, I want to start a family.” Sam says, “Are you kidding? I’m Italian. I love children. What do you think the cornfield is for?” With the operator spot, I would look bigger but I had the wrap around they had on me or a shawl. I had my two oldest children while I was on “Hee-Haw.” It was just wonderful.

How many children do you have?

I have three. I had the two while on “Hee-Haw.” Deric will be here today playing drums. Vanessa, who couldn’t be here today. She’s a great singer, but she also has her regular job, with the Online School Firearms Technology and she is a liaison between companies for the school. The NRA is going on so she’s working there and that’s important for her other job so Vicki Lynn said she would sing some harmonies today. My other daughter (Christina) sings with me when she can. She’s also a wedding planner and she has a wedding this weekend. I have the three and I have a granddaughter now. My youngest daughter got married the other two aren’t married yet. My granddaughter is 2 ½, named Blakely.

As Mandrell left to rehearse for her show, the crowd was building outside as Nashville recording artist Maxwell prepared to get the concert underway. Originally from Georgia, Maxwell performed a great set of classic cover songs that the audience loved. As a special treat, area church members, including Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail, dressed in choir robes to accompany Maxwell as she concluded her set with “I Can Only Imagine.”

One of the next stops for Maxwell will be in Chattanooga on June 1 for the Riverbend Festival.

She said, “They have a whole a week of huge entertainers. Lionel Richie will be there one night and Keith Urban another night. We will be the same night at Keith Urban.” Maxwell has a new CD available with a new single she recorded last week named “Butterfly.” She added, “We didn’t get to do it today but we hope to have it out there very soon.”

McCarver and his band played next with his unique blend he has dubbed “Outlaw Gospel.” McCarver was a member of the popular group Confederate Railroad.

He explained to the crowd, “All the glory goes to God because I’ve been sober since March of 2013. When we pull up and get out of the vehicle or the bus, some people look at us and they don’t really think of us as being saved. We look a little different than your average Christian. I don’t think the Lord cares what none of us looks like. I believe when we get to heaven one day, we are going to be all kinds of different folks up there and the Alabama fans or gonna have to put up with Tennessee fans. I sobered up and changed my whole life and wrote some gospel songs. I went to Nashville and I met some people from the Christian music industry. I took these songs I had written and I played them for them all and this guy listened to them and said ‘Man, your lyrics are a little too serious.’ I had a line in my song where I had contemplated killing myself. He didn’t like that. He said, ‘You sound a little to outlawy and you look a little too rough.’ Just two weeks ago, Zach and I went and played a Baptist church and we had three people saved. I decided to call what we do Outlaw Gospel and as far as I know, you are looking at the only Outlaw Gospel singer in the whole wide world.”

McCarver then sang his rendition of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and crowd loved it.

Following his set, McCarver met and posed with pictures with the fans. McCarver has a new song released Monday and a new album, “Blessings.” The new single is titled “These Hands” and it’s a duet with John Schneider. McCarver performed the song for the first time publicly at the Hanceville show. The song is available for download on iTunes.

McCarver said after the show, “I had a great time. I love these little towns. I’d rather play these little towns than the big towns anytime.”

He continued, “I’m actually producing an album for John Schneider. That’s what I’m doing Monday. He’s recording a few gospel songs I have written. Then next weekend I have a show with the Georgia Satellites and one with Guy Penrod.”

McCarver joked, “My momma says he’s the Sam Elliot of gospel music. My mom says, ‘He looks like Sam Elliot. He’s so pretty.’”

Finally, Mandrell took to the stage and with her son Derec on drums. The crowd was having a great time. Mandrell then introduced her guitar player, Mike Watkins. Watkins sang lead on a few songs and was an instant crowd favorite.

Everyone The Tribune spoke to really appreciated the hard work the city and organizer Nolan Bradford put in to get the city ready and all the preparation for the concert.

Bradford said, “We wish we had more people but there are many other events we are competing with today. This is our first year having events like this and I think it will continue to grow.”

Nail echoed Bradford, saying, “We are trying very hard to offer something for everybody.”

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Christy Perry

christy@cullmantribune.com