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Back to their roots: Wilson Fairchild headlining July 4

Remember when Staunton’s population was around 100,000? Wil and Langdon Reid do.

wilson fairchild“Those shows are part of our childhood. We were raised with it,” said Wil Reid, the son of Harold Reid of The Statler Brothers, whose Happy Birthday U.S.A. Fourth of July shows were an annual highlight in the Queen City for 25 years, drawing upwards of 100,000 people at their height.

So, yeah, the question at the lede of this article, it was a trick question. It was just that one day a year that Staunton, population 20,000 or so, quintupled in size.

But, wow, what a special day a year that was.

“Our dads started the event for the right reasons. They just wanted to give back to the community because they had some success in the music business. It grew and grew and grew, and it certainly grew into something that they had never fathomed. It was all by accident, and that was what was so wonderful about it,” said Langdon, the son of Don Reid of the Statlers, who were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008 and remain one of the most awarded acts in country music history.

The final Happy Birthday U.S.A. was in 1994. The Fourth hasn’t been the same around here since, which is not to knock the efforts to build up a more locally focused celebration, not at all.

         

It’s just that, for 25 years, Staunton was the center of the country music world one day a year.

Since Wil and Langdon started to make their way into the music business, the temptation has been there for them to do something on the Fourth, which they had studiously avoided, for probably obvious reasons.

“Because that was their event,” Wil said.

Well, now it’s their event.

The Reids’ band, Wilson Fairchild, will headline the July 4 America’s Birthday Celebration at Gypsy Hill Park.

And as was the case with the work their fathers put into the Happy Birthday U.S.A., the guys are throwing themselves into this year’s July 4 show full bore.

“One of the funniest things we’ve tried to work out details on is the seating. Do you remember years ago with the lawn chairs and the lining up? We said that’s the way we want it,” Langdon said. “When we started explaining to people that didn’t know about the old event, they were like, What are they going to sit on? Their lawn chairs. Their lawn chairs? Where are they going to put them?

“There are a lot of details to take care of, and we’re learning that firsthand,” Wil said.

The July 4 concert comes on the heels of the release earlier this year of a new Wilson Fairchild CD, “Songs Our Dads Wrote,” that features covers of nine Statler Brothers hits.

It took a while for the Reid Boys to embrace their musical roots, admittedly.

“One thing we always put in our contracts was to leave the name Statler Brothers out of the billing. We didn’t want to have that expectation there. Because people expect, well, it’s going to be four guys singing country Southern gospel harmony, and that’s not what we do,” Wil said.

“We learned to embrace a large part of it. But for the longest time, we stiff-armed that,” Wil said. “No, daggone it, we got this. We’re going to do it. That was fine, people appreciated that. But they still wanted us to embrace it.

“Once we made that decision to do a few of their songs and tell some stories, and share our heritage, our memories, our childhood, and bring it all together, people appreciated it. It’s nothing we were ever running from. We were just very conscious of not looking like we were riding the coattails.”

The Statlers, at their best, trafficked in nostalgia, and in a roundabout way, their sons are following in their footsteps.

“The coolest thing about their music, those guys were the masters at being nostalgic,” Langdon said. “Nostalgia was their theme. That theme is being continued with us. And now the next generation, our generation, is listening to it, and it’s nostalgic for them because it’s part of their childhood, and maybe they didn’t realize it. Like, Oh, I remember being at my grandmother’s house, and she’d be playing this song, and now you all are singing it, and now I’m putting it all together. That nostalgia is being carried on now through our music, through their music.”

The response to the Wilson Fairchild tribute to the Statlers suggests that the songs their dads wrote still resonate with fans of the music.

“Just because they’re not out there entertaining, their fans didn’t retire. And there’s generations of them,” Langdon said.

“We’re running into people now, people that are our age, who know who they are through their parents, or watched the ‘Statler Brothers’ show in the 1990s, and have a real connection to their music,” Wil said.

“We really embrace that the fans see our dads and their music through us, and because we love them, and love their music, we’re good with that. We hope we’re keeping their legacy going.”

Story by Chris Graham

 
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