More than four decades after making his musical debut in his grade school auditorium, Vince Gill returned to that scuffed wooden stage to once again strum and sing “House of the Rising Sun.”
“I don’t sing as high as I used to in the second grade,” he joked.
The auditorium also wasn’t named after him back in 1966.
The country music star returned to his hometown Thursday to play a benefit concert for Cleveland Elementary Arts and Science Specialty School, 2725 NW 23. The sell-out show, titled “Vince Gill: Back in Class,” raised nearly $95,000 to refurbish the auditorium, the first place he played music in public.
“It hasn’t changed a whole lot,” Gill said at a press conference before the show. “The scale of it is so drastically different from when you’re a 6- or 7-year-old kid. You know, this looked like Madison Square Gardens in here when I was a kid. And now it just looks so tiny.”
Honoring a star
The program for the concert included presenting Gill, 50, with the 2007 Oklahoman of the Year award from state magazine Oklahoma Today. He also was to be recognized by the governor, the tourism department and Oklahoma City Public Schools on what was to be dubbed Vince Gill Day.
The Country Music Hall of Famer said he was thrilled to be named Oklahoman of the Year, but more excited that the magazine gave him a chance to help his old school.
“I realize I carry this place with me everywhere I go,” Gill said. “As I go on through my life, it’s a comfort to know that that red dirt is in my blood.”
The Cleveland student body showed its appreciation by preparing a warm welcome for Gill, who spoke and played a few songs at a school assembly. The entire student body sang along when he played “What You Give Away,” and Principal Mary Coughlin said “there wasn’t a dry eye” among the teachers.
Gill received the Cleveland Bulldogs “Pick of the Litter” student honor, and wore the dog biscuit-shaped medal around his neck over his untucked button-down shirt.
“The assembly was so sweet. I was trying to the think of the last time I played for a bunch of grade school kids, and you know, it might have been here when I was in second grade,” he said.