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“Can I get your John Henry?” It can be awkward…

Maren Morris was surprised when a member of her band showed her a picture of a guitar pick she autographed that she found for sale online.

Maren Morris has had a huge year. Being thrust into the spotlight of fame is not something I envy, even though a lot of people want it. My position throughout my career has put me in what I believe to be some fortunate and unique places. As one of my Radio Family*, J.B., said last year, “I’ve gotten to do things people only dream of doing.” And in radio, we do it from a unique position. We meet, sometimes work with, and over time get to know some artists. We’re backstage at many exciting events, host other events, and coordinate many meet and greet opportunities with our listeners. It’s a unique position because although I’m there, I’m not the focus. The artists and the listeners are the focus, so I’m more of a witness to some extremely cool opportunities.

Jason Davis
Jason Davis

One of the events I’ve probably been a witness to more than any other is the backstage meet and greet, and artist signings. Although I understand why Maren Morris was taken aback when she saw her autograph for sale, in years to come she might come to appreciate it. Many people collect autographs of people they admire, and some will buy them online. It’s not every day one meets their favorite artist, but I’ve gotta say, sometimes when people do, it’s a strange happening.

Think about it. What would you say if you met your favorite artist right now? You hear your artist on the radio, buy their CDs, buy the tickets, go to the concerts, get the t-shirts, and maybe even join the fan club. GREAT! Then it happens: you win backstage passes. You get to the venue, go to the right place at the right time, stand in line, and it’s about to go down!

I’ve seen people standing in that line so excited with their camera, items ready to autograph in hand, barely able to contain themselves with excitement. The line moves, they get to the front of the line, meet the artist they they’ve invested in, feel like they know practically, and have absolutely NO idea what to say to that artist. None. Unless it’s a seasoned artist that is prepared to take control of the conversation, it gets awkward. Fast.

 “Can I get your John Henry?”  According to gramimarist.com “John Hancock was the first man to sign the United States’ Declaration of Independence in 1776. Knowing that signing this declaration could mean his imprisonment or even death, John Hancock boldly wrote his name in large letters, declaring, “There, I think King George should be able to read this.” Then someone asks for your John Henry, it means they want your signature.”

It can be a strange, lonely moment for all involved. Many times, that’s why radio is there, to help smooth the moment, or with some of the new artists, their management have guidelines to keep the line moving and streamline the event.

It’s not just Country Music, either. I was at an autograph signing with Jay Novacek, former tight end for the Dallas Cowboys, and people were wrapped around the building in line to get his autograph. I was at the table with him, and that’s the first time I noticed (because it was a two hour event) what strange things people would say. “Dallas needs you to be playing now, man”, “I’m just getting this autograph for my son”, but Jay Novacek is a pro, and he handled it all with the ease and grace.

Jay Novacek photo: Chrissie Roberts
Chrissie Roberts

It must be a surreal experience for the person giving the autograph, as well. I’ve seen people grab for personal items, sneak a kiss, ask for a guitar or the shirt the artist was wearing (and mean it). Artists have relationships with their fans through their music and the feedback they get from the crowd, either by concert or the number of people buying their products, requesting their songs, and joining their Fan Clubs. Breaking it down to a one-on-one situation isn’t always easy for the artist.

In my experience, Garth Brooks is one of the best at Backstage. He brings everyone in at once, sitting them down in a circle, then offers them something to drink and says, with a stack of pictures in hand, “Okay, who am I signing these pictures for?”

He makes everyone feel important, and becomes the host himself.

President Barack Obama Delivers Remarks At The Kennedy Center Honors Reception
Getty Images

So, sometimes, it might just be better and faster if people do buy the autograph they want online. Maren Morris might be taken aback by it this year, and wow, what a year she has had, but I wonder how that attitude might change as she continues her career.

*Radio Family – A group of people I’ve worked with for a long time, and over time, we’ve become a family ourselves.

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