Stuart Fans Coming To Talladega Bring Stories With Them

This appeared in the Daily Home - November 12, 2003

When Bette Brown says she loves Marty Stuart, she means something a little different than most people would think.

It isn’t just the way he sings, although she loves that, too. And it isn’t that he’s not hard to look at.

No, there’s much more to Brown’s adoration of the country music idol and why she’s flying from Houston to Talladega to see both shows Friday night.

Stuart granted her dying friend’s last wish to see the performer one more time before she died in 1995. And on top of that, Stuart took time after the concert to meet Marilyn Martin-Helm personally when he heard about her wish.

"He has a beautiful soul," Brown said, speaking from her home in Houston, Texas Tuesday afternoon. "I was there and saw how he talked to her."

Brown drove all night to get to the concert in Meridian, Mississippi with Martin-Helm in May 1995. Both women were members of Stuart’s fan club, and had long admired his music and style of entertainment.

"I was crazy about him when he was with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs," Brown said.

Brown and her friend traveled together often to Stuart’s concerts, enjoying each other’s company and the music as well.

Martin-Helm was dying of cancer when the women made the trip to Meridian. A road manager who Brown knew told Stuart about the women being in the audience and the circumstances.

"He had one of the crew come and get her in her wheelchair," Brown said. "He spent 45 minutes talking to her." Stuart offered words of encouragement to Martin-Helm, getting down right in front of her wheelchair, Brown said. "He complimented her on her beautiful hair," she said. "And Marilyn told him it was a wig, and took it off, and he kissed her on the top of her head."

Before leaving that night, Martin-Helm asked the performer if she could touch the head of hair that’s been his trademark through the years. "And she did," Brown said. "He’s such a humble person. He took time with this dying woman. From that day on, I decided if I could get to a concert and had the money, I’d be there."

An Alabama native, Brown’s looking forward to the trip for that reason as well. “I always feel like it’s coming home if I’m in Alabama,” she said. Brown grew up in Mobile, and her father worked for the state highway department. She traveled with him often as he worked throughout the state.

"I get on those old highways and it reminds me of my father, who helped get all those roads built," she said. "I haven’t been to Talladega since I was nine or 10, and I’m anxious to see how it’s changed." She’ll get to town Thursday night, catch both shows Friday night and then fly home from Birmingham on Saturday. An added plus for the shows is seeing Stuart on stage with his wife, Connie Smith, Friday night, she said.

Diane Gilmore, her husband Jim and 15-year-old daughter Jamie are driving in Friday for Stuart’s concert. Long-time fans of the performer, that’s just part of the reason for the trip. Gilmore has a thing about old buildings and theaters, and finding out that The Ritz has its own story had special interest for her.

The Gilmores traveled to Hawkinsville, Georgia in September to see Stuart’s show, given in an old opera house there. A similar set up as in Talladega, most people helping with the theater house that night were volunteers, she said. "We had a great time, we ended up helping get ready for the show," she said.

Gilmore’s husband helped lug ice and other necessities for the evening, and Gilmore did other chores to help the volunteers set up. "We made friends for life on that trip," she said. "I was sweeping in the lobby when he (Stuart) came in," she said. "It was wonderful. I told him he looked like he just got out of bed." Stuart didn’t take any offense to the remark, just acting friendly and making a joke, Gilmore said.

Gilmore said she was so anxious to get tickets to Stuart’s Talladega show she called repeatedly, even before tickets were on sale. She got to know theater volunteer Amelia Hodge on a first name basis. "I know I must have been driving her crazy," Gilmore said. "I kept calling and calling, and Amelia would say, 'tickets aren’t on sale yet.' " But Gilmore kept calling, finally getting her order in when the tickets went on sale.

Even her daughter is a Marty Stuart fan, with her own teenage ways of expressing how she feels about the star. "Jamie just loves him," Gilmore said. "She says he’s really cool for an old guy."

While talking with Hodge, Gilmore was invited for a pre-show tour of the historic theater. "I can’t wait to see it," she said. "And I look forward to meeting Amelia and George. (Culver, director for Antique Talladega). Old buildings need people who love them to preserve them."

Just like with the trip to Georgia, Gilmore’s hoping for a more unique experience than many have going out of town to see a show. "I volunteered to help out before the show," she said. "And we mean it. That makes it fun."

Stuart and Smith appear in two shows Friday night, one at 6:30 p.m. and another at 8:45 p.m.

By Laura Nation

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