Darryl Worley/Special photo
ENTERPRISE, Ala. — Country star Darryl Worley liked the concept of the “new and improved” BamaJam music festival so much, he became one of the business partners in the annual festival that reached its peak in 2010 when more than 100,000 fans from all over the nation packed the festival grounds here.
Investors like Worley became necessary, however, when BamaJam founder Ronnie Gilley was indicted in a statewide gambling corruption probe.
Since the return of the festival was announced late last year, Worley, whose resume includes 20 charted hits, three No. 1s (“I Miss My Friend,” “Awful Beautiful Life,” “Have You Forgotten”) among them, has played the part of congenial host, doing media interviews to promote the three-day festival scheduled Thursday-Saturday and the opening of RV trails, a water park and a nine-hole golf course on the BamaJam Farms grounds that now cover 1,600 acres.
Worley took time from his busy schedule to talk exclusively with The Herald about BamaJam 2012.
ALBANY HERALD: With all the things you have going on — your singing career, your charity work, your business ventures, your family — you’re spread pretty thin. What, did you have a couple of free minutes with nothing to do?
DARRYL WORLEY: (laughing) Man, I’m just trying to make a living. Most folks don’t know this, but I’ve been involved in a lot of deals in the Enterprise area, things like the Darryl Worley home furnishing store. So when Ronnie (Gilley) got out of jail with his problems, I said why not go to the guy who had the vision for BamaJam and talk to him about (reviving the festival). If he didn’t think it was worth doing, we were prepared to sell (the festival grounds). Ronnie helped us come up with the idea for a complete makeover: a water park, an ATV mud-bogging venue, camping, up to four major events a year and 25-30 other musical events not of that magnitude. They said I could help most by being a walking, rolling billboard, so I’ve pitched in to spread the word.
AH: BamaJam hit an artistic and attendance peak a couple of years ago, and then there were Ronnie’s issues. Have you guys gotten a feel yet for how the interruption (no BamaJam in 2011) will impact this year’s festival?
DW: This is something I’ve had to talk about in every interview I’ve done; Ronnie’s legal issues are just part of the reality. But new people came on and decided they wanted to pick things up where they were and run with them. They laid out all the negatives and dealt with them. They refunded all the ticket money from last year, and I believe that will make a huge difference. That kind of good faith is a smart thing to do. I beleive people are committed to this area, and everyone knows the concept has been a success. One of the things we’ve found from our research is that 70-75 percent of tickets sold for an event like this are sold the day of the show. So we’re spreading the word and expecting a great crowd.
AH: As a performer, do you like playing at these festival-type shows?
DW: We’ve done so many of these over the years, we don’t really look at them as different from any other show. If there’s a great crowd, you get an energy level that’s really amazing. That’s what I’m looking for.
AH: Did you have a hand in recruiting — officially or unofficially — some of the artists for BamaJam 2012?
DW: My manager and I have been very involved with this show from the very beginning; we actually did more communicating during the planning. I’ve been involved in helping determine which artist should play in which slot, and I have made a few phone calls to talk with some people I’ve played with over the years. I told my wife I could see myself promoting something like this because I’ve always wanted to be involved in a family-oriented event that has such a positive impact on that area.
AH: Are there people you want to see perform?
DW: I’d love to be there all three days, but I already have commitments elsewhere (Friday and Saturday). So I’m going to host the whole event Thursday and play a show, too. Of course, I’m excited to see Willie (Nelson); the man is an icon. The word is out about how hot Eric’s (Church) tour is right now, and I’m excited to see his show.
AH: Eric Church is part of an exciting group of young country artists who are dominating the charts now — a lot of whom, by the way, are from Georgia. Are there any of those guys you’re particularly impressed with?
DW: One guy I’ve gotten to know really well and who I’m really happy for is Luke Bryan. I think a lot of him. After you’ve been in this business a while, it’s funny to see guys like that who are just starting out, and they all go through the same stuff. Luke’s taken things to the next level. I’ve been out on the road with a lot of guys, and I’ve seen a lot of good stuff and a lot of mediocre stuff. One of the things I’ve learned is that the good stuff is going to find its way to the top.
AH: You’ve given back so much after enjoying your own success in Nashville. What is the reasoning behind your charity work? (Worley founded the Darryl Worley Foundation and the Darryl Worley Cancer Treatment Center, both in Tennessee, and he’s traveled overseas 10 times since 2002 to entertain troops.)
DW: That’s the way I was raised. My parents are good, Christian people, and they always told us that for those given a lot, a lot is expected. My dad told me not to ever forget where I came from. When opportunities arose for me to give back to my hometown, to my community or to the military, my wife and I have just felt it’s the right thing to do. We don’t think we’re special for what we do. We’ve talked about it and decided anytime we get a chance to reach out, we don’t question it. We just do it.
AH: You’re also one of the best-educated country music singers around. (Worley has degrees in chemistry and biology.) Does that education come in handy?
DW: (laughing) Obviously, my parents were adamant about me getting an education. They knew my interest in making music, but they wanted to make sure I had something to fall back on. You never do wrong by getting as much education as you can. I kinda play my cards close to the vest now with people who think all country music singers are dumb hillbillies. But I am very thankful for my education.
AH: It’s been a pleasure talking with you. I’ll close out by asking if, with all your accomplishments, there’s anything out there you’re still chasing?
DW: Not really. If I ever get tired of being out on the road — and it does wear on you — I’d like to fall back in that songwriting groove. That’s how I got my start in this business anyway. I’ve never really thought about being in this business for accomplishments. I’ve seen how people win all the big awards, the CMAs and such, the way votes are bought and traded. A lot of people say that I’m being bitter when I say that, but there’s not a bitter bone in my body. I’ve had fun doing this; I’m blessed to make a living doing what I love. I guess with little (4-year-old daughter) Savannah Gail around, I just want a little more security for her. Probably the thing I look forward to most is having more time to spend with her and my wife.