Every good outlaw has a partner.
Jamey Johnson, who carries on the tradition of outlaw country music better than anyone around, is no different.
His sidekick will be along for the ride when he moseys into Lynchburg on Aug. 24 to close the first Lynchburg Music Fest, an event with three stages and 30-plus bands on the Historic Square and in Wiseman Park.
Johnson’s partner-in-crime goes by the name of Ole Maple, and she’s an Epiphone EJ200 acoustic-electric hollow-body cutaway that’s been along for his travels for a long time.
“I bought it in Bailey Brothers Music in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1995. I hadn’t been out of (Marine) boot camp in Parris Island too long and I had a little money. I walked into Bailey Brothers and I played every guitar they had on the wall,” Johnson said. “I guess it must have been about four hours of me checking out every one they had and I kept coming back to this one.
“It was unique, and it felt right. It felt good to me. My thinking at the time was that if I get good enough playing that guitar with that deep V neck there won’t be another guitar out there that will give me much trouble. It was a pretty good workout to play.
“It just sounded so good, too, especially with the big hollow body with the sound hole open,” Johnson said. “It sounded good in the room, but it sounded good on the amps I was playing at the time. This guitar’s got the best of both worlds. Whatever I wanted to do, it was capable.
“Best part about it was that it was affordable. I spent about $500 on that guitar. I made most of that back,” Johnson said.
Casual fans more often notice the many autographs on Ole Maple. The first autograph Johnson got was Willie Nelson’s, back at a concert at Auburn University in 1997.
Johnson was just an aspiring singer-songwriter in those days. He ran back to the car to get it when he saw fans in line to get items signed outside Nelson’s bus before the show.
“I had Willie sign it on the side of it, not on the face like where all those signatures are today, on the side, up top, where I could see it.”
The second autograph, in 2008 was big, too – Willie Nelson.
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“Over the years that signature got worn off from putting it in and out of the case,” Johnson said. “It was just gone. A Sharpie doesn’t last too long on a lacquered up guitar if you don’t cover it up and protect it with something. I learned a valuable lesson from that.
So in 2008, when Johnson performed at Farm Aid, Nelson signed it again, this time on the face. When Johnson played, he noticed fans turning their heads sideways.
“He signed it upside down if you were looking at me playing. One of the funniest things he ever did. So I’ve kinda adopted that strategy.”
Signatures also include those of George Strait, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Jessi Colter, Whispering Bill Anderson, John Anderson, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Don Henley, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Bob Seger, Hank Cochran, Lee Ann Womack, Dean Dillon, Randy Travis, Kris Kristofferson, Kid Rock, Charley Pride, Alabama’s Teddy Gentry, Randy Owen and Jeff Cook from his home state.
“It’s got a lot of signatures on it, and I’m proud of each and every one of them, these are people who mentored me in my music even before I met them. And there’s a lot more to put on there. We’ve just got to get some more lacquer and keep it covered up.”
Johnson’s dad played a maple guitar. His dad wouldn’t let him touch it as a kid.
Later Johnson wrote a song about it called “Old Maple Guitar.” He didn’t write “Old Maple” on “Ole Maple,” but he has written most of his greatest songs on it: “High Cost of Living,” “The Guitar Song” and “Give it Away,” and his best-known song, and the song he calls one of his favorites, “In Color.”
“In Color” was named the song of the year in 2008 by the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association in 2009.
“And over the years, through how many thousands of shows, that guitar’s been through an awful lot and she’s held up to every bit of the demand I’ve put on it.
“It’s like an old friend.”
The two-day, multistage event will be hosted in downtown Lynchburg and Wiseman Park Aug. 23-24.
The festival will run from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day.
Friday’s lineup will be headlined by Easton Corbin. Others on the Friday main stage are Joe Diffie, Cassadee Pope, Craig Campbell, Keith Anderson, Taylor Phillips, Zach Donegan, Logan Wheat, Vending Machine Bandits and Macy Tabor. One more act for that night is expected to be released soon.
Saturday’s lineup will be headlined by Jamey Johnson. Others on the main stage Saturday are Montgomery Gentry, RaeLynn, David Lee Murphy, Lee Gibson, Michael Allen, Matt Dillon and the Becky Buller Band. One more act has yet to be announced.
Sponsors for the event include Lynchburg Winery, Flex Up Fitness, American Craft Distillers, CrossFit 931, Lynchburg Cigar Co., Adventurous Soul Travel Agency, Barrel House BBQ, Henry & McCord Law Offices and Miltec Rapid Manufacturing Systems.
Ticket prices are $120 for multi-day general-admission tickets. Go to www.lynchburgmusicfest.com for more information.