Compared to Shenandoah's longevity, Billy Ryan is a relative newcomer who could be seen as a Shenandoah protégé. Still, he's co-written "You Never Know" with the band's drummer Mike McGuire and guitarist/lead singer Jimmy Yeary to remember Ralph Ezell who died about two years ago.
A Shenandoah spokesman introduced Ryan as an extra performer for the evening.
"He kissed his wife at Gate No. 5," Ryan says of lyrics about the day Ezell began his last journey.
Bassist Ezell, 54, a founding member of Shenandoah, died Nov. 30, 2007, of a heart attack while on tour in Pickstown, N.D.
The loss of a friend, fellow musician and "really cool guy," prompted the song. Ryan said. "You Never Know" has been recorded by Darryl Worley who's known for the songs "Have You Forgotten?" "Feels Like Work," and "I Miss My Friend."
Heartfelt lyrics and tunes are a staple of country music and the shooting death of Ryan's sister, which he witnessed, is the subject of another song he's written and the inspiration of a foundation to raise awareness of domestic violence.
As serious as the music may be, the country musicians were as ready for fun as anyone at the festival where City Manager Eddie Fuller pushed a broom-sized squeegee to remove water from the concrete floor of the Farmers Market. Forecasters' promise of rain persuaded city crews to build a stage for the market and protect it with plastic sheeting.
The rainy weather "affects the air density," Shenandoah's keyboard player Stan Munsey said. Drummer Mike McGuire said thick air affects sound, and audio engineer Bart Borlettano explained "sound tracks different" through humidity, but "I know what's going to happen" so he could adjust the sound system for it.
Rain with wind led Fuller to develop "Plan C" in case the Farmers Market venue proved unworkable. That plan was to move the show to a gymnasium in the city's recreation center just off West Commerce Street.
The market place was declared better by McGuire because the sound "is not going to be bouncing off the walls."
Group dynamics emerged from Shenandoah when the keyboard man's T-shirt was noticed. It says, "Not with the band." Munsey, who agreed that his dark glasses and squirrelly demeanor were copied by David Letterman's sidekick, Paul Shaffer, and that his T-shirts might be clairvoyant.
Borlettano said Munsey's shirt said "rain" that morning. Nevertheless, Munsey's "Not with..." shirt wasn't as accurate since the band took him to Butler, Ala., for its next gig on Saturday.
Here on Friday night, Shenandoah's loyal fans included Linda Fitzgerald, 66, of Columbia who explained her preference: "'cause they're country."
Founded in 1985, the group's No. 1 hits include "The Church on Cumberland Road," "I Wanna Be Loved Like That," "Two Dozen Roses," and "Mama Knows."
As for the Battle of the Bands, TyteRope was the winner. The group from Chapel Hill beat Nickajack, the band that won in the first round of competition on Aug. 15.
TyteRope outplayed Uncle Tom of Shelbyville on Thursday night. Nickajack was selected Thursday night over Chip Willmore.
"It's a really great opportunity here," TyteRope member Trey England of Chapel Hill said. "We played here (at Goats Music and More) last year on the small stage."
Lead singer Ronnie Ashworth whipped up the crowd of some 750 Friday night by singing throughout the Farmers Market through a cordless microphone, a device that was apparently effective for showmanship points.
Judges were provided forms to score bands on various aspects of their performance. Showmanship and music quality were among the standards to be considered. The judges for the final showdown were: Drew Belk, a utility man for the band "SheDaisy;" Monte Mertz, operations manager for Autom Church Supply, a new business in Lewisburg; and local resident Elizabeth McClure.
"It's been a great experience," Tyterope's Dustin Perryman said.