His vegetable garden, wife Kelly and six grandchildren will have to share Owen with the rest of the country this year as Alabama’s long-delayed golden anniversary tour finally comes to fruition. Originally set for 2019, the tour was postponed when Owen, 71, began suffering from migraines and vertigo, and then last year it was a casualty of the COVID-19 shutdown.
The Country Music Hall of Fame members, who landed a staggering 33 No. 1s on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, have 25 dates scheduled through February 2022 with more to come. Martina McBride will open the Nashville shows with other support for various dates including Sara Evans, Travis Tritt, America and Tracy Lawrence. The first leg closes with a co-headlining date with the Beach Boys in Wichita, Kansas.
One artist not joining the tour is guitarist/fiddler Jeff Cook, who founded the group with his cousins, Owen and bassist Teddy Gentry. Cook was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2017. “Jeff is recently having more health issues from his Parkinson’s Disease that from time to time affect him and cause him not to be able to play guitar or sing,” Alabama’s longtime manager Tony Conway tells Billboard. “He would love to be on stage with his cousins and supports them 100% to carry on the Alabama legacy.”
Owen talked to Billboard about surviving the pandemic and 50 years in show business, and what fans can expect on the tour -- and also previews upcoming projects, including one with Bob Marley’s family.
How is it going to feel being back on stage at Bridgestone Friday night?
It will be special like every show is special. I don’t know what’s going to happen. We kind of have a rough list of songs we’re going to do, but I may just call out something. I certainly don’t expect both shows to be alike.
How has your approach to performing changed over the years?
I take a little more time to elaborate on some of the songs, tell the folks how some of the songs came about and spend a little time just talking, not getting in a big hurry. I try to enjoy and savor every minute because you never know. I look at every show like I never expect to be back again. You’re not promised tomorrow. It’s a special time. I want the people to understand how much we appreciate them. I just love the looks on people’s faces, and I’m just thankful that they still remember the songs.
Are there any songs that you get tired of performing?
I don’t get tired of none of them. I thank God for every single one. The ones that I wrote, they help take care of my family, and my goal is to take care of the grandkids now. That’s why I do shows. I’m just a very thankful guy. It’s been interesting over the years. It might help some other people along the way to know that it’s not all peaches and cream and it’s not all roses. There’s some real tough parts, but there’s great parts too. Before I started with you, I was reading my mail. I still get mail and I’m very thankful for that. I was reading about a lady who got COVID. She was a nurse and when she was giving care, she got COVID and came very close to dying. They want me to send a birthday greeting, which I’m happy to do.
How did you weather COVID?
Me and my wife just basically stayed isolated, and then some folks called my daughter and said they had shots. So me and Kelly went and got our first shot, and then 20 something days later we got our second shot. We came through. I’ve done some charity things lately and have been around a lot of people, so I’m hoping my vaccine is protecting me -- but this living in a bubble, it’s been so stressful. I was doing pretty good with it, until one of my buddies over in Mississippi died. He was a model person and when he went down, I really started really being careful about where I went and what I did. But so far me and Kelly have been blessed not to get it.
Do you expect the audience to be different because of COVID?
The thing that makes the audiences so special now is that we, as a people, we’ve all come through the worst time that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime and we have lived through it. The people who made it through, we’ve lived through that time and we’re ready to be entertained and entertain. We’re all thankful that we’re all meeting together at a venue to have a party.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t let the music business break you. It just broke me down several times.
How did you come back from those times?
A lot of self-preservation. I had one real severe fault and that is I give to a fault and that’s one thing that is a flaw in my personality. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but it’s almost killed me a couple of times.
How have you balanced touring and family over the years?
I made special effort. I missed out on a lot of shows. A lot of folks weren’t very pleased because I would not, when my son was playing football, I didn’t work on Friday nights. And when my daughter was playing sports, I missed very few of her events. I toured a lot, but I was very mindful of their events. My younger daughter went to championships in showing her cattle and I never missed any of her national shows. I missed a lot of stuff, but not stuff with my kids.
Do you have any new music in the works?
I’ve got a bunch of songs that I’ve written. I might do one of the new songs during one of nights up there. It’s called “I Don’t Want to See 2020 Again.”
I’m writing the music for the World Games in Birmingham (Ala.) in 2022 [with] Henry Panion. Henry and I have struck up an awesome friendship. Henry is a world-renowned conductor and composer [including arranging for Stevie Wonder] and he’s just turned into one of the dearest friends I could ever have. I’m so honored to be part of the opening ceremonies and closing ceremonies.
One of the songs is called “Hope for the Globe” and the other one is “In Alabama The Rainbows Never End.” It’s about inclusion. Over 100 countries will be represented. After that, me and Henry are going to probably do some things fireside chats with him conducting the orchestras. Bob Marley’s family has invited us to do a song on their tribute album and the song that we’re going to do is “Pass It On Down.” Then I’m doing a track on Wilson Pickett’s tribute album called “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You.”
Those are really things that are out in the future, but it’s all good positive stuff. I like to have as much positive as I can in my life.
ALABAMA 50th Anniversary Tour dates:
July 2 - Nashville, TN - Bridgestone Arena (w/ Martina McBride)
July 3 - Nashville, TN - Bridgestone Arena (w/ Martina McBride)
July 23 - Wilkes-Barre, PA - Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza (w/ Tracy Lawrence)
July 24 - Salisbury, MD - Wicomico Youth & Civic Center (w/ Tracy Lawrence)
July 25 - York, PA - York State Fair (w/ Jake Hoot)
Aug 6 - Orange Beach, AL - The Wharf Amphitheater (w/ Martina McBride)
Aug 7 - Pelham, AL - Oak Mountain Amphitheatre (w/ The Marshall Tucker Band)
Aug 13 - Charlotte, NC - Spectrum Center (w/ Martina McBride)
Aug 14 - Bristol, TN - Thunder Valley Amphitheatre (w/ America)
Aug 27 - Madison, WI - Coliseum at Alliant Energy Center (w/ Travis Tritt)
Aug 28 - Grand Rapids, MI - Van Andel Arena (w/ The Frontmen of Country: Richie McDonald formerly of Lonestar, Tim Rushlow formerly of Little Texas & Larry Stewart of Restless Heart)
Sept 4 - Stateline, NV - Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys
Sept 5 - Laughlin, NV - Rio Vista Outdoor Amphitheater at Harrah’s
Sept 16 - Lincoln, NE - Pinnacle Bank Arena (w/ The Marshall Tucker Band)
Sept 17 - Oklahoma City, OK - Chesapeake Energy Arena (w/ The Marshall Tucker Band)
Sept 25 - Pittsburgh, PA - PPG Paints Arena
Oct 7 - Raleigh, NC - PNC Arena (w/ Tracy Lawrence)
Oct 8 - North Charleston, SC - North Charleston Coliseum (w/ Sara Evans)
Oct 22 - Forth Worth, TX - Dickies Arena (w/ Grits & Glamour: Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis)
Oct 23 - Tulsa, OK - BOK Center (w/ Grits & Glamour: Lorrie Morgan & Pam Tillis)
Dec 5 - Savannah, GA - Savannah Civic Center (w/ The Marshall Tucker Band)
Jan 15 - Indianapolis, IN - Bankers Life Fieldhouse (w/ Martina McBride)
Jan 21 - Columbia, SC - Colonial Life Arena (w/ Martina McBride)
Jan 22 - Tallahassee, FL - Donald L. Tucker Civic Center (w/ The Marshall Tucker Band)
Feb 12 - Wichita, KS - Intrust Bank Arena (w/ The Beach Boys)
*More dates to be announced