On a cool Tuesday morning in Music City, Tracy Lawrence spent his day just as he has every Thanksgiving week since 2006: knee-deep in turkeys.
For the 10th year, the singer was helping out the Nashville Rescue Mission by frying turkeys for their holiday meal. Aboard his tour bus, Lawrence stepped in from the cold for a moment to chat with Billboard about the event, which he says has grown into a tradition over the past decade. “We just started off with a few guys wanting to fry some turkeys,” he said. “What a fun and unique thing it has turned out to be. It’s definitely got its own personality to it.”
Are there any tricks of the turkey-frying trade that the singer has learned over the years? “When it comes to this day, I really don’t get to cook very much, because you’ve got to be on top of it all day long,” he admits. “I just kind of move in and out. It frustrated me for the first few years, as my time was pulled doing other things.” But don’t feel too sorry for Lawrence, as he gets his opportunities for food preparation. “I still cook a few more at home, so it all evens out,” he says with a laugh.
All in all, 500 turkeys will be cooked throughout the day for the Mission. Cooking time varies, according to Lawrence, but averages about 40 minutes. “They say three and a half minutes a pound, but we’ve learned it’s best over the years to get a really good digital thermometer, and make sure that your core temperature is about 165 degrees. That’s really where you want to get it to so it’s cooked all the way through.”
When asked to recall how his involvement began with the Mission, he said it was a way to give back. “I really just wanted to do something for the Mission. I had been doing stuff for friends and family on Thanksgiving morning, and people at our church. We wanted to do something in Nashville to give back, so we called the Mission with the idea to help out a little bit. From there, it’s blossomed into a really fun thing where we get to hang out and fellowship with a lot of people throughout the day. We’re not trying to overwhelm them with volume. We cook as much as they can physically stock. We could do it faster, but I think there is a great deal of charm to the whole process of what we do.”
One aspect of the day that he takes a great deal of pride in is the fact that the city has really rallied around the event over the years. “We’ve got so many people volunteering. There are so many people that want to help, so there’s not a lot of heavy lifting for any one person to do. It’s spread around pretty equally.”
All told, the “Mission Possible” Turkey Fry has raised more than $100,000 for the Mission. Added to the fry this year was a concert Tuesday night at Nashville’s City Winery. “I fought that for a long time,” he stresses. “This is one of the longest days of my year, so adding music was something that I was worried about, but with it being the 10th anniversary, we wanted to make some acknowledgements to those who had been with us for a long time — not only sponsors, but some of the fans and people who have contributed their time every year. Charlie Daniels, Lorrie Morgan, Darryl Worley, Halfway to Hazard, Brad Arnold from 3 Doors Down will be here, and we’ll do two hours of music.” The event will also feature a silent auction containing a couple of special items.
“We’ve got a signed Pekka Rinne jersey from the Nashville Predators, a guitar that has been signed by Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Randy Houser and all the artists on the show.” Making the day special is the participation of Daniels, who Lawrence says has one of the biggest hearts in the business. “I have so much respect for Charlie. He’s one of these people who genuinely cares for this community, and he spends a lot of his time giving back to others. I’m very thankful that he’s taken time out of his busy schedule to do something for me.”
2016 looks to be a big year for the singer, with a new studio album in the mix as well as a collaborative album that the Arkansas native is being quite secretive about. “I signed with new management this year, and they are helping things to get on track to get my career moving forward again. The plan is to go in and recut a lot of my big hits. We’ve got commitments from some major artists to do duets, and we’re going to do a group sing on one of my marquee songs.” Billboard tried to pull a few names out of Lawrence, to no avail.
“I’m afraid if I say their names, then they’ll pull out on me. But you know who they are.” Of course, his biggest collaboration was 2006’s “Find Out Who Your Friends Are,” a chart-topping recording pairing him with longtime pals Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw. Could they be in the mix on this album? All he said to that question was, “I do know who my friends are. I’m very blessed. I’ve got a lot of them.”