Country superstar Vince Gill is kicking off a world tour this weekend in support of his new album, “Okie.” But did you know that Gill and his wife Amy Grant more than 15 years ago staged an open air concert in The Villages?
It was a concert for the ages – a free show held in The Villages featuring the two hot national recording artists.
It was an event many long-time Villagers will never forget, as the week leading up the show saw Spanish Springs Town Square converted into a huge, open-air concert hall. A gigantic stage that ran the length of the La Reina Building was constructed on Alonzo Avenue. And residents from throughout the Tri-County area were looking forward to spending the afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 12, 2003 enjoying a show that would normally would have cost them a wad of money to see elsewhere.
Gill was the main attraction at the big show in The Villages. Gill has won 21 Grammy Awards and 19 Country Music Awards – including two Entertainer of the Year honors – to his name. Some of his biggest hits include “When I Call Your Name,” “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away,” “Oklahoma Swing,” “Cinderella,” “Pocket Full of Gold,” “I Never Knew Lonely,” “Everybody’s Sweetheart,” “True Love,” “Turn Me Loose” and “Liza Jane.”
At the time of the free concert, Gill, who has sold more than 26 million albums, was four years away from being inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame. And no one could have predicted then that 14 years later, he’d join the legendary Eagles as a replacement for the late Glenn Frey.
Gill’s opening act was his wife, also known as “The Queen of Christian Pop.” She has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide and is the winner of six Grammys and 22 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards. And she is the first artist to ever have a Christian album go Platinum.
Gill and Grant were in The Villages at the request of their close friend, Hall of Fame golfer Nancy Lopez. The concert was part of an annual event to raise money for Adventures in Movement for the Handicapped, also known as AIM. It’s a charity that was founded by Dr. Jo Geiger and uses movement to help people with disabilities. And it has Lopez’s full backing, including an annual golf tournament that was being played in The Villages for the first time.
That year, Lopez and company clearly decided to take the whole AIM experience to a new level. Because in addition to Gill and Grant, actor Jamie Farr of M*A*S*H* fame attended the event, as did professional golfers Chris DiMarco and Liselotte Neumann.
At one point during the concert that also featured Gill and Grant performing together, Lopez brought Farr onstage for a round of applause. Its was quite clear to those in attendance that the man who portrayed the wacky, cross-dressing Cpl. Max Klinger on the long-running hit show about the Korean War was loved by Villagers and area residents. And some of his fans commented among themselves about the movie roles he played in “Scrooged,” “The Cannonball Run” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” to name a few.
Of course, Lopez also had her celebrity husband, baseball great Ray Knight, here with her in The Villages. Knight was best known as the Cincinnati Reds player who replaced Pete Rose at third base and the Mets player who scored the winning run of Game Six of the 1986 World Series, where he was named MVP.
At one point, Lopez and Knight came onstage together and shared a loving dance as Gill performed one of his many hits. The two hugged and kissed and the crowd of more than 25,000 who had packed into the town square went wild with applause.
At that moment, when smiles and hugs were aplenty and the crowd was going wild, it would have been hard to fathom that the celebrity couple would call it quits just six years later after having three daughters and spending 27 years together.
The 2003 AIM golf tournament featured 27 four-player teams. It provided the LPGA Hall of Famer an opportunity to show off her Lopez Legacy course and bring national exposure to The Villages, which at the time was gearing up to cross County Road 466. And it raised about $150,000 in its first year in The Villages (the tourney is still played here every year).
Villages lore has it that while the tourney was deemed a huge success for the AIM charity, the concert was a big concern for The Villages brass.
A quick glance around the massive crowd had shown that many in attendance were younger fans who had come from throughout the Central Florida area. That meant a large part of the faces in the audience clearly didn’t reflect the image of The Villages as America’s premier retirement community. And the sheer size of the group made many realize that they were lucky something nasty hadn’t happened during the show.
That path of worry was eliminated two years later when Gill and Grant agreed to do another concert for their buddy Lopez. But this time the event was held at The Villages Polo Fields, where the size of the crowd could be controlled and confined in a much more manageable spot. And instead of it being a free event, concertgoers were charged $29 per ticket – a decision that clearly changed the face of the crowd to an older demographic.