It's been said that the most important part of our lives is not the date of birth or the date of death-it's the dash in between. And Kent Wells, of Ashdown, has one heck of a dash-a dash that recently earned him a Distinguished Alumnus award from Ashdown High School, where he graduated in 1981.
Saturday night Kent brought the "dash" home with him to attend the 11th annual Alumni Banquet and play a free concert at Garrison's Airstrip. That dash is the one and only Dolly Parton, whom he has been the lead guitarist for 20-plus years. Besides Dolly, several other Nashville artists hopped on the tour bus and headed west to
Arkansas for a concert the likes have never been seen in the small town of Ashdown.
Most of the guest artists are signed with Kent Wells Productions in Franklin, Tenn., including Eric Lee Beddingfield and C.J. Garton, as well as up and coming artist-in-development Amy Corey, who is preparing to record her first album next year.
"This concert is going to be great for this town," said Eric, "It really says a lot about him. He's a great guy."
"All of these artists are here for Kent," Amy commented, "he takes good care of his artists. He really does care, and it means so much. He's like a father to me."
The concert was scheduled to start at 9 p.m. with local talent performing prior to that as the crowd gathered. That crowd swelled to approximately 3,500 by start time.
Soon after it was estimated to have grown to 5,000 plus. According to Sgt. Glenn Gross of the Ashdown Police Department, "it's impossible to estimate correctly since it's free and there are no tickets to count. And even though they charged $10 a vehicle to park, we cannot account for how many people were in each vehicle."
The Ashdown Police Departmnet had plenty of help with crowd control from fellow officers from Miller County, Sevier County and Little River County sheriff's offices.
"Everybody has really pulled together, " Sgt. Gross stated. "It's really amazing that we haven't had any problems at all. Weldon Garrison has been real generous and gracious to offer his airstrip for this venue."
When Dolly arrived, those officers were rewarded by getting to meet Dolly and have their picture made with her, prior to a short Meet and Greet time in which several selected crowd members were allowed to enter the office building and take a selfie with the performer.
Outside that building, there was another kind of excitement as Artimus Pyle, the original Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer and plane crash survivor, wandered through the crowd meeting fans and taking selfies with them before taking the stage to play drums on Beddingfield's version of Simple Man.
Pyle has formed another band, named "APB" (Artimus Pyle Band) based in Ashville, NC.
"We are out playing every weekend," he said. "We go wherever the gigs are. We stay busy, too."
Other musicians that joined Dolly and Kent on stage included Jon Wysocki, drummer for the rock group Staind; Jack Gavin, Charlie Daniels Band drummer; and Dan Shafer, a contestant on Season 11 of The Voice who lost his battle to fellow Team Blake member Sundance Head.
When Dolly finally made her way to the stage, she was greeted with an eruption of cheers and applause. She ended her set by dedicating "I Will Always Love You" to Kent and his family, "because I truly do love them so much. He's part of my family."