The Hug that Rocked Indianapolis
Fortunately, most of my experiences in Dick Lugar’s office weren’t as creepy as the episode of “Drinking the Kool-Aid” or as alarming as “See No Evil.” There was, for example, the one I’ll call — Hello, Dolly!
Previously in this series: “Lie Down with Dogs…: Richard Lugard Part VI”
When Lugar was first elected Mayor of Indianapolis he adopted the practice of throwing a free concert for the citizens of the city every summer. People loved it. But this year, what with being Mayor and running for the Senate, planning for the concert had gotten lost in the shuffle.
I found this out one day when the Mayor called me into his office and told me I needed to find a band that would be available to perform in Indianapolis on short notice. The free concert had traditionally been held on the last day of the Marion County Fair, a Sunday afternoon, and that date was only three months away.
I pointed out to Lugar that most bands with any following tended to be booked many months or even years in advance. “Just do your best,” he said, and went back to his paperwork.
Naturally, I figured I’d start with, say, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan and work my way down. But I quickly learned that if you are going to give a concert in Indiana and you want anyone to come to it, it had better feature country music.
Okay, I thought, I’ll start with George Jones and Emmylou Harris and work my way down. But on the very first call I made, George Jones’ manager laughed in my face. “Kid,” he said, “you ain’t gonna get nobody on three months’ notice, least of all George.”
“What should I do?” I asked. “I can’t tell the Mayor the concert is off.”
The guy thought for a minute and then said, “What about Porter?” He meant Porter Wagoner, then a famous country-western star.
“You mean,” I said, “the guy with the TV show?” The Porter Wagoner Show had been a well-rated country western show on television for many years, but it hadn’t occurred to me that Wagoner also toured.
So I called Wagoner’s manager and it turned out that Porter was a big fan of Mayor Lugar and was happy to squeeze in the concert, even on short notice. Nashville, where Wagoner taped his show, was less than 300 miles from Indianapolis. I headed to Lugar’s office to give him the good news.
Lugar rolled his eyes.
“Uh, you’re not a big Porter Wagoner fan?”
“It’s just that everybody sees him every week on TV,” Lugar said. “It’s not like they have to sit out in the hot sun to hear Porter sing.”
“Should I cancel him? He’s a big fan of yours.”
“No, no, no, it’ll be fine. I don’t watch him, but I’ve heard he puts on a good show.”
I told the Mayor that, as Wagoner had outlined it for me, he didn’t just show up and sing. Instead, he put on a kind of country-western variety show similar to his TV gig. He would sing personally, of course, but he also had with him several young, not-yet-very-well-known performers who also sang. He also had a comedy segment.
“So,” I continued, looking at my notes, “let’s see. He’s got Curly Harris, Mel Tillis, Dolly Parton, Don….”
Lugar practically erupted out of his chair. “Dolly Parton?” he said. “I love Dolly Parton!”
Personally, I’d never heard of Dolly Parton, who’d been more or less discovered by Wagoner a few years earlier. In fact, though, while most people assume Dolly’s later hit, “I Will Always Love You,” was written about some guy she’d been in love with, the song was actually about Dolly’s professional breakup with Porter Wagoner.
In any event, if the Mayor liked Dolly, I was happy to take the credit for bringing her to town. I headed back to my office to call Wagoner’s manager and confirm everything, but before I could even reach for the phone the Mayor stuck his head in my office – a remote venue he’d never visited before.
“Uh,” he began shyly, “if Miss Parton is coming to town, do you suppose I might, well, meet her while she’s here?”
A few weeks later, on the Sunday afternoon, Mayor Lugar and I were sitting in the front row, enjoying Porter Wagoner’s show. Porter sang, then another guy sang, then a guy told some jokes, then Dolly Parton sang.
When Dolly finished her routine Porter returned to center stage, but Dolly shoved him playfully aside and waved her hands for the band to stop. Then Dolly turned to the audience.
“Folks,” she said, “I been singin’ in a lot of towns around this great country of ours, but this is the first time I ever hearda anybody givin’ a free concert. Let’s all thank that wonderful mayor of yours for bringin’ us here today!”
The audience roared and Lugar, blushing profusely, stood up and waved to the crowd, then sat back down.
“Don’t you go an’ sit down, Mr. Mayor!” Dolly said. “You come on up here so I can meet you!”
Still blushing madly, but also grinning like a kid who’s just managed to sneak into the burlesque house, Lugar walked shyly up to the stage, the crowd loving every minute of it. Dolly came down to the front of the stage and Lugar stuck out his hand to shake hers.
But Dolly slapped Lugar’s hand aside and instead leaned way down from the stage to give the Mayor a big hug. As she did so a flashbulb popped. The next morning, on the front page of the old IndianapolisNews, there was America’s most straight-arrow Mayor, his eyes practically bulging out of his head as he stared at country western’s most famous, and certainly largest, cleavage.
Next up: Richard Lugar, Part VIII