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To say the 2011 R.O.P.E. Awards Banquet was one of the best I have ever witnessed would be the understatement of the year-IT WAS THE BEST.  From the moment Rhonda Vincent entered the Shriner’s Temple around 4PM October 6 to have sound check, until she left the building around 1130PM, R.O.P.E. members and guest were treated to one of the great performances ever at our events.  Rhonda came to our show as the featured entertainer, and she left as the best of the best, and also as a Lifetime Member of R.O.P.E.  I presented her with her Lifetime Membership Card during her performance.  (See Photo). Her membership was given from an anonymous fan who explained that she continues to give so much back to bluegrass and country music, that it was only fitting that she be a lifetime member of R.O.P.E. 
As President of R.O.P.E., we are honored to have this superstar entertainer as a member, and we cannot thank her enough for giving one of the great performances I have seen in many years.  She exemplifies what the meaning of “entertainer” really means.  When the doors opened, Rhonda was ready to meet and greet, and that is exactly what she did the entire evening.  She never turned anyone away for photographs, autographs, or just chatting with all of her fans.  One of the things that stands out in my mind, is that she was a part of the entire evening, but when she went on stage, she was in complete control of the entire audience, and not one, I emphasize not one person left until her show was complete.  She gave her all for this performance, as I am sure she does at all of her performances.  A gracious superstar that could give lessons those artists who think they are superstars.  No bodyguards, no managers telling you to stand back or no photographs, no ego with her and her awesome band.  She is the consummate entertainer, and I am still wondering why she is not a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
We were all blessed with Rhonda’s super performance.  It was high octane bluegrass and country, and if you want to hear what great harmony should sound like, then go and see one of Rhonda’s shows.  To say that her band, The Rage, are awesome performers, would also be an understatement.  Each of the members of her band are stars in their own right, and when you put them together, it becomes a star-studded evening.  Rhonda and her band are each super musicians and they blend their talents to make one of the greatest shows in either bluegrass or country.  Rhonda makes the distance between bluegrass and country as short as you want to make it.  She can sing you a country ballad, or pay tribute to the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, and before her performance is over, you know that you are seeing one of the best entertainers to ever grace any stage in the world. 
When you go to one of her shows, ask her about her trip to Hawaii and let her tell you some stories that are very special to her.  Her tribute to our military is as good as it gets, and it is a part of her show.  She leaves no one out of any of her shows, and R.O.P.E. was treated to this great lady’s love and passion for her music that she gives to her fans.  For those in the audience that had never seen Rhonda Vincent & The Rage perform, they left as true fans.
Rhonda Vincent shares her music with the fans, but she also knows how to make sure that all in attendance know that they are a part of her show.  There are not too many entertainers who make it a point to introduce and invite on stage all of her fellow artists who are in attendance, but last Thursday night she paid tribute to those artists in attendance by performing several of the artists songs, and then inviting them onstage to sing a part also.  She had Jeanne Pruett who thrilled the audience with “Satin Sheets,” and the ironic part of this is, I have not seen Jeanne sing Satin Sheets in public for several years, but what a treat it was, then one of Jeannie Seely’s songs, and Jeannie came on stage to sing with her, also Moe Bandy, who was our 2010 featured entertainer.  And for the closing of her show she invited all of the guest artists who were in attendance to join her on stage to join her to sing “I Saw The Light” and at this time Jett Williams, Jan Howard, Charlie McCoy, George Hamilton IV, Razzy Bailey, Leona Williams, Jeannie Seely, Jeanne Pruett, Moe Bandy, Stan Hitchcock, and Rattlesnake Annie were all onstage to close Rhonda’s show with her.  We were treated to a special evening with Rhonda Vincent and The Rage.
Also in attendance were the following, and I sincerely hope I don’t leave anyone out, but that would be normal for me to forget, so please accept my apologies if I should:  Great songwriters Ray Pennington, Bobby Tomerlin, and George Riddle, David Russell, last years winner of the Musician Award, Grand Ole Opry artists’ Jim Ed Brown and Stonewall Jackson, Pioneer Award winner Bayron Binkley, Bill Wence, Rose Drake, Jesse Lee Jones, our legal counsel for R.O.P.E., Gene Ward, super air personality Kyle Cantrell, one of the great talent agents ever in country music, Joe Taylor and son Brent, (Joe looked great, and Brent looks like his Dad), Keith Adkinson with Jett Williams, the last living member of the Hank Williams Band Drifting Cowboys, Hazel Helms, widow of legendary steel guitarist Don Helms.  I introduced Hazel and she acknowledged everyone, and she was given a standing ovation.  Allen Karl, the European Country Music Associations 2011 Winner for Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year was in attendance, along with his new duet partner, and recording artist, Donna Cunningham.  Just sitting here typing, I know I have missed someone, but not intentionally. 
I thank all of the media who gave our event a great deal of attention, and a special thanks to Demetria Kaladimos and Ch. 4 News for their coverage, especially of Bayron Binkley’s Pioneer Award, and another special thanks to Jeff Moseley and Brian Covert of Inside Music Row (IMR), for their super coverage of the show.  Kelly Lynn (IMR) interviewed Rhonda, Charlie McCoy, and myself, and she was super great with the interviews.  She talked about what R.O.P.E. stands for, what are goals are for the future, and how important R.O.P.E. is for the country music industry.  Thanks to Lon Helton of Country Aircheck for the super promotional ad that he gave to R.O.P.E. for our use, to Jim Asker of All Access, and to John Hendricks of AllAboutCountry.  Also, to all those DJ’s Worldwide who promoted our R.O.P.E. Show and to everyone involved in making the 2011 Show one of the most memorable ones that we have ever had.  A great thank you to Cindy Watts of our Tennessean for her article that she included in the Celebrity Section of the paper, the day of the show.  It did help our ticket sales.  And I did not and would not forget, Bill Cody, Charlie Mattos, Joe Limbardi, and Bill White for their great support from WSM-AM.  They have been our great support system for many years, and we owe Bill and all of WSM a vote of thanks for allowing us to promote our events to the world with WSM/AM.  The interview with Rhonda, Bill, and Charlie was a great shot in the arm for the show.  Rhonda had some great stories, and of course Bill and Charlie just keep things moving, for the best radio show in country music.  That is my opinion-but shared by many.  Thanks to everyone. 
A special thanks to Gus Arrendale of Springer Mountain Farms for once again donating the water and the chicken for our event.  To Leslie Elliot our Executive Director of R.O.P.E. for her awesome job of keeping me in line, and giving her all, along with her hubby Ron, to make sure that all the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed.  Ron is also a member of our Board of Directors.  I thank all of our Board of Directors who worked so hard to make sure that this night would be a special night-and it was.  Also in attendance were most of our Board of Directors, including Bill and Connie Littleton, Jean Stromatt, Jeanette Scott, Dave and Marilou Barton, Charlie Dick, Ron Elliott, Libby Griggs, and our V.P.-Billy and Pat Henson.
A special thanks goes out to Barrett Hobbs and his company, who catered our event.  The service was great, and food was as good as it has ever been. 
Once again the host of our R.O.P.E. Banquet Awards Show was super air personality, our great friend, Keith Bilbrey.  I will say again, that after I introduced Keith as the host for the evening, I was left to enjoy the evening with my lady Julie Richardson, and my dear friends from Michigan, Clarence and Jerri Mott, and also Allen Karl and Donna Cunningham.  Keith and Emy sat at our table with us, so my evening was special because I was able to be with my friends, my associates, and all of the great country music legends in attendance, and that is what R.O.P.E. is all about. 
This picture depicts what R.O.P.E. stands for.  Friendship, camaraderie, meeting new and old friends, and sharing good times together, and keeping country music alive and well.  We are already working on our 2012 agenda for our annual June show, and one of our biggest events since R.O.P.E. organized will be next years Banquet Awards Show, our 25th Silver Anniversary.  We have great surprises for our members and we know that it will be a complete sold out event.  We will be able to let everyone know well in advance all of the details of this special year in the life of R.O.P.E.  Also, finally we have decided on a new event which I think could be one of the best of all time.  It takes time for any organization to schedule new events, because we want to be sure that these new ideas turn out to be good for all of our members, and we know that this particular event will be something that you will want to attend, because it will be a first in our industry-to the best of my knowledge.
The 2011 R.O.P.E. Award Winners
The entire evening was a special highlight, but there were special moments, and I would like to tell you about three of them.  First the Mac Wiseman Nightingale Awards were given to Bill Grammar’s widow, Ruth Grammar for her love and care of Billy through all of their years together, and thought his health hardships.  She was there by his side.  And the other award was given to Joe Taylor for his friendship with Doug Leatherwood.  Doug lost his life saving Joe’s life during this years tornado which destroyed Joe’s home.  It was a touching moment for all of us who are close to Joe, and we know how difficult it was for Joe to accept this award.  His son Brent accepted the award for his Dad.  Doug Leatherwood is a special part of Joe Taylor’s life, and we all pay honor and tribute to both Ruth and Doug by these awards.
Of special meaning to me was our newest R.O.P.E. Award, “The Pioneer Award,” which was given to Bayron “Bink” Binkley for his great achievements and his vision of the future of country music through television.  Bink did not know that he was going to receive this award.  Too many years have passed and Bink has never received the recognition that he deserves, and R.O.P.E. was honored to present the inaugural award to this great man for all that he has done for our country music industry.  His accomplishments are the reason that country music has become worldwide because of the promotion that it received through the television medium.  Congratulations Bink from all of us in the country music industry.
First Annual R.O.P.E. Pioneer Award      Bayron “Bink” Binkley
Mac Wiseman Nightingale Awards            Ruth Grammar and Doug Leatherwood
Business                                                          Rose Drake
Media                                                             Bob Oermann
D.J.                                                                 Bill Mack
Songwriter                                                     George Riddle
Musicians                                                       Ralph Mooney

Entertainer                                                    Leona Williams
As President of R.O.P.E. along with all of our Board of Directors, we thank all those in attendance for the 2011 Banquet Awards Show.  We sincerely hope you enjoyed the evening with Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, the good food, and an evening of renewing old friendship and making new ones.  We thank the members of the Al Menah Shriner’s Temple for all of their dedicated work to make our event a special evening.  I also hope that we have given our thanks to everyone involved with our special evening.
I feel that R.O.P.E. is an organization for everyone in the country music industry.  We are not a retirement group, we are a organization to preserve traditional country music, and we wish that more of the newer artists in country music would join our group to realize that we are for all ages.  We are growing in numbers with some great young new artists, and we are wanting the newer artists who are enjoying success at this time, to think about being a part of R.O.P.E.   So if you are not a member of R.O.P.E. please consider joining by getting in touch with me or any of our Board of Directors to find out what we are all about, and for those of you who are members and who know about R.O.P.E. tell your friends to think about joining our organizations. 
I have written my usual-from the heart article.  I know it is long and I hope that I have not bored you.  I am putting this as an attachment also in hopes that you will see all of the pictures and be able to read all of the text.
I thank all those in attendance and we have many surprises in store for you for 2012.  God Bless Each of You.  I have waited until this last paragraph to thank R.O.P.E.’s personal photographer, Jerry Overcast for his great work taking all of our pictures.  His service to R.O.P.E. is so valuable to what we do as a group, and we feel that he is the best when it comes to covering any event for photographs.  Thanks again Jerry for your picture that allow me to let everyone be a part of what we enjoyed last Thursday night. 

Marty Martel

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