The way back home 

Even superstars of country music need to find good excuses to come home. Trouble is, Norman-born Vince Gill can’t find enough of them.

“My mom would probably echo that sentiment,” he said. “But you know, life’s busy: five kids and a career and life and all of that. It is hard to get back as much as I’d like.”

Luckily for him — and his mother — Gill has found a good one: He’ll perform Sunday afternoon at his alma mater of Northwest Classen High School in a benefit gala celebrating its new Hudson Performance Hall. An extensive renovation has turned the 1,413-seat auditorium into a first-class, state-of-the-art venue worthy of touring shows and concerts.

“I’m proud of where I came from. It means a lot to me to come home and be supportive of that,” said Gill, class of 1975. “That school was very important to me. I played a little bit of music on that stage and was supported in those early teenage years.”

His Northwest Classen stage debut arrived by accident. He recalled being either in the eighth or ninth grade when a rock band needed a banjo player to perform “Mr. Bojangles”; thanks to his sister knowing one of the members, Gill was recruited.

“I got to be a rock star the first time I ever played in there,” he said. “It was pretty neat, because all of a sudden, I was accepted. In those years, when you wanna be liked and fit in, those are really tough days.”

Trying times are long behind the man who’s sold more than 22 million albums and won 27 Grammys. While his most recent album, Guitar Slinger, is nearly a year old, he’s part of The Time Jumpers, an all-star, 11-piece Western swing group whose self-titled sophomore disc came out yesterday.

The Time Jumpers play every Monday night in the Nashville area, where Gill currently resides. On any given night, the loose core of musicians may be joined by touring
guests. He said recent Jumpers gigs have welcomed such drop-ins as Brian
Setzer, Sheryl Crow and Elvis Costello.

“Whoever’s in town will just slide by,” Gill said. “I do it because these are unbelievably world-class musicians and singers. They’re so talented. My playing improves when I play with them.”

That’s good news for any attendees to Sunday’s benefit, which is not the only item on Gill’s agenda this trip.

“This makes a great opportunity to go to Ted’s and have some good Mexican food,” he said, noting his wife, singer Amy Grant, craves it as much as he does. “I’m afraid so. Every meal when I’m home!”

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