Country music firebrand and fiddler Charlie Daniels, who died Monday at age 83, had been slated to headline this year’s Beartrap Summer Festival, which was scheduled for later this summer before being canceled because of the coronavirus.
Daniels and his band, and fellow headliner Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers, were then announced as the planned headliners for the 2021 festival on Casper Mountain.
“He leaves kind of a great American songbook behind,” said Donovan Short, director of Townsquare Media, which runs the festival. “It’s a tough hole to fill.”
A statement from Daniels’ publicist said the Country Music Hall of Famer died at a hospital in Hermitage, Tennessee, after doctors said he had a stroke.
He had suffered what was described as a mild stroke in January 2010 and had a heart pacemaker implanted in 2013 but continued to perform.
Daniels “brought the house down” at Beartrap in 2015, one of the festival’s better years, Short said.
“He was as good as he ever was” in his energetic show, he said, as well as “gracious and kind” off stage as he met with fans.
“If you were at that show, you knew it,” Short said. “He just had never lost his step, you know. He was one of those guys that just set the bar. So a tough passing. It’s one of those that you just assume some of these legends will be with you forever for some reason, and it was not to be.”
The festival organizers are still processing the news but plan to seek another headliner.
“And obviously it’s tough to find somebody at that caliber,” Short said, “but we’ll do our best to put somebody worthy of the slot in there.”
Daniels was a longstanding legend who drew fans from all over the spectrum, Short said.
“We love artists like that at Beartrap,” he said. “You know, there’s so few of them that really cross the genres and appeal to everybody, and I think that was part of why everybody loved him.”
Daniels, a singer, guitarist and fiddler, started out as a session musician, even playing on Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” sessions. Beginning in the early 1970s, his five-piece band toured endlessly, sometimes doing 250 shows a year.
“I can ask people where they are from, and if they say ‘Waukegan,’ I can say I’ve played there. If they say ‘Baton Rouge,’ I can say I’ve played there. There’s not a city we haven’t played in,” Daniels said in 1998.
Daniels performed at White House, at the Super Bowl, throughout Europe and often for troops in the Middle East.
He played himself in the 1980 John Travolta movie “Urban Cowboy” and was closely identified with the rise of country music generated by that film.
“I’ve kept people employed for over 20 years and never missed a payroll,” Daniels said in 1998. That same year, he received the Pioneer Award from the Academy of Country Music.
In the 1990s Daniels softened some of his lyrics from his earlier days when he often was embroiled in controversy.
In “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” a 1979 song about a fiddling duel between the devil and a whippersnapper named Johnny, Daniels originally called the devil a “son of a bitch,” but changed it to “son of a gun.”
In his 1980 hit “Long Haired Country Boy,” he used to sing about being “stoned in the morning” and “drunk in the afternoon.” Daniels changed it to “I get up in the morning. I get down in the afternoon.”
“I guess I’ve mellowed in my old age,” Daniels said in 1998.
Otherwise, though, he rarely backed down from in-your-face lyrics.
His “Simple Man” in 1990 suggested lynching drug dealers and using child abusers as alligator bait.
His “In America” in 1980 told this country’s enemies to “go straight to hell.”
Such tough talk earned him guest spots on “Politically Incorrect,” the G. Gordon Liddy radio show and on C-Span taking comments from viewers.
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” was No. 1 on the country charts in 1979 and No. 3 on the pop charts. It was voted single of the year by the Country Music Association.
In the climactic verse, Daniels sang:
“The devil bowed his head because he knew that he’d been beat.
“He laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny’s feet.
“Johnny said, ‘Devil just come on back if you ever want to try again.
“‘I told you once you son of a gun, I’m the best that’s ever been.’”
He hosted regular Volunteer Jam concerts in Nashville in which the performers usually were not announced in advance. Entertainers at the shows included Don Henley, Amy Grant, James Brown, Pat Boone, Bill Monroe, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band, Alabama, Billy Joel, Little Richard, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eugene Fodor and Woody Herman.
Daniels, a native of Wilmington, North Carolina, played on several Dylan albums as a Nashville recording session guitarist in the late 1960s, including “New Morning” and “Self-Portrait.”
Eventually, at the age of 71, he was invited to join the epitome of Nashville’s music establishment, the Grand Ole Opry. He was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.
He said in 1998 that he kept touring so much because “I have never played those notes perfectly. I’ve never sung every song perfectly. I’m in competition to be better tonight than I was last night and to be better tomorrow than tonight.”
Daniels said his favorite place to play was “anywhere with a good crowd and a good paycheck.”
Staff writer Elysia Conner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
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