By David Knopf, News Editor
Chris Brown, the administrator of Shirkey Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, couldn’t say no. And why would he?
Carole Jones had an offer no sane person could refuse.
“It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing,” said Brown, a music fan who has a special love for the quick-pickin’ instrumental ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown’. Carole called and said, ‘You want a free show?’ And I said, sure, bring them out.
“The next thing I know an RV and a trailer pulled up, and I said, I guess they’re here.”
The “they’re” Brown was referring to are the nine members of the Walker Family Featuring the Redhead Express, blood relatives who just happen to be touring country and bluegrass musicians.
Jones and her husband Leland hired the group to play at their Country Pickin’ Theatre, northwest of Richmond, and were promoting the unique musical act anyway they could. The nursing- home show took place a year ago, but the group’s musicianship and lively presence left an impression.
“They played a 30-minute impromptu show,” said Brown, who’ll lead a group of Shirkey residents to hear the Redhead Express at the Jones’s theatre for a special 2 p.m. matinee April 7. “The residents just loved them. I’m sure we’ll take a couple of busloads out.”
Visits by musical entertainers is a regular treat for Shirkey residents, who also make trips to the Farris Theatre to see acts like Bobby Flores and The Rainmakers.
But the Redhead Express – a mother and father, four redheaded daughters and three young bluegrass-pickin’ sons – were something special.
“It was a treat for them to have them all at one time,” Brown said of the show in Shirkey’s dining room. “They were just so down to earth. They’d stay after and talk to everyone, pat their hands, answer their questions.”
The four daughters – Kendra, LaRae, Alisa and Meghan Wilson – have become the Redhead Express’s central focus professionally, but mom and dad and the three younger sons still perform.
The Wilsons began their journey in Alaska, where Brett and Apryll Walker made a decision to pack up and hit the road.
“They sold everything they owned and brought an RV and decided to pursue their dream by playing bluegrass music,” said Carole Jones, who’s booked the band at Country Pickin’ opry show the past few years.
They’ll play both a 2 p.m. matinee and 7 p.m. evening show at the Jones’s theatre on April 7. Ticket information is available at 816-470-2701.
The Redhead Express has since settled in Nashville, but still tours extensively – now traveling in an oversized van and spending nights in motels or with friends. They spend time on the road – driving as a family, playing music as a family, doing everything there is as a family.
“How this man can run around in a van with his wife and seven kids, I don’t know,” said Brown, an enthusiastic fan of their musical talent and versatility. “If they make it, they’ll certainly be able to say they’ve paid their dues.”
Now billed as “The Redhead Express – on Tour with the Walker Family,” the band has a booking agent, is playing bigger venues and county fairs and has had its share of TV, radio and newspaper exposure.
“They’re moving right on up the ladder,” Carole Jones said.
She and Leland met them at a show, became friends and have booked them ever since. When they last came through in the RV, the Walkers stayed with the Joneses and the boys fished in the pond and “caught all our fish,” Carole said.
They accompanied the Walkers on the Brumley’s Biscuits n’ Bluegrass! Alaskan Cruise, where Leland performed with the band and national bluegrass performer Ronnie Reno.
On April 7, Leland and his brother, Bryon, will perform together at the matinee show. Leland and his band will play a set at the evening show, as well.
Carole Jones said wherever the Walkers and their four exuberant redheaded daughters perform audiences embrace them.
“They visit with the crowd, they give people hugs,” she said. “They’re very receptive people.”