Russ Ringsak greets fans after Nashville show/ photos by Leila Navidi
Country-music superstar Brad Paisley and bluegrass staple Del McCoury were both on the bill for Saturday's broadcast of "Prairie Home Companion," but the only artist to get a standing ovation from the crowd at Ryman Auditorium was the show's long-time truck driver.
Russ Ringsak,who has been hauling the show's equipment for more than 30 years, was an unbilled performer in Nashville, performing "Six Days on the Road" with Paisley lending guitar licks.
Ringsak, who is 80, prepared for the gig by purchasing a new set of cowboy boots.
"I couldn't go out on the Ryman stage in sandals," he said in the legendary theatre's wings after his final rehearsal. "This is mother church."
Right after that run through,the boss took a break from last-minute writing changes to tease his colleague and one-time racquetball partner.
"I came out to hear that amazing guitar. I thought it was you," said Garrison Keillor, knowing all too well that the impromptu solo came from Paisley.
Ringsak has performed more than a half dozen times on the show, but this was special, not only because of the venue. His drive home Sunday will be his last for the program. Keillor retires from the program in July.
The crew and cast had a more private tribute to their friend Saturday night in the hotel bar.
Sure beats a gold watch.