60 Years of lovin’ to “Shake”

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Country legend and Water Festival headliner, Neal McCoy, reveals his goal of making sure “you have a great experience” in an exclusive interview

By Molly Ingram

The 60th annual Water Festival is barreling along and shortly coming to a close with the Commodore’s Ball on Saturday night. What a great week we have all enjoyed. Floating beds, croquet, fishing tournaments, amazing water skiing just to name a few. Oh so many things to remember and so many things to look forward to next year.

WF Concert-4005This was my first Water Festival as I just moved here last November. I have to admit that the Festival more than lived up to its hype. It is hard for someone who has never experienced the Water Festival to understand what an all-out community event that spans basically the whole summer is really like. It’s hard to imagine hundreds of families enjoying the face painting and bouncy houses when it is around 100 degrees with the same amount of humidity. It is hard to envision how one performer, all- be-it a great performer, can so completely captivate an audience that you think he must be a local boy done good. But this year, the organizing committee for the Festival picked the perfect singer to start the festivities off last Saturday night. Neal McCoy, a not-so-young man who was named the entertainer of the year in 1998 and 1999 and has multiple Grammies, Platinum Albums and #1 hits under his belt, came to Beaufort and mesmerized the crowd.

I got to spend some time chatting with Neal before the concert and came away thinking “this is a guy who gets it. He understands his audiences and knows why they come to see him perform.”

Neal and his four piece band don’t work with a set list of which songs to play when. The entire performance hinges on how well Neal interacts with his audience. “It’s not ok if you don’t like me,” he says. Further, “My job is to make sure you have a great experience at this event. We do about 100 shows a year which puts us on the road for about 200 days a year and that is a lot of time to invest if your audience is just lukewarm at the end of a show.” Well, nobody was lukewarm on Saturday night!

Neal has an amazing ability to somehow translate his honesty, respect for others and his personal ethic of simply treating people “right” into something magical. He is authentic, genuine and loves what he does. Almost as much as he loves his wife, Melinda, of 34 years. And then there are his two children and two grandchildren. And then there are his three dogs, Hero, Gatsby and Miles. Yup, he loves them too! Imagine a picture of the three pups lounging poolside at his home in Texas. It just doesn’t jibe with what you expect a country singer to have waiting at home for him. Yet, Neal isn’t your typical anything. He is a one of a kind, Miracle Whip liking guy that gives you, the customer, what you want each and every time he plays a song. I can’t begin to tell you how rare it is to find somebody like that. You would think he was a Beaufortonian from way back.

So there you are sitting waterside delighting that the rain has stopped and the show will go on. And out comes Neal in his very pink Water Festival t-shirt. Right then and there you know all is right in the world.