The last time 38 Special played Valdosta, guitarist/vocalist Don Barnes said, “This band has actually outlasted a lot of our marriages. We have found tolerance.”
As the classic rock band prepares to return this weekend to play Wild Adventures’ opening day, Barnes is newly married to a woman who understands his life on the road.
“She’s got a rock & roll heart,” Barnes says of wife Christine, who is a management advisor. The two married just a few weeks ago.
About two years ago, Barnes says he was stuck at the Charlotte, N.C., airport on two of the most miserable traveling days of a nearly 40-year career that still has 38 Special playing 100 gigs annually.
“I was sitting there and this sweet voice asks, Is this seat taken?” Barnes says. “I look up and here’s this gorgeous woman talking to me.”
She sat down and they struck up a conversation. She was somewhat familiar with 38 Special, though she said her brother would be far more familiar with the band. She took a photo of herself with Barnes and texted it to her brother. A framed copy of that text picture now sits beside the couple’s wedding photo.
“We just really hit it off during that conversation,” Barnes says. “ ... I’ll look at her and say, Can you believe you walked up to your future husband in an airport filled with tens of thousands of people?”
They met after Barnes had divorced his former wife and lost his father in the previous months. Christine was the right person to enter his life. She has also adjusted well to being the wife of a rock star.
“It takes a unique person to understand this,” Barnes says, adding that he and his band mates look at 38 Special as their careers and know that greeting the public and meeting certain public expectations are part of the job. “Not everyone understands this but we turn it on for the show and turn it off when it’s our time.”
Given the length of the band’s career, 38 Special has had plenty of time to refine the balance between public and personal time.
Barnes and fellow band founder Donnie Van Zant have been together since they were children, growing up in a poor neighborhood on Jacksonville, Fla.’s westside. Barnes’ dad would take the young teen musicians to various gigs, co-signing for guitars and equipment. “My dad was my hero,” Barnes says.
As teens, Barnes and Van Zant played the Navy town’s sailor clubs. They kept playing, getting better,
refusing to quit music.
“We got cocky and wanted to do our own songs. We felt this was the next direction,” Barnes says. “We had to work at it, but in our case, we were too stubborn to quit.”
As 38 Special, writing their own songs became a catalog of hits in the 1980s: “Hold On Loosely,” “Caught Up in You,” “Fantasy Girl,” “If I’d Been the One,” “Back Where You Belong,” “Chain Lightning,” “Second Chance,” etc.
Turn on any classic-rock radio station today, you will likely still hear any of these songs within an hour or two. Barnes says he appreciates that 38 Special’s music continues getting airplay, but he wishes classic rock radio would play some of the band’s newer music.
Recently, 38 Special was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Gathered together with past and current members, Barnes says one associate said, “Can you believe those little sings we cobbled together are still played everyday?”
These songs continue earning 38 Special new generations of fans. With nearly 40 years together as a band, Barnes says it’s still a kick to see a group of 13- or 14-year-old guys high-fiving in the audience.
“That was us when we saw Led Zeppelin,” Barnes says of his band mates’ younger years. “We were those kids.”
As for the band’s many trips to Valdosta through the past several years, Barnes says 38 Special enjoys playing Wild Adventures. With his mother, sister and other relatives still living in Jacksonville, it’s not unusual for family to travel to South Georgia to hear the band.
“Of course, we have family all over the country,” Barnes says. “There’s always someone’s cousin, or uncle, or somebody coming to a show.”
In concert, 38 Special plays.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, March 16, as part of Wild Adventures reopening this weekend.
Where: Wild Adventures Theme Park, Old Clyattville Road.
Admission: Concert is included in the park’s regular admission price, and with an annual pass. Reserved seating available for an additional $15.
More information: Call (229) 219-7080; or visit wildadventures.com