The legendary music of Loretta Lynn will fill the auditorium of the Lincoln Jamboree Saturday night as “Always Loretta,” a tribute to the pillar of country music, comes to Hodgenville.
Emily Portman from Grayson County will portray Loretta Lynn in Saturday’s show and said it is truly an honor and she is humbled to be in this position.
Auditioning against singers from across the nation, Portman was chosen to portray Loretta Lynn in the 2007 Conway Twitty musical and said she feels a deep connection with the country music icon.
“I’ve always loved music and to sing and perform. And I’ve always felt a special bond with Loretta herself on a personal level. I just feel like it’s part of God’s plan,” Portman said. “One time, she stared me down, and there was just this awkward silence. And then she said, ‘We’ve got a real connection don’t we, Honey?’”
Along with Portman, “Always Loretta” will showcase members from Loretta Lynn’s original Coalminers band.
“The biggest pleasure out of it is being able to step back in time and play these shows over almost exactly the way we did with Loretta,” Dave Thornhill, Loretta Lynn’s band leader for 30 years said.
He said although there are several other tribute shows to Loretta Lynn, “Forever Loretta” is the only one that has the blessing of the family.
“We weren’t going to do it unless the family approved of it,” Thornhill said. “Of course, I’ve known her family as long as I’ve known her, and we’re all good, close friends, like family.”
Thornhill said all the band and crew felt like family with Loretta Lynn as they toured across the country for so many years.
“We always called her mom,” Thornhill said. “We just had a great relationship down through the years. So, it’s just wonderful to get to relive this again, and especially keep her music in the forefront because there aren’t too many people today who record the way Loretta Lynn recorded.”
Portman echoed the sentiment that keeping Loretta Lynn’s music alive and putting it before new audiences is crucial.
“I just think it’s awesome to make it with your own voice and your own music, which I love, by the way.” Portman said. “But to be able to be a tribute artist is just extra special to me because you get bring in new audiences by portraying that person and letting them see who that person was. It’s sort of like acting in a sense. It’s not so much performing, but actually acting.”
Portman said it’s especially important to expose children to legends like Loretta Lynn.
“There’s a lot of kids that haven’t seen ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ or even knew who Loretta Lynn was,” Portman said. “I think it’s important to learn more about people who are a part of our heritage and who might inspire us so that we learn more about our roots and our heritage here in Kentucky.”
Since Loretta Lynn’s death in October, there has been an even greater demand for her music. With several of the original members of the Coalminers band onstage, the sound will be very authentic.
“Everybody you see on stage, you can go on YouTube and see them again down through the years,” Thornhill said. “I played music with Loretta all those years and so the music just becomes embedded in who you are. You eat, breathe, drink and sleep it all the time.”
The ease with which the band plays and the familiarity they share with one another makes for a special evening to celebrate Loretta Lynn’s legacy.
“It’s a magical thing, when you have a band that really knows your stuff and works with you as a vocalist and a singer,” Portman said, “It’s just like magic. I’ve worked with a lot of people over the last 20 years, and these guys are just pros.”
Coming together for a night of reminiscing and celebrating one of country music’s brightest and most loved stars is pure delight for Thornhill and the band.
“We’re going to do it just as long as we can because everybody involved just has Loretta on the highest pedestal,” Thornhill said. “We’re doing our best to keep it going.”
“Always Loretta” is scheduled to begin a national tour in the coming months.
Tickets for Saturday’s show can only be purchased by calling Joel Ray’s Lincoln Jamboree at 270-358-3545.