Concertgoers are familiar with opening acts. Lesser known, and often less-talented, performers take the stage ahead of the headlining artist.

It’s a time for early arrivers to find the bathrooms, the merchandise stand and eventually their seats — and for late arrivers to get into the building ahead of the main act.

For those and other reasons, Vince Gill had no opening acts before his August 28 concert at Atlanta’s historic Fox Theater.

Instead, Gill and his ensemble of talented musicians took the stage just minutes after the published start time. His longtime drummer, keyboardist and steel guitar players were joined by younger guys playing bass and lead guitar (which is a hard act considering Gill himself is a premiere guitarist).

To Gill’s far right, away from the center-stage spotlight, were two other persons dressed in black. They offered some back-up vocals and a little underheard acoustic guitar. At first, their presence seemed unnecessary.

After intermission, however, Gill acknowledged them, saying he doesn’t do opening acts because the performers don’t get the attention and respect they deserve.

Then he turned the spotlight on back-up singer Wendy Moten, a finalist on “The Voice,” who knocked out two 1960s classics: “Ode to Billie Joe,” recorded by Bobbie Gentry, and “Don’t Touch Me,” made famous by Jeannie Seely.

While the crowd marveled at her rich, beautiful voice, Gill softly backed her up on guitar and vocals, and smiled affirmingly.

After Moten blasted out a few more songs to the audience’s pleasure, Gill resumed his performance, noting in a self-deprecating way that “only a dumbass would sing after that.”

Later, he introduced Atlanta native Jack Schneider, a younger singer/guitarist who at age 10 had attended his first concert at the Fabulous Fox to hear James Taylor. Gill sensitively realized what performing in that venue would mean to the rising musician.

It was par for the course (a play on words since Gill is a scratch golfer) since, in 2019, Schneider was surprised when Gill called him onstage to perform for the first time on the Grand Ole Opry.

Musician Vince Gill on stage playing guitar.

(Photo: John D. Pierce)

The most obvious conclusion is that Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill is a really nice guy. But he also provides a lesson in mentoring.

He knows the value his endorsement carries and how to use his fame responsibly and generously on behalf of others. He elevates and encourages those still seeking to fulfill their dreams more fully.

Some of this grows out of stage-of-life awareness. No one has to guess Gill’s age, which he mentions frequently during his concerts. He’s 65 now, and apparently struggles with that reality while claiming in a new song that he doesn’t want to be young again.

But his age and success provide enormous influence that could lead to arrogance and entitlement. Instead, he stewards his gifts and position to the benefits of others.

These are not only marks of mentorship, but of discipleship. It is not one’s role to say, “Look at me” or “Be like me.” Rather, it is to open doors and encourage those charting their own courses of faith and faithfulness.

My experiences working part-time in two churches during seminary revealed the contrasts of good and poor mentoring. In the first, the pastor was territorial and resented any praise that came my way.

The second experience could not have been more different. Pastor Carroll Spivey brought me into every ministerial experience possible so I could learn. He praised my successes and excused my immaturity. He affirmed and encouraged me at every turn.

His lessons, along with many others, including the more recent ones by a musical superstar, are worthy of our emulation. Particularly as we move into the later stages of our professional and personal lives, we have unique opportunities to invest in self-giving and future-building relationships.

Calling Gill “the emperor of country music,” Wendy Moten praised her mentor for the many ways he has raised her visibility as a performer and encouraged her as a person.

For most of us, our arenas of life come with less fame and fortune. However, each of us has opportunities to seek out and encourage those whose journeys could be enhanced by a little selfless and caring support.

Whether getting through an academic experience, building a career or growing in meaningful relationships — or following Jesus more faithfully — we can humbly and helpfully offer space, time and edification as enduring gifts to others.

Redirecting the spotlight and backing up someone else is a good practice for both performers and disciples.

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