Rockland Road continues to bring joy through music whenever it can
By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com
WINCHESTER, Ky. — It had been far too long since I had seen Rockland Road in person.
So, when the group announced it would be playing in Winchester — a free show at that! — my wife and I circled Sept. 25 on our calendars and made sure nothing would keep us away. Rockland Road played the “Rock the Block” series on the steps of the Clark County Courthouse and, like every other time we have seen this enormously talented family, left no one disappointed.
“It’s been an interesting year,” Jamie Allen Martin chuckled as we talked after the show. “We’ve been doing a lot of praying and a lot of hoping it will settle down pretty soon.”
Of course, the “it” she referred to is the uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of the coronavirus effectively shut down the country in March with the entertainment industry being hit particularly hard, including this family band that is as comfortable playing country classics as it is rocking like Prince.
“Everything came to a screeching halt,” Martin said. “It’s not just the musicians. It’s the venues, the people that sell t-shirts, people selling concessions, security, anything to do with every kind of entertainment.”
Rockland Road played a show in February, then was off the road until July 3. Since then, they’ve played a few shows and things have slowly been looking up. Ironically, Friday’s show had originally been set for the summer but rescheduled over COVID-19 concerns.
Regardless of when they took the stage, it was quickly apparent that Rockland Road is almost made for this moment. Formed about 10 years ago when Jamie Martin and her husband, Paul, realized their young children were hearing harmony. The family worked around hectic schedules — Paul was traveling with Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives and Jamie was often singing backup around Nashville while working yet another job — before going on the road full time as The Martin Family Circus in 2015.
(Ironically, the last time I had seen Rockland Road in person had also been in Winchester, at the Clark County Fair in 2018. That night, the group formerly known as The Martin Family Circus announced it was changing its name. The nationwide announcement came the following week on the “Huckabee” show.)
Jamie is fond of relating when people ask whether the group is country, pop, rock or gospel, she simply answers, “Yes.” Rockland Road appeals to many audiences with an energetic, positive set that Friday night incorporated covers of songs from Merle Haggard, Prince, the Bee Gees and the Beach Boys. Rockland Road also performed “Keep it in the Middle of the Road,” Exile’s 1989 single that featured Paul Martin’s guitar picking.
And, of course, Rockland Road had to sing some Oak Ridge Boys hits, with Jamie carrying the lead on “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” just like her father, Oaks lead singer Duane Allen. They also sang “Elvira” with 14-year-old Tallant Martin holding down the “oom boppa maw maw” part and sporting a huge grin as she did so.
The smile was fitting as there’s unmistakable joy moving when the Martin family takes the stage.
“It’s been hard, but isn’t that what music is good for?” Jamie asked, when commenting on her family’s demeanor during the pandemic. “You can put a smile on people’s face. We are all dealing with this. It has been heartbreaking and really, really awful for many people. We are thankful that we are all healthy and we can keep our family together and be traveling.”
And even though they were completely off the road five months and have had just a handful of dates since July 3, Rockland Road gives glory to God. One of the highlights of Friday’s show, at least from our view, was 15-year-old Texas Martin singing “Take Me to the King.”
Written by Kirk Franklin, “Take Me to the King” is a simple cry to glorify God even in difficult times and nothing is left. You can see Rockland Road’s performance of the song, recorded from the family’s home early in the pandemic, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu5AtYzG46g.
“That is one of our favorites,” Jamie said. “It’s by Tamela Mann and she is a wonderful, wonderful gospel artist. We sing all kinds of music, but we are Christian people, people of faith and that’s what guides us.”
Like most people, Rockland Road unexpectedly had lots of time to fill. “We spent a lot of time at home, at first, you know resting,” Jamie said. “We had been going pretty hard on the road so there was a lot of, at first, ‘I am going to sit at home on the couch and watch some movies.’
“Then we got in the cleaning mode. We cleaned out the garage and closets and things. Then a little bit, slowly but surely, we started having some gatherings and events. Someone would call and say, ‘Can you come sing?’ So we are watching it come back a little bit at a time.”
The Martins have been working on some new music and just last week were recorded at the Grand Ole Opry House for a television special sponsored by Shriner’s Hospitals. The show will air later this year and will include Rockland Road, The Oak Ridge Boys, Trace Adkins and CeCe Winans. Also on the program is Kechi Okwuchi, who was a finalist on America’s Got Talent in 2017.
Okwuchi was one of two survivors of the Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 plane crash in 2005. She was transferred to a Shriner’s Hospital and has devoted her life to Christian music and being a motivational speaker.
As we talked, the enthusiasm in Jamie Martin’s voice was apparent. Even though 2020 has been tough, there have been many blessings.
“This is an industry that has a lot of ups and downs,” she said with a smile. “For us, the silver lining is we are able to do it as a family.
“Anywhere we go, we are all there. We have so many memories together. We tell our kids whatever you do for a living, you will have to work very hard at it so it may as well be working hard at something you won’t forget. That way, when you are working hard, you still enjoy it.”
Every time I see Rockland Road, I know they are having a great time.
And I know that I am doing the same.