From the archives

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The Martin Family Circus, now known as Rockland Road, sings the National Anthem at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Renfro Valley on May 11. From left are Kell, Jamie, Tallant, March, Texas and Paul Martin.

Martin Family Circus hitting the right chord

(I had the privilege of meeting Paul and Jamie Martin and their four children by chance in 2015. I was back stage at Renfro Valley for an interview with The Oak Ridge Boys’ Joe Bonsall, when we ran into Paul, who was subbing in the Mighty Oaks band that night. Before the night was over, Paul and Jamie had invited my wife and me to visit their church the next time we were in Nashville — we did and were greatly blessed — and we became friends.  Since that chance meeting, we have seen the Martins perform nine times and have been blessed.  I wrote this story in August 2016, printing it in The Anderson News just before they were to open for The Oak Ridge Boys at the Kentucky State Fair. My wife and I had met Paul and Jamie in their studio in Hendersonville, Tenn., expecting to stay an hour.  We talked for three and ended with prayer.  The group has recently changed its name to Rockland Road, but I can assure you that what hasn’t changed is their deep faith in Christ. Rockland Road is not confined to Christian music, but lets the light of Christ show every time they take the stage. Enjoy this look back.)

 

By John Herndon, published in The Anderson News, August 2016

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13 (NIV).

There’s little doubt that the Martin Family Circus has scored what might be the prime gig for a group making its own name at the Kentucky State Fair. The Martins, people with strong Kentucky ties, will be opening for The Oak Ridge Boys’ amazingly popular – 41 years and counting – show.

But there’s more to the Martin Family Circus than just the music. Regardless of one’s musical tastes, the family group plans on making many smiles.

“Music is a universal language,” says Jamie Martin, who along with her husband, Paul, and their four children, have been wowing audiences since they started performing several years ago. They have a bedrock of faith, hope and love that is apparent every time they sing, whether at their home church, an RECC meeting or Sunday, when they take the stage for what is expected to be their biggest show yet.

I had the pleasure of meeting Paul and Jamie Martin and their family backstage at Renfro Valley last year.

I’d known of Paul Martin as he’d been the lead singer with Exile – think of the hit “Keep it in the Middle of the Road” – more than 20 years ago. Most recently he’d been playing bass guitar and bass fiddle for Marty Stuart and The Fabulous Superlatives. I’d also known about Jamie, who is still featured as a backup singer on Country’s Family Reunion on RFD-TV and I knew she was the daughter of the Oak Ridge Boys’ Duane Allen.

But little did I know that night how good their music would be or that we would strike up a bit of a friendship. And I had no idea just how some people just living what they believe would be an inspiration every time I hear them sing.

“This was a leap of faith,” Paul says with his trademark smile. He sat in the small studio he owns near Nashville where numerous reminders of the country music giants he has been associated with adorn the walls. There’s Stuart, Exile, The Oaks, Kathy Mattea and more.

Thank God For Kids

The Martin Family Circus opened for The Oak Ridge Boys at the Kentucky State Fair in 2016, then joined the Oaks on stage as they performed “Thank God For Kids.”

Paul, a Winchester native, credits an old friend, former Anderson County resident Charlie Crowe, for pushing him toward his successful career. The two played together in Crowe’s group, Charlie’s Garage, around Lexington in the early 1980s before Martin went with Exile. Crowe later became one of Nashville’s top musicians as guitarist for Brooks and Dunn.

“Charlie is the guy who really pumped me up and made me believe in myself,” Paul says.

At home, Paul and Jamie began to believe they had something special musically. They started teaching their children how to sing anything from Hank Williams, Sr., to the Beach Boys to current pop hits to old hymns. The kids demonstrated an uncanny ability to sing harmony.

Paul and Jamie dreamed of doing something together as a family with the most basic of reasons. “God has given us talents,” Jamie says. “You have to use them for Him.”
But there was the issue of having four children but giving up the security of being on stage with Stuart, one of Nashville’s longest-tenured stars. They learned that enormous faith can make what seems crazy become a reality.

The Martins talked it over with their pastor, who noted that the Martins’ oldest son, March, was 17 at the time. “He said, ‘It looks like your window of opportunity is closing fast,’” Paul says.

He went to Stuart, with whom he had worked for over a decade. “I said, ‘Marty, I’m not mad. I have just got to do this thing with my family.’”

The morning after returning home from his final date with Stuart, reality hit. “I woke up that Tuesday morning and said, ‘Here we go,’” Paul says.

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The Martin Family Circus performed with Exile on Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour in Lexington, Ky. The episode was later broadcast on national television on RFD-TV.

The Martin Family Circus has gone from that moment with a message of hope, regardless of the venue. They’ve played churches, community shows and nailed a performance of the National Anthem before 19,000 fans at an Indiana Pacers’ game in February. They pray together before every show, asking that they be a blessing to someone.

Understandably, the Martins are thrilled to be in Louisville. Not only is Paul, who attended Eastern Kentucky University, a Winchester native, but much of Jamie’s family on her mother’s side is from Bowling Green. For two years, she attended the University of Kentucky, where she worked in athletic director C.M. Newton’s office. The Martins love the Wildcats and Ale-8-One. “We’ve both set tobacco and worked in tobacco,” Jamie laughs.

Over the years, the Martin kids have been on stage when The Oaks sing one of their huge hits, “Thank God for Kids.” A year ago, the Martins made an impromptu appearance during the state fair show and brought the house down.

“We are so proud of these four men,” Jamie says. “I mean, seriously: 41 million records sold, more than one million social media followers … 41 years straight headlining the Kentucky State Fair, members of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry, awards too numerous to count, and this is my dad’s 50th year with this group!

“I’m sure, in his first year of touring with the Oaks, my dad would have never imagined that 50 years later, his opening act would be made up of his children and grandchildren. And we couldn’t be more excited to do this together.”

The Martin Family Circus aims to uplift people. One of their best-known songs is a rocking cover of Pharell Williams’ “Happy.”

“Music is my life,” says Paul, “I want the joy of it. If we can feed our family, I want to bring joy to people.”

“Everywhere we go,” Jamie says, “people come up to us and have a lot going on in their lives. We understand because we have that going on too.”

And the Martins try to live Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount when he said his people are “the light of the world.”

The light shines through an evening of love. The Martins and their children, March (18), Kell (15), Texas (11) and Tallant (9) perform all the vocals and play all the instruments.
And The Martins want to make sure their message is clear. One of the cuts on their second album, “Past, Present and Future,” just released last week, is Kell singing, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Another song is one Paul wrote about the Christian life, “Nothing More.”

He’s also written a song about Jamie called, “One Lifetime’s Not Enough.”

It’s the Martins’ way of delivering the greatest love message of them all.

“When we step on the stage, we want the light to shine through us,” Paul says. “People come to us who are not going to church. We always end our sets with gospel. We want to plant a seed.”

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Texas Martin performs during a show at Asbury University in 2017. (All photos by John Herndon)