NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vince Gill is a Country Music Hall of Famer, so it is no surprise he was chosen to sing the national anthem before Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game, given the weekend’s heavily Nashville-influenced theme this year.
But Gill, 58, is far from a celebrity merely faking a connection to the sport for the occasion.
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He has been a dedicated Predators fan from Day One in 1998, has season tickets with his wife, the singer Amy Grant, and was part of a committee that helped select a design for Bridgestone Arena before its 1996 opening.
“I think this is a great culmination of so many years of the Predators continuing to improve and be a great part of the league and a great franchise,” Gill said Friday at All-Star Game media day of Nashville’s first time hosting the event.
“Just to see us have this opportunity is unbelievable. I don’t think anybody could have foreseen this community would embrace the team like we have. It’s such a fun game to watch live. I think all it takes is for someone to come and see a game live and they’re hooked.
“Once again, our city’s going to shine. We have great ownership, great people behind this team and the trade we made for [Ryan] Johansen the other day, that’s an amazing thing.
“I saw [former Predators and current Capitals coach] Barry Trotz on the street [Thursday] and got to hug him and tell him how much we miss him and ask him how he’s doing and he said, ‘Man, you really got a player there.’ That’s one of the first times the franchise has had that caliber of player.”
Gill was asked by then-mayor Phil Bredesen to join four architects and then-Knick Anthony Mason, who played at Tennessee State, to serve on a committee to choose from several designs for what now is known as Bridgestone Arena.
“It was fun and to be included on the ground floor,” he said. “They wanted the viewpoint of a musician, someone who spends a lot of time in arenas, and Anthony as a basketball player. The thing I loved most about the design that we picked is it faced Broadway. All of the other ones that didn’t get picked all faced to the south.
“I’m sure they understood that the city was going to grow to the south and that that was going to be a huge part of downtown, but I love that they paid homage to Ryman [Auditorium] and they faced Broadway and they faced what we have been.
“And then Amy and I got to do the first concert that they did here, a Christmas concert, and my favorite memory of that is that I got a ticket for illegally parking in the building.”
Gill will sing the anthem Sunday with his 14-year-old daughter, Corrina.
“Well, as a father anytime you get a chance to see your kid shine, that’s about the best feeling that there is in life,” he said. “I wouldn’t have asked her if she wasn’t a pretty off-the-hook great singer. She’s really something for as young as she is. To me at 14 she’s kind of head, hands and feet above the rest of us who are musical and have done it for a living.
“The way we’ve decided to do it is I’ll sing the low parts and she’ll sing the high parts and neither one of us will have to stretch too bad, because she has a little trouble hitting the low notes and I have a little trouble hitting the high notes at my age.”
Gill also will serve as a “celebrity coach,” for which he said his goal is “just to not get hit by a puck or get my butt kicked by one of the players . . . I’m just going to keep my mouth shut and wear a bad jacket. I don’t know the first thing about the game, really. I’m a novice when it comes to knowing what the game really is. I just love it as a fan.
Gill said he first was exposed to the sport as a child in Oklahoma City, where he first saw current Predators announcer Terry Crisp play.
“I’ve been a sports fan my whole life and saw hockey as a 6- or 7-year-old kid,” he said. “When [Crisp] came to the Predators I remembered that name and I couldn’t understand why and I found out he played in Oklahoma City and I was seeing him play as a 7- or 8-year old kid. How neat it is that our paths crossed and we became friends?”
Gill said Nashville embraced the Predators because at the time the city lacked major team sports.
“I think that they’ve given us, I guess a brand, in a sense, something we can root for,” he said. “We didn’t really have a pro team of any kind until the Predators. We had golf in middle Tennessee.”