John Spicer was ailing at 4:15 p.m. Friday. He had collapsed into a recliner at his Patoka home and covered up with a blanket as he tried to stay comfortable while battling sinus and throat issues, serious problems for a man who earns his living singing country music.
Then, the phone rang.
A snowstorm had hot new trio Midland, the voice behind hits “Drinkin' Problem” and “Make A Little,” stranded in Atlanta. Organizers of a concert at the prestigious Peabody Opry House in St. Louis needed a last-minute replacement to open for Lee Brice and Corbin Easton.
“We call it stage health in this business,” said the 26-year-old Spicer. “You may be sick as a dog, but you do whatever it takes to get the job done. You would fight a bear if you had to.”
On the road less than 30 minutes after receiving the call, Spicer had gathered gear and a couple band members for the 75-minute dash to the venue. They arrived 50 minutes before showtime, had a 10-minute sound check, and blazed through the impromptu 40-minute acoustic set.
“We played a mix of originals and covers. It was going to be eight songs, but I think we only got six in because I was talking so much. It was my first time at the Peabody and I got caught up in the moment.
“We got to meet Corbin and Lee. They are just normal, humble guys. They are the real deal and put on a heck of a show.”
The appearance of John Spicer & The Fightin' Side Band at the Peabody was a textbook case of preparation meeting opportunity.
Earlier in the year, the group won a “Boots At Busch” battle of the bands contest at Busch Stadium. The event was sponsored by local radio station 93.7-FM The Bull, which also hosted the recent Peabody event.
“We developed a pretty good working relationship with the station and told them if they ever got in a pinch and needed a band, to give us a call. Hopefully, this will open a few doors for us,” Spicer said.
In the days immediately following the show, there was a huge social media spike on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for the band.
The group will return to St. Louis on Jan. 12 for a very sentimental concert at Ballpark Village. Spicer will be sharing the stage with Drew Baldridge, his best friend growing up in tiny Patoka.
“We started kindergarten together and were darn near inseparable until we graduated high school,” Spicer said. “We haven't performed together in five years. Our music took us in different directions. He went to Nashville and I headed out to California.”
During his days on the West Coast, Spicer learned the complexities of the recording process. The highlight of this period was a magical two days when he recorded in Merle Haggard's studio and even sang with Hag in his living room.
“I fell for the glitz and glamor of Hollywood,” Spicer said. “A lot of business decisions were made through the years that were not in my best interest.”
Convinced he had reached a dead end in California, Spicer returned home to Marion County earlier this year and put together the Fightin' Side band. Members include: Dave Weidenhoffer, of Nashville, Illinois, drums; Dug Drenckpohl, of Patoka, lead guitar; Adam Burtch, of Effingham, bass guitar; and Nick Szwedo, of St. Louis, keyboards.
“There are 135 years of stage experience in this band. I'm so lucky to have these guys,” Spicer said. “We are not a Merle Haggard tribute band. The name is a reflection of our desire to battle our way to the top of the country music world.”
The band is currently recording its debut project at the Lost Recording Studio, in obscure Orchardville.
“The studio is such a cool place. It's like a sandbox for grown ups,” Spicer said. “Several songs are in the works. None have been completed. Everybody in the band is playing with huge amounts of passion and dedication. The goal is to turn out a great product.”
Spicer says the plan is to put together a four-song extended play project of original material this spring and follow it up with another mini compact disc before the end of next year. As they organically grow a fan base on social media and through live shows, a full-length project would be in order for 2019.
“This is a transformative time for me. My music is maturing and I'm starting to look at things differently,” he said. “I'm happier now than I've ever been playing music. It's time to flip the switch and take it to the next level.”
Spicer and the band will perform at 8 p.m. on New Year's Eve at Boondocks Pub in Springfield, the opening act for Broseph. Tickets are $10.