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Big Kenny showed up and had fun

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On Friday, Aug. 3, Big Kenny from the country music duo Big & Rich spoke to an intimate gathering at the Woodland Polytechnic campus, a year-old charter school that focuses on "rigorous academic and career-oriented classes in a safe, small-class-size environment," encompassed in the five academies of agriculture and science, arts and media, business and trades, public service, and sports and health.

Woodland Polytechnic Academy founder and executive director Steve Marks Jr. spoke briefly about the school, thanking board members, teachers and “most important, the more than fifty volunteers who care so much about our children.” About the school, he said, “We have to be different,” and said that he knew they could make it happen.

Since the school’s opening, several high-profile guests have visited the campus, but Marks Jr. said “the one guy I hoped to get on campus was Big Kenny. Not for what he has done with Big & Rich, but what he has done as an individual for humankind.”

One attendee who echoed that sentiment is Cassidie Bates, who attended her first Big & Rich concert for her 8th birthday. Her mom, Kellie Reddish, took her to the concert. Mom and daughter posed for photos with Big Kenny Friday evening. Bates said that her favorite songs are "Wild West Show" and "Lost in this Moment."

Kellie Reddish, Big Kenny, Cassidie Bates

"The music Big & Rich has put out has always been so fun to listen to and put us in a good mood yet also helped my mom and I throughout hard times," wrote Bates.

Big Kenny didn’t come to play music that night, but he was definitely fun to listen to, lifted the crowd up and spoke about difficult times during his hour-long talk with David Marks, who called the man with the top hat and dark glasses "a real inspiration to me." The two men met in Nashville and Big Kenny, upon learning that Marks was a doctor, invited him to travel to Sudan. They were to leave in two weeks.

"He bought his own ticket," Big Kenny said after thanking everyone for being there and telling the audience that he was excited. 

David Marks and Big Kenny

Big Kenny spoke about his work in Sudan and reminded the audience that "there is so much good to do. . . Why tear each other down if we can build each other up?" This concept was reflected throughout the evening as he urged attendees to contribute to their community.

About Woodland Polytechnic Academy, he said, "To start a school. Man, that’s a huge undertaking. It’s working. You’re all here.”

Big Kenny is no stranger to building schools, having funded the building of the Kunyuk School for Girls in Akon, Sudan and arranging for education, medical and building supplies, and clothing and musical instruments to be airlifted in. He talked of other schools and the struggles children had in attending and what happened when those schools were destroyed and rebuilt.

Marks asked about the song, “Last Dollar,” that Big Kenny wrote and Tim McGraw later recorded.

"It was a lesson in patience," he said. One year after being asked to cut the song, McGraw recorded it. One year later, “Last Dollar” came out. One year later, the song hit number one.

When asked for advice he could offer young adults, the key to making it, to being at the top, he spoke about not being scared to try. He also talked about choice, about making decisions and about happiness.

David Marks and Big Kenny

“If you possess the tools to be happy, you possess the tools to be a leader. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor.” He said that each of us controls our own happiness. “If you make a difference to yourself, you make a difference to others… We can never get complacent.”

He thanked the school for inviting him, thanked the audience for joining together, and said, “I celebrate your school.”

“This is how greatness starts. When you don’t know what to do, pick up a broom,” he said, as a reminder to be involved.

A short Q & A followed, and Big Kenny spoke about his arrival in Nashville, about putting the time and hours into practice, and he told a Native American tale of two wolves that fight within each of us. One is filled with worry, anxiety and jealousy, the other with joy, love and knowledge. "Choose which one to listen to. Focus on what you want to achieve," he said.

He spoke about meaningful songs, and pointed to "Born Again,"  "Last Dollar" and  "8th of November."

The final question was from Jim Longen, a full-time Woodland Polytechnic Academy volunteer who asked if Big Kenny could sing a song. He began singing “The Bob Song,” then said, “I wrote that about myself, Jim.”

Jim Longen

“Always end it with a little fun,” said Big Kenny.

Marks Jr. said that Big Kenny offered the first monetary donation for Woodland Polytechnic Academy and that there’s no concert like a Big & Rich concert because “there’s so much joy, so much passion,” then thanked the audience for attending and reminded them that “we’re in this together.”

About the event, Bates wrote, "I thought the event was great and very inspirational. Big Kenny seems to have such a kind heart and wants to really makes a difference. He inspires me to live life to the fullest and LOVE EVERYBODY! I really appreciate how someone as busy as he is, takes the time to come visit Woodland and support Woodland Poly. It was so awesome getting to meet him, so I thank the Marks family and Woodland Poly for that."

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