The meeting was called to order by Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) at 6:45 p.m. yesterday in the Senate Caucus Room. "Tell those folks there in the back of the room to keep quiet," he said -- and then, lacking a gavel to bang, he picked up his fiddle and launched into his first country song of the evening: "If I Should Wander Back Tonight."
Byrd was co-host, with the Country Music Association, at a reception for members of Congress. He told his standing-room-only audience that he has "played my volin from coast to coast, from Alaska to Florida and Maine to California, but I'm specially nervous tonight." He was performing for an audience of his peers in two field -- about 35 senators, a similar delegation from the House, and a room full of country music connoisseurs. Performing along with Byrd were such country stars as Mac Wiseman, Barbara Mandrell and Charley Pride.
"We're not lobbying for anything," said a spokesman for the association, which was founded 21 years ago, when country music seemed to be dying, and has presided over a spectacular comeback. Any lobbying at the party must have been done by the music -- and the chief lobbyist was Byrd, resplendent in a bright red vest and starspangled tie, and looking like a country boy just having a good time.
"I hear some Georgia boys from the White House back there making noise," Byrd said, and after Frank Moore motioned him to get on with his music, he dedicated his next number, "Our Little Cabin Home on the Hill," to the White House delegation, which included Jody Powell as well as Moore.
There was a crowd around Charley Pride -- including Frank Hewitt of Ford's Theatre, who was trying to sign him up for a performance next February, and a staff member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who was asking him probing questions about his astrological sign. When Pride told her he as a Pisces, she seemed to find it promising: "I'm a Leo," she said, "Very compatible." From the stage, Byrd had another kind of suggestion for the country star. Dedicating one of his last songs to Pride and Wiseman, he told them, "If you stick around after the show, I'll give you my autograph.
In effect, Byrd was the show, leading the audience in a sing-along rendition of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," playing accompaniment for Barbara Mandrell, the featured entertainer of the evening, and finally joining in a trio with Mandrell and Charley Pride.