It was a challenge that John Turner, a "down-home country boy," said he couldn't turn down.
The students at a suburban high school needed to raise $12,000 quickly so they could dispatch their band to a national contest in Florida.
So Turner, a 43-year-old Fairfax City gas station operator, dropped his grease gun and made a series of calls to some acquaintances he believed could help -- country music start Loretta Lynn, Sonny James and the Bellamy Brothers.
Tonight they're scheduled to perform at Fairfax High School in a show that Turner said yesterday will have more than the students' plans on the line.
"Hell, I never lost money on any deal I've made in my life," boasted Turner as he sood outside one of his two Shell stations on Lee Highway yesterday, wiping a layer of crankcase oil from his hands. In the last five years Turner says he has arranged 40 country music shows and all have been successes.
That's why parents at Fairfax High turned to Turner for what Shirley Gibbs, a volunteer ticket seller, calls the "ulcer generating" annual struggle to raise money for the band.
"The county school board only pays for the sheet music and the instructor," she said. "The parents have to foot the rest of the bill. We wanted to send the kids to Disney World for a competition this year."
Lynn's appearance at the school is unusual for her, said Jill Whitney Satterfield, a Nashville spokesman for the country music superstar. She "loves to perform at schools when she gets the chance but everybody asks her. This was for a friend."
Her friend, service station owner Turner, got in the promotional side of country music five years ago after selling tickets for a bluegrass show at a small theater in Fairfax City. He said he realized then that the promotional game, while risky, wasn't difficult to master.
"You get your date set, and figure out the capacity of the concert area," Turner said, while staring at a large "use at your own risk" sign about his station's vending machines. "Then you make your calls to see who isn't booked, associating the drawing power of the performer to the size of the place."
After that Turner said that a promoter's reputation grows with each "clean, successful show." He's already been able to stage enough shows to make his Norman Avenue home "Nashville East" for about 60 entertainers.
"Heck, Conway Twitty spent the night here once. He was nearby for a concert and just asked if he could stay. It floored me," Turner said. All the stars are asked to sign in at the guest register, a basement wall that has the signatures of more than 60 performers. Among them: Bill Anderson, Crash Craddock, Tommy Overstreet, and Barbara Mandrell.
"Stella Parton, Dolly's sister, signed her name upside down. She's got to be different," Turner said."Other performers are a little hard to set along with. But country music people are real down-home. They're superfine people."
What was troubling Turner yesterday, however, was whether there were enough country music fans in the Washington area to make tonight's show at the high school fieldhouse a success.
"After as much talking as I did to get her down here, we've only sold half of 4,000 tickets. She's got a string of 37 straight sellouts going," Turner lamented. "I'm gonna get my hide skinned. I can hear it now. 'We came all the way for this and you couldn't sell 4,000 tickets?'
"You know, I've tried for five years to get Loretta to do a show for me. I was down in Nashville three weeks ago and she said she was still coming. "Are the tickets all sold? Oh, sure, no problem there,'" he remembered saying.
Despite his love for country music and promoting shows Turner said he has no intention of giving up his gas stations.
"I've always worked around machines," said Turner, an Army veteran who repaired helicopter engines in Vietnam in 1970. "If I can turn a piece of old crap into a fine machine, it feels good. Some people don't like to get dirty. I jump in with both feet."