The Robertsons of Duck Dynasty fame offered a stage show Sunday that was a mixture of camp meeting — prayers and praise of Jesus — and camp — Willie as a human juke box — that brought their audience of several thousand to their feet at Rupp Arena.
On the A&E reality show, the Robertsons came across as folks who love God, one another, their country and, yep, ducks. For much of the two-hour show, the Robertsons in attendance — Miss Kay, Alan, Korie, John Luke, Sadie and Willie — seemed to be having as much fun as the crowd. Willie snapped pictures of his mom, Miss Kay; Korie beamed when her children John Luke and Sadie spoke; Alan belly-laughed until he cried as John Luke, his nephew, explained his lack of sporting prowess. ("I was the catcher on my T-ball team," said John Luke, 17, pausing just a beat. "Think about it.")
But the faith that keeps the family together, portrayed with a family prayer over dinner as each episode closes, was more deeply on display than it is on television. Each family member, sitting onstage on high stools, seemed completely engaged as dark family secrets were told again in hopes that other families could see that God could, and would, work in their lives.
"We have not always been the happy close family you see on the show," said Alan.
Duck Dynasty, which has brought the Robertsons into living rooms across the country, could be summed up like this: A look at the frictions and shenanigans of a crazy, bearded family from West Monroe, La., as one brother, Willie, tries to wrangle his more leisure-focused kin to keep the family duck-call business, Duck Commander, afloat.
The Aug. 14 debut of the fourth season drew a record 11.8 million viewers. Duck Dynasty has become a marketing juggernaut. And wacky Uncle Si has hit No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list with his book Si-cology 1.
The Robertsons, who have used their fame to help charitable groups, were in Lexington for a fundraiser for Frankfort Christian Academy so it can put heat and air-conditioning in the school gym.
Miss Kay, dressed with a little sass in a red shirt under a black lace tunic, somehow managed to make folks laugh as she told how family patriarch Phil drank and partied too much for too long. On Duck Dynasty, Miss Kay often gets her way with a gentle nudge and heap of something delicious and homemade on a platter, but she showed some of the steel under her soft voice and sweet smile as she talked about the early years of her marriage.
"It just got worse and worse," she said.
At one point, Phil ran a bar and required his non-drinking wife to be the barmaid. (She was not happy, happy, happy.)
But, Miss Kay said, she tried to follow her grandmother's advice to fight for her marriage no matter what. That is until Phil told her to "take her kids" and leave because they were "ruining his good time." But, she said, "How was I supposed to be fighting when he put us out?"
Soon enough, Phil, a wreck when left on his own, found his way to the church. Forty years later, Miss Kay's voice catches as she remembers the day Phil came to the Lord and was baptized as she stood there with her three boys, all of them crying.
Alan, the oldest brother, has the most vivid memories of his father's dark days but still found himself at 14 secretly drinking and causing trouble while piously going to church. The veil fell at 17 when he and his buddies trashed the neighborhood. Miss Kay asked him, the one she had always depended on to do right, if he had been drinking. "Yes, ma'am," he said.
"I was respectful as I broke her heart," Alan recalled.
But like the Prodigal Son, Alan returned home after an ill-conceived attempt to find himself in New Orleans and went on to become a pastor. After the family's trials, Alan said, "we understand God's grace."
Family challenges help them do the right thing in the spotlight, said John Luke. Portrayed on the show as rather quiet except when gassed up to get a tooth pulled, he told, with the timing of a comedian, how he failed at every team endeavor from basketball to chess. But, John Luke said, his struggles led him more to church, and there he found his voice.
God was preparing him, he said, when he didn't know what he was being prepared for. He also told the audience God "is preparing you for something right now."
Willie got one of the biggest reactions from the crowd when he repeated a performance he used to do on the school bus for quarters. As "the human juke box" he spat out a beat box rap to a Foreigner tune.
The enthusiasm for that was matched when the Duck Commander CEO had a bit of a prayer-warrior moment. Willie told the crowd that by watching Duck Dynasty, they were part of a powerful movement to change entertainment. "You are supporting positive, pro-family entertainment where there is prayer," he said.
Willie said families around the world are seeing the Robertsons pray.
Each family member, from Willie's elegant wife, Korie, to his earnestly adorable daughter, Sadie, made the point in her own way that the credit for much of what they have can be traced to what they believe.
And that faith in action was shown in a moment near the end of the show that probably was missed by most. While the Robertsons took a final bow, with a string of members of the military onstage behind them, Willie took the trademark stars and stripes bandanna from his head and gave it without fanfare to a veteran in a wheelchair.
Just for fun
The Robertsons of Duck Dynasty are big stars now, what with book deals, Chia pets and that tricked-out RV. So we asked the officials at Rupp Arena whether the Robertsons made any special requests for their backstage accommodations, you know like J. Lo and her all-white rooms with white candles and white food. True to form, the Robertsons kept it simple. Miss Kay wanted Coke Zero, cheese and crackers, fresh fruit and peanut butter. Willie asked for sweet tea — brewed not instant — and beef jerky.
Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.