Backstreet Boy Brian Littrell once told his mom that he was going to play on the Rupp Arena floor when he grew up. He aimed to play there as a basketball player. "Little did I know that it was going to be a stage," Littrell said.
Kentucky-born Backstreet Boys Kevin Richardson and Littrell were back in Lexington on Friday for induction into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. The ceremony was held at Lexington Center's Bluegrass Ballroom.
"There's no place like home," Richardson said. "I love Kentucky." Richardson's favorite things about his hometown of Irvine: momma and the Wildcats.
"It's a huge honor to join this music family with some of the greats," Richardson said.
Other 2015 inductees include country artists Montgomery Gentry and Larry Cordle; rhythm and blues group The Moonglows; folk singer Doc Hopkins; country music manager Clarence Spalding; and entertainer Pete Stamper.
It is unbelievable to be included in the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry said.
"Over all the years, you only dream of something like this," he said.
"It's the biggest honor of my life, of anything that's happened to me in the music business, including the CMA Song of the Year Award," Larry Cordle said. "The CMA thing was a big thing, don't get me wrong, but this helps your soul."
Along with the inductions, country group Halfway to Hazard and Tom Bennett of WKYT received awards at the ceremony — Halfway to Hazard for humanitarian work and Bennett for contributions to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.
"Because music has been such a gift to us, we want to give it back to as many people as we can," Chad Warrix of Halfway to Hazard said. Halfway to Hazard supplies musical instruments to schools, in addition to other efforts, to strengthen the music programs of Eastern Kentucky.
"Kentucky is overflowing with talent. ... What if one of those kids is the next Keith Whitley or the next Ricky Skaggs?" Warrix said. "Or the next us," bandmate David Tolliver chimed in.
In addition to the awards, Friday's induction ceremony featured musical acts by many of the artists. Backstreet Boys Richardson and Littrell wrapped up the night and gave two college students the chance to sing with them.
About two years ago, seniors Josh Turner and Carson McKee posted a video of themselves singing Larger Than Life in a bluegrass style. "It was something we sort of we threw together in like five or six minutes," McKee said. "We wanted to put a fun sort of funky video up, and we of course knew the song."
"General freak-out" was the reaction that Turner and McKee received from their friends after learning that they would join two of the Backstreet Boys on stage. "Our generation is like the Backstreet Boys generation," McKee said.
Turner and McKee played with Richardson and Littrell as an "ode to Kentucky, the Bluegrass State."
The general theme of the night was an appreciation for Kentucky roots.
"If I could have made a living in Lexington, I would have stayed here," Clarence Spalding said. Spalding now works in Nashville and represents some of country music's prominent artists, including Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts, Brooks & Dunn, and Terri Clark.
Despite Littrell's pop music background, his favorite memory of growing up in Kentucky could have been a country song.
"I would always drive up and down Nicholasville Road in my truck that I bought," Littrell said. "When I was 17, I borrowed some money from the bank and put a down payment on an Isuzu pickup, and those were probably some of the best times of my life. You know, carefree, no worries."
Talking to the inductees about their humble starts in Kentucky, it was hard to imagine the combination of talent, timing, and luck that put them where they are today.
Littrell manages to keep a tie to his Kentucky upbringing through the Rupp Arena floor that he wanted to play on as a kid. After a donation by Littrell, the University of Kentucky athletics department gave him a huge section of the original Rupp Arena floor. "I get to play on it anytime I want to," Littrell said. "I told my mom I was going to play on it. I just didn't know I was going to buy it."