As Eddie Montgomery’s voice booms from the other end of the phone, what you sense is the practice of business carrying on.
An unwaveringly jovial spirit, the Danville-born country star is nothing if not enthused about the prospect of another performance before him. In short, he is unfazed by the fact his destination for the day — Bridgeport, Connecticut — is far removed from his Central Kentucky homeland. Then again, the same is true for most of the tour stops Montgomery has chalked up over the past two decades.
But the depth of what separates his homecoming concert Friday night at Manchester Music Hall from past Kentucky shows in indescribable. The band name on the marquee will be the same: Montgomery Gentry. But the other half of that performance team — Montgomery’s artistic brother-in-arms, Troy Gentry — will be absent. The show falls just shy of 11 months from when Gentry died in a New Jersey helicopter crash.
“I still catch myself every night looking to my left,” Montgomery said. “You can never replace T-Roy. You just ain’t going to do it. I don’t care how hard you try. So we didn’t set out to do that.”
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What life after Gentry has translated into for Montgomery Gentry has been shows that pull not just from Montgomery’s seemingly bottomless supply of onstage gusto, but also from a still vital ensemble spirit. Most of the players in the Montgomery Gentry band have been on board since the duo’s debut album “Tattoos & Scars” was released in 1999. As such, some have been called on for additional vocal duties, especially on songs where Gentry was originally featured.
Montgomery’s profile still towers, but since the loss of his onstage partner, he has learned to lean more on his other brothers in the band.
“They’ve been with us over 20 years,” Montgomery said. “So instead of me singing everything, I figured for some of the hits that T sang, we would let the band guys sing. I might sing a verse and they’ll sing a verse. But the great thing about our songs is that, with radio and everybody out there buying the CDs and making them so big, all of our friends out there in the crowd start singing them. And they’re louder than we are.
“I’m still doing 90 percent of the singing. But just having the guys there … to me, that’s the way T-Roy would have wanted it.
“The guys have been out here with us for so long. We’ve been through bus fires together. We’ve been through personal things together. I think we’re more like a family than we are hired guns. Nashville didn’t put us together. Me and T-Roy did. Nashville didn’t tell us who we were. We knew who we were and what we wanted out of our music. We knew who we wanted to be in our band. We knew the style and we knew the attitude we wanted.”
That attitude runs rampant throughout “Here’s to You,” a new album completed a matter of days before Gentry’s death. While the record provides a comforting though unexpected parting shot from the singer, the true challenge came in ensuing months when the job of promoting the record fell solely to Montgomery.
“You know, I still believe the man upstairs has got a plan for all of us,” he said. “Getting the album done two days before that horrific accident…. I mean, I just don’t question something like that.
“It’s really hard to believe just how much our fans and friends have had our backs through this whole ordeal. They’ve always told us whether they want us to keep going or not. So I figure they will let us know whether we suck or if they want us to keep touring and traveling. I will kind of leave it up to them.
“There’s not been a day that I don’t think about all we’ve been through. I think that’s what has made us so strong, because we all are brothers out here on the road. I think music is the greatest healer in the world, so that’s what we’re going to keep making. As long as I’m onstage and I keep singing and I’ve got my brothers out here with me, we’ll keep traveling up and down that road.”
IF YOU GO
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 3
Where: Manchester Music Hall, 899 Manchester St.