Peel back the calendars about 25 years and you could probably catch John Michael Montgomery, younger brother Eddie Montgomery and longtime pal and bandmate Troy Gentry carrying on with a hearty brand of country music at the Austin City Saloon.
That, of course, was before lightning struck. Twice.
First, the elder Montgomery was scouted by Atlantic Records in Nashville. That led to a recording contract, a breakout 1992 single and album (both titled Life's a Dance) and a career that earned him multiple awards from the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music, three Grammy nominations and stature as one of the most visible country artists to emerge from Central Kentucky.
Flash forward a few years, and Eddie Montgomery and Gentry, still playing together at Austin City, are picked up and signed to Sony Records out of Nashville. Performing as Montgomery Gentry, the duo release a rockish 1999 debut album titled Tattoos and Scars, begin a hit parade of 14 Top 10 singles (five of which hit No. 1), chalk up numerous awards and forge a reputation as a tireless live act that continues to this day.
But with careers that continually take their country music throughout the country proper, getting the brothers (and in the purely fraternal sense of the term, you can place Troy alongside John Michael and Eddie) back on the same stage again is a task and a half. On Tuesday, however, all three will be part of a 12 act WBUL-FM-sponsored country bill at the Opera House called Acoustic Jam 2014.
"Me and Eddie both were so fortunate to come from a musical family," John Michael said. "My mom was a drummer-singer, my dad was a guitar player-lead singer. Me and Eddie, we just joined right in. And that's what we've done our whole life.
"I've had life pretty darn good run for someone who moved around a lot. My folks went from this old farmhouse to that trailer park. Anytime the rent went up, mom and dad moved because we were going to play music on the weekends. If that meant taking a lower-paying job, that's what we were going to do. If the job paid more but meant we'd be working on the weekends and couldn't play music, we weren't taking it."
For Lexington native Gentry, playing with the Montgomery brothers under the banner name of John Michael Montgomery and Young Country, was a time of kinship when scores of like-minded contemporary country acts played local night spots.
"Playing the clubs then, you had The Greg Austin Band, Doug Breeding, Larry Redmon," he said. "Lexington was booming with live music. On the weekends you weren't working or in between breaks on nights that you were, you would try and zip over to one of the other clubs and check out some of the other music.
"Then John Michael was discovered. But what was really fascinating was that the fact that Eddie and I kept playing together. We were fortunate enough that we had something unique and different that Nashville heard about. So it's pretty cool that we all played together in one band, split up and still make a career out of doing what we love to do."
Of course, maintaining a high profile in a country music climate that thrives on newer, younger talent can be disconcerting to acts like John Michael and Montgomery Gentry. Both remain strong concert draws and have new recordings in the works for 2015. But in an age when young acts like Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line are selling out arenas on a nightly basis, it can be tough for veteran acts to be heard.
"It's been three years since we had a single on the radio," Gentry said. "The music has changed dramatically, and the artists are a lot younger. But I think Eddie and I are still valid in this market, although we are getting to be the older act. There will be a day when we'll be washed to the side as far as radio presence. Fortunately, for Eddie and I, through our many years of success at radio, will be able to play and tour as long as we would like to."
For John Michael, being the veteran act doesn't mean younger fans are beyond his reach. In fact, there are a few of them right in his Nicholasville home who are just beginning to appreciate his celebrity status.
"My kids are fascinated because I'm just Dad to them," he said. "But just in the last few years, they started noticing my award case where I won male vocalist and got some Grammy nominations, some for song of the year and new artist of the year, things like that. They're like, 'How did you get these, Dad?' And I go, 'Well, believe it or not, your old man was actually a pretty popular guy back in the late 1900s.
"And I'm still out there getting on that bus every weekend. But, man, I feel tremendously fortunate to be able to do something I love for a living."