COLUMBUS—It’s a rainy night in Georgia. I have an interview on the local evening news. This is a monumental occasion. My mother called to make sure I was wearing clean underwear.
The last time I was in Columbus, I was in college. I was wearing clean underwear then, too. I was an adult student, traveling with a bunch of eighteen-year-old music students on a school trip. That weekend, I saw some of the world’s most accomplished pianists perform in concert. And it was great.
I was a different person back then. Back then, I had this ridiculous idea that I was going to be a pianist one day.
I wish someone would’ve told me life doesn’t happen how you plan, no matter what kind of underpants you wear.
Anyway, being on the news is a big deal. I have only been on the news twice before.
The first time, I was helping judge a barbecue competition. Me and my friend Buck were interviewed on a local channel. There were cameras with blinking lights, teleprompters, cameramen giving hand signals, and a makeup lady kept powdering my face and saying, “I’ve never seen so much oil on one godforsaken forehead.” And the interview basically went like this:
“So, tell us about the upcoming event, Sean.”
“Sean, what can people expect at this event?”
“Back to you, Terry.”
The other time I was on the news was when my cousin accidentally stole a luxury sedan. His elderly father-in-law had forgotten that he’d agreed to let us borrow his Buick for a road trip. He reported the car as stolen.
We got pulled over in Tennessee. After much confusion with local law enforcement officials, we all had a good laugh about it. And I can say one thing about the upstanding penal system in Tennessee, they serve delicious hamburger steaks.
But getting back to Columbus. Tonight’s news interview is about the one-man show I’m about to do. Which only proves how desperate modern media is for material.
The reporter, Mya, and I are in my dressing room, standing before a camera. Mya goes to great pains to get me positioned. She is constantly telling me to “step forward,” “slide to the left,” “slide to the right,” “Cha-Cha real smooth.”
Then, Mya touches her earpiece and says, “We’re on in five…”
Suddenly. A bright light from the camera. It blinds me. We are not talking about a tiny pinlight. We’re talking about a combat aircraft landing signal aimed at my face.
Mya says, “We’re here with Sean Dietrich. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Sean.”
And I choke. I clear my throat. I blink at the light. This is what is known in the entertainment industry as dead air.
“Uhhhh…” I remark.
And while I stammer, Mya just smiles at the camera until the muscles in her neck are poking out and a single bead of sweat rolls down her temple.
“Uhhhh…” I add.
After the interview, I get my picture taken with Mya. We pose for a selfie. Mya informs me that I am not a good selfie-picture-taker. To take a proper selfie you have to hold your cellphone camera at a high angle. If you hold the camera too low, everyone in the photograph comes out looking like overweight members of the Lollipop Guild.
After selfies, someone knocks on the door and says, “It’s showtime.”
Mya tells me to break a leg. I suspect she truly means it.
For several years I have been doing my one-man show with only a guitar. Usually, I play a song, tell a story, play another song, etc. That’s pretty much it. Then, I say goodnight, whereupon audience members go to the ticket booth and demand a refund.
But tonight, here at the amphitheater, I found a grand piano backstage before the show. On a whim, I asked the sound guy if he’d let me play the thing for the performance. He said sure. He rolled it center stage and locked the wheels in place.
For the show I end up playing several songs which I have not played in many years. And I tell the story of how once upon a time I took a bus to Columbus, Georgia, to watch concert pianists play. And I am sort of taken by the irony of this moment. I almost feel foolish about it.
When I finish the show, my hands are hurting because they are out of shape. We go back to our hotel room, I collapse on the bed. I turn on the television. The news is on.
There I am. A big dork on TV. My hair is in need of cutting. My beard needs a trim. I look like a starvation victim on diuretics in the harsh glow of the camera lights. My wife and I count how many times I say “Uhhhhh….”
I turn off the television. I stare out my hotel room at the lights of Columbus. And I think about how much life has changed me. It’s softened me in some places, toughened me in others. I have spent three quarters of my life being lost and confused. The other quarter was spent horsing around. I look horrible on television. And I am not a great pianist.
But, by God, I am wearing clean underwear.
And that has to count for something.
Susan Gregory - November 17, 2019 6:49 am
We enjoyed ur show! My daughter and I laughed and that’s been a while since we’ve done that! U were awesome at playing the piano and in fact renewed a longstanding dream of mine to learn to play! Thx Sean for the fun and inspiration!
Steve - November 17, 2019 9:44 am
Maybe I’m finding deeper meaning in this one than is warranted. But this one seemed to have a different tone. All the usual elements were there as normal. Tons of light hearted self-deprecating humor, a very intimate view of your heart and mind and message for the day. We all know the funny stuff will just lead us to the message in the last paragraph. Today seemed different, disguised behind the ever present self-deprecating humor seemed a man “proud of himself”. Hidden, in words not written; in a Columbus night’s sky, you were thinking “…and I’m proud of who I’ve become”. You should be. Thanks for always making me search for deeper meanings.
Ginger Smith - November 17, 2019 10:15 am
Way Down in Columbus, Georgia…..I’m glad you got there and done that. I’m thrilled you got to perform in my hometown. And they loved you, Sean, I know they did…
Come back, now, ya hear?
Norma Butler - November 17, 2019 11:33 am
You played the piano tremendously well!! We so enjoyed everything, the music, your stories and especially how gracious you and your wife were. Thanks for blessing in Columbus! And don’t worry about the interview, you and maybe 9 others saw it😂
Amy - November 17, 2019 12:43 pm
My beloved grandmother used to drum it into our heads, “always put on clean underwear before you leave the house. You never know when you’ll get in a car wreck and end up in the hospital.” Well, recently I fell out of the bed of a pickup (F250 no less) and broke my wrist. As I was being wheeled into the ER my thought was “Thank God I have on clean underwear!” Thank God for my beloved grandmother and thank God for you Mr. South. You really brighten up my mornings.
Jimmie Pate - November 17, 2019 12:48 pm
My daughters and I enjoyed your show so much. We really are glad we got to meet you afterwards and talk about one of our favorite places, Port St Joe. Thanks for coming to Columbus. We look forward to seeing you again.
Harriet - November 17, 2019 12:48 pm
I really wanted to go to the Columbus show and I’m sorry I missed you playing the piano. I bet you put on a great show. I live in Atlanta and couldn’t get down to Columbus by 6. My daughter goes to CSU and is a Theatre Major she loves it there. I hope I get to see you one day!
Best to you Jamie and the dogs!
Melanie - November 17, 2019 1:04 pm
one of my favorite songs…Brook Benton 🌂☔️💧
Margaret Angell - November 17, 2019 1:38 pm
I am glad we “braved the elements” to go to the show, Sean! It was so worth it. I didn’t get to meet you, but I met Jamie and felt as if I had known her forever! Y’all come back to see us again real soon!
Keloth Anne - November 17, 2019 1:40 pm
I loved seeing a small clip of you playing that grand piano and singing ♥️
I know everyone in Columbus loved having a “wonderful night with Sean of the South”!!! Looking forward to getting you closer to the Ozark/Wiregrass area😊😊
Jean - November 17, 2019 1:52 pm
I know how you feel. Keep on keeping on…we love you!
Lloyd - November 17, 2019 2:18 pm
So glad you came to Columbus. You put on a great show and the piano playing was wonderful. Thanks for sharing!
Shelton A. - November 17, 2019 2:48 pm
Sean…you are a writer. You bring hope, joy, tears, and sniffles everyday of the week. That makes your life more than worthwhile. You add to my life every day. You give me a good laugh or leave me deep in thought about your message. Stop hacking at yourself, ok?
Joe Patterson - November 17, 2019 3:32 pm
Thanks again I understand I am an attorney I have spoken on behalf of my clients in court on numerous occasions but interviews where the focus is on me are not comfortable for me You have a wonderful talent for telling stories keep it up
Judy Wilson - November 17, 2019 3:45 pm
Momma is always right. It’s a bit like if you make your bed in the morning you have already accomplished something that day so you’re not a total loser. So enjoy your clean underwear days!
Edna B. - November 17, 2019 4:39 pm
It sounds to me like everyone really enjoyed your show and your piano music. Wish i’d been able to see it too. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Linda Moon - November 17, 2019 4:58 pm
I could tell a story about clean underwear for a child who was baptized by immersion. But I won’t. Let’s just say that I understand why your mother called you. And, I won’t tell you the other story involving a Diet ROOT BEER bottle while I was driving through Tennessee. The good story is that I’ve never demanded a refund from any of your one-man shows. You, Captain Clean Underpants, count for WAY more than something!! My own son SOARED yesterday at a more-than-one-man-&-woman show!! And I bet he was wearing clean underwear, too.
Alice Stagg - November 17, 2019 7:06 pm
I’m not surprised your hands were tired Sean. You poured everything you had into that concert for us and we loved it! Don’t sell yourself short. Your mama was right. You are soaring (and in clean underwear most likely). BTW, am loving your new novel. Made it past the first page and still locked into it, despite your prediction!
Steve Scott - November 17, 2019 7:18 pm
Finally, I got to meet the man who writes on Waffle House waitresses, old dogs, children and watermelon wine and of denizens of the “Mayberrys of the World.”
I am happy! Although it was definitely a “dark and stormy” night, I am pleased that you had such a good crowd. I was looking forward to your stories and humor and we certainly didn’t get short-changed on that. I knew you dibbled and dabbled on a few instruments but had NO idea you were that good on piano. You were a little bit of Floyd Cramer, Mose Allison, and Ray Charles, all wrapped up in big wad of gloriousness! Glad I got a front seat. And meeting Jamie was also a treat. She is an absolute delight!
Please come back to Columbus. I’ll help you spread the word.
Susan I Gleadow - November 18, 2019 4:08 pm
I would love to see/hear that show! I love it when you sing and play!
Dell Corley - November 18, 2019 9:26 pm
I saw you on WTVM-Channel 9 news. You were great!!
Suzanne Hill - November 18, 2019 9:28 pm
Could someone send me Sean’s article dated Nov. 18, 2019? I accidentally deleted it. Thanks.
Becky Comer - November 19, 2019 2:46 pm
Sean, I wished I had known ahead of time that you were speaking to a group in Columbus GA, my home town. How do your fans know where you will be speaking next?
Becky Comer - November 19, 2019 3:15 pm
I just saw the Events link and have purchased 2 tickets for your show in Milton on December 5th, Sean. Can’t hardly wait! Would love meet you as I have felt like I’ve always known you since reading your daily stories.
jack - November 20, 2019 12:27 am
Well by goodness I for one are proud of you. My mama said clean underwear was Very important, probably more important than……….
Anyeay dude, I enjoyed the read, ‘specially the uhhhh’s.
Mary Berryman - December 13, 2019 4:37 am
Gale Smith - December 13, 2019 2:52 pm
John Lennon said” life is what happens to you while you’re busy making plans.” He was right. Many times I have been thankful I did not wind up with what I thought I wanted. Overplanning is worse than underplanning when it comes to life.
The story of my life is a one-word title: