In 2002 –way back before he was covering Taylor Swift and working with Liz Phair — Ryan Adams was just an alt-country dude on the come-up. The Prisoner singer was asked to headline Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium for the first time and was as excited as you’d expect a country geek to be. But all those good vibes came crashing down when Adams got in an infamous altercation who wouldn’t stop yelling for Adams to play Bryan Adams’ “Summer Of ’69.” The taunt has followed Adams around to this day — he even played the song at The Ryman in 2015 — and he’s finally shared how that moment went down from his own perspective.
In a first-person essay for the The New York Times, Adams walks readers through his buzz to be playing such a storied venue and how the persistent heckler dragged him down until he snapped.
“I finally had enough and piped up: “Who is it? Who is shouting? Tell me who it is!” I asked the person to raise his hand so I could see him. He did not. Finally people pointed furiously to a seat not far from me in the front. I walked down the few wooden steps in front of the stage to the aisle where all the fingers pointed.
By the time I got there, I was so angry. I felt humiliated, but what else could be done? Either way I had lost something. Unlike a more seasoned comic or musician, I didn’t have the experience to ignore a situation like this, or to use wit to turn it around. I felt a kind of disappointment and disillusionment that I had never known — and it was in front of a thousand-plus people.”
Adams goes on to describe the heckler, and how his appearance brought out a sense of pity in him. Still, he had walked down off the stage and didn’t stop until he had booted the man from the auditorium.
“I said, ‘Hey man, if you were trying to ruin the show you succeeded, but I need to try and finish this — it’s my job.’ I pulled out two $20 bills and said: ‘Here is your money, please take a taxi and leave here. Go home and take an aspirin. Please. Leave.’
I walked back to the stage. People applauded. The fourth wall was destroyed in the worst possible way. But this moment, where I decided to do what the security and the people around him would not, felt genuine. It is what I would have done if I were in the audience.”
Of course, reporters were in the audience and news of the incident soon spread, with other people picking up the mantle of the joke at other venues. But the essay closes with Adams coming to terms with the long-running joke. And even giving some credit to the Canadian singer with a similar name. Check out the whole thing here.