When Montgomery Gentry takes the stage Saturday at Chingawassa Days in Central Park, Troy Gentry’s absence won’t be nearly as noticeable as his presence.
It’s been almost nine months since Gentry died in a helicopter crash, but the band he built with partner Eddie Montgomery has done what any close family does when met with tragedy — carry on.
“Troy is such a part of of it still,” keyboardist and tour manager Eddie Kilgallon said. “He’s there. He’s there every time you turn around. You see things; you remember things. That’s what he’d want us to do.”
Montgomery and Gentry had talked about what they wanted to have happen with the band if one of them died, Kilgallon said, and that was to stay together and keep performing.
When Gentry’s death took things from speculation to harsh reality, Montgomery nevertheless took months off to grieve and reflect, searching for the path forward. When Montgomery was ready, so was the band.
“With what each of us went through, we looked to Eddie for his direction,” Kilgallon said. “When we look around, we see family; we see the reason we’re still able to do this, because we’re family first. Eddie and Troy taught us how to do that.”
The question remained how to do it without one of the group’s two headline singers.
“The first time we got back in the rehearsal hall with Eddie, we had the song list,” Kilgallon said. “We looked down the list and said, ‘Here’s the songs we’ve been doing for 20 years. How do we do these?’”
The answer was right in front of them.
“Everybody in the band sings, but over the years we didn’t have to because all the vocals were covered,” Kilgallon said. “We said, ‘Lets not reinvent it; let’s carry on with who we have.’ We decided to take some of Troy’s parts and split them across the band.”
Those songs included familiar hits from Montgomery Gentry’s first eight albums, and 12 tunes from the band’s latest album, “Here’s to You,” released in February.
“Eddie has said he thinks this is their best effort since their debut album, and that Troy’s vocal performance was the best of his career,” Kilgallon said. “This is a special album, a very special album.”
The band had an emotional return to the road Jan. 19 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, opening for Alabama. Performances have become easier, but each new venue sparks emotion anew.
“When we play Saturday in Kansas, this will be the first time people will have seen us this year,” Kilgallon said. “Certain aspects of every night from now on will be like the first night. There are a lot of emotions. We get through it together.”
In Eddie Montgomery’s mind, there won’t be a single Montgomery Gentry fan in the entire Chingawassa Days crowd.
“Eddie’s quote is; ‘We don’t call them fans; we call them friends,’” Kilgallon said. “The people in our crowd have had our back from our first album through today. It gets back to their blue-collar roots and singing songs about people they can all recognize. The guys have always cut songs for average working-class people, which are what they consider themselves to be.”
It’s the synergy between performers and friends that should make Saturday’s concert special, Kilgallon said.
“There’s so much road out there these guys covered,” he said. “It’s remarkable the lives they’ve touched with this music. That’s still so alive every night. That’s the magic of it. What they did lives in the hearts of the people that come out.”
All in all, what does Kilgallon expect?
“Definitely a good, good time,” he said. “Turn off the TV, turn up the music, put the phone down, and come out and dance.”
Montgomery Gentry is scheduled to perform at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, following opening act Drake White.