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John Michael Montgomery at Penn's Peak on Sunday

  • John Michael Montgomery performs Sunday at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe. The concert starts at 8 p.m.
    John Michael Montgomery performs Sunday at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe. The concert starts at 8 p.m.
Published May 13. 2010 05:00PM

"Life's a dance that you learn as you go. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow ..."

"Life's a Dance" was one of seven number-one hits for country singer John Michael Montgomery, and one of 20 songs which hit the top 10 in Billboard for him.

The words to this song can be related to by everyone, especially Montgomery.

The Danville, Kentucky native started with very little, made it to the top in his profession, then experienced tough times.

"I sustained a decent career despite a lot of situations and curve balls thrown at me," he said in a phone interview. Those curve balls have been anxiety attacks, multiple surgeries, and other personal problems.

He's back recording and touring.

On Sunday at 8 p.m., Montgomery will be making an appearance at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe. Tickets are $34 and $29 and will be available at the door.

Opening for him will be Nicole Donatone, a Penn's Peak radio personality who has been getting great feedback on her singing ability. She made national news several years ago when she won a car in a singing competition.

Montgomery, the older brother of Troy Gentry from the duo Montgomery Gentry, was a headliner in major venues. He churned out hit after hit including "Life's A Dance," "I Swear," "I Can Love You Like That," and the up-tempo ditty "Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)."

The talented singer commented, "I grew up in trailer parks, so things like that aren't supposed to happen to me," referring to his success. "I had surgeries, I had anxiety attacks, I had rehab. Considering where I came from, I went straight out of high school to get my honky tonk degree, I feel I accomplished pretty much."

He praises his wife, Crystal, for helping him overcome his problems, noting she stood by him when he was down.

They have two children, a daughter, 13, and a son, 11. The daughter plays piano and the son plays guitar.

"Both sing, but not in front of me," he laughed.

John Michael and Troy live about 30 minutes from each other and see each other periodically. Troy has opened a new restaurant. Both still live in Kentucky where they were born and raised.

Montgomery said that when he first started his career, "you have people tell you you're wasting your time. And then you get a break and dreams come true."

He said he made a lot of his own breaks through "perseverance and doing what I love."

After high school, he began playing in honky tonks and anywhere else he could find gigs.

"We were playing five nights a week," noting that Troy also was in the band.

While playing in Lexington, a record company representative passed through and happened to see him perform.

"A waitress told him my name," he said. "I never figured out who it was, but I would like to be able to thank her."

He said he and his brother both subsidized the money they made performing with other jobs, including digging ditches and hanging tobacco, "but music was our first love."

After "Life's A Dance" became a hit in 1992, he began doing 200 shows a year. Eventually, he said, he began losing his voice.

"I started having anxiety attacks, thinking I might lose my voice while performing," he said. "The anxiety attacks started happening anytime I put pressure on myself. I started on medications and seeing doctors."

He added, "Anyone with anxiety attacks knows alcohol helps." He said, "This hurts in other ways. You make bad decisions. You question yourself on your success."

Just as he feared, it was during a concert when he lost his voice.

In March 2005, Montgomery suffered from a condition known as acoustic neuroma, which is a noncancerous growth that interferes with a nerve running between the brain and the ear. This condition can affect balance and hearing. Still, it didn't affect his touring for the rest of 2005.

However, between 2003 and 2005, he had other surgeries, including for a broken leg, surgery on his hip, and a tonsillectomy.

Montgomery said politics in the music business have prevent him and his brother from performing together. However, the two have been talking and there are plans to eventually write and perform together.

At Penn's Peak, Montgomery said, "We're going to rock their butts off. The people will definitely not be bored."

He said he will do the longtime favorites as well as "love songs that were really special." He was a guitarist in his father's band so he'll likely "pull out the guitar and do a flashback."

"We'll do things that people don't expect to see in the show," he promised.

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