the ties that bind

Some things are meant to be.  They’re bigger than us.  Bigger than coincidence.

And the only way you can explain them is…


I’ve known Aaron Carnahan my whole life… he’s not just our manager, he’s also my cousin.  His father Rod is my mother’s older brother.

We grew up separately, together.  My family followed his across the country many times in search of work and a better life.  We often found ourselves living in the same towns, and when times were really hard, even the same house.

When I was in my early teens, Uncle Rod let me tag along with Aaron and their family on a trip to Nashville, and we got to take a tour of the Ryman Auditorium.  Aaron and I stood on that stage together looking out at the wooden pews and thought about all the history and the people who had sang there through the years – unaware that one day in the future, I would perform dozens of times on that very stage with my beautiful bride on the Grand Ol’ Opry and Aaron would be standing in the wings, cheering us on.

During our high school years, Aaron spent dozens of nights camped out beside me on the living room floor in our little house… through one particular winter when we had no heat and had to hang blankets over the doorways, because we also had no doors.  It didn’t matter to him that just across town his family had a nice warm home and his room had a heated waterbed.

When I was seventeen, with going-to-college not an option… I joined the service.  Aaron was standing beside me the day I left out on a bus, bound for Marine bootcamp on Parris Island.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 2.20.08 PM
Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 2.20.08 PM

Two years later, when his parents divorced, Aaron moved in with me and finished his senior year at a high school in South Carolina where I was stationed.

And though our lives separated for most of our adult lives, they paralleled each other’s in so many ways…

While in the service, I got married, had two daughters and was divorced within a couple of years.  He too got married, had two daughters and divorced.

His third child, Greg, who is 25 now, has down syndrome.  My third daughter, little Indiana with her sweet almond eyes, didn’t come along for me until many years later.

In the mid-90’s while I was still new to Tennessee, chasing my dreams and struggling to find myself and God, Aaron was 500 miles away in Illinois going through the same thing.  Not long after he became a Christian, so did I.  It was Aaron’s journey to faith that played a huge part in leading me to find mine.

His second marriage to Jill Hodel was the vision of marriage that I had always hoped for and dreamed of.  So beside my bed each night, I prayed that God might bring someone special into my life, like He had brought to Aaron.

Not long after that, I was playing a show at the Bluebird Cafe and a beautiful brown-eyed girl with a boy’s name was in the audience listening.

Joey and I got married in 2002.

Aaron’s wife Jill grew up in the same farmhouse in Illinois her whole life.  She has 4 siblings whose names all begin with letter J… Jeff, Jason, Jeremy and Jamie.  My wife Joey grew up in the same farmhouse in Indiana her whole life and she has 4 siblings also.  Their names are Jody, Julie, Justin and Jessie.

Aaron and Jill’s anniversary is June 15th.  The same as ours.  On his 5th wedding anniversary, Aaron was the best man at our wedding.

While still in medical school in Chicago, Jill was diagnosed with cancer.  After surgery, and many rounds of chemo and radiation, she made a full-recovery and now Jill Carnahan is one the country’s leading functional medicine doctors.

When I called Aaron in May of 2014 and told him that the doctors suspected that Joey had a tumor on her cervix… he couldn’t take any more.  I remember him crying on the phone and saying… “you can’t have this.  This is where it has to stop…”.  That was the one place where the paralleling of our lives was almost too much for him to bare.

Joey and Jill-7383
Joey and Jill-7383

A couple years after Joey and I were married but still long before Joey and I ever even thought of singing together… Aaron called me one night from a movie theater in Peoria.  He said that he had just seen the Joaquin Phoenix/Reese Witherspoon film “Walk The Line”... and that sitting in the theater he had a vision that Joey and I were going to sing together one day and be a very successful singing duo, just like Johnny and June.

I didn’t believe him.

Some time later, when Joey’s music career wasn’t going anywhere and she was working as a waitress and about to give up on her dream…  Aaron and I drove to Best Buy and bought an inexpensive video camera.  We read the directions and over the next couple of days made a homemade audition video for Joey to submit to CMT’s upcoming TV show “Can You Duet”.   That video was how we got on the show and it launched our music career and completely changed our lives.

That youtube video is also how found us and came to make the tv commercials we made with them at our farm.

Looking back now, it’s easy to see that Aaron was helping guide our career, long before he was ever managing us.

Near the end of 2011, we asked Aaron to be our manager.  And so on faith… Aaron left the ministry in Colorado that he was part of and started ‘ministering’ to us and the people around us.  He had no experience in the music business, no experience managing an artist, and knew no one in Nashville really, except us.  But what he had was faith.  And a belief that anything is possible.  Coupled with a desire to help us reach our goals while living an honest and authentic life together.

What we’ve been able to accomplish since Aaron started working with us had been nothing short of amazing.  Though he is technically our manager, he doesn’t really manage us or our career.  Not really.

He just loves us.

Aaron and Indy-2
Aaron and Indy-2

He still lives in Boulder, CO, but is here in Indiana or Tennessee with us almost more than he’s home.  He works tirelessly on our behalf.  All day every day.  He does our booking, negotiates our contracts, handles the press, our schedule and, and, and… and somehow still finds time to answer fan phone calls and emails – people wondering how Joey is doing and how they can help.

Over the last 4 years… Aaron has babysat, mowed our lawn, painted barns, fixed broken sewer lines, grocery shopped, killed skunks, weeded our garden, cleaned our house, and a million other big and small things that have nothing to do with his job – all to help make our dreams come true and our lives better.

Aaron digging-4
Aaron digging-4

A couple years ago he even played the main role of John in our music video for the song “Josephine”.  He also co-wrote and produced the movie Josephine that I directed that will come out later this year.

He is a man of many, many hats.

Aaron and Joey-0442
Aaron and Joey-0442

On our ten-year wedding anniversary, we were on tour in Sweden with Dwight Yoakam.  So we renewed our vows in a 300 year old chapel with Aaron and Heidi by our sides.

Ten year anniversary-6373
Ten year anniversary-6373

And now, here we are in 2016 and Aaron’s still managing… us… our music… and where life has led us.  But mostly I think he’s just doing his best to manage the pain he feels.  He wants so desperately to fix this for us, but he knows he can’t.

We are here because God wants us here.  Aaron knows that.  We all do.

I think he’s cried more tears over what is happening right now than all of us put together. If you’ve ever met Aaron, the one thing you learn right away, is that he doesn’t hold back his emotions.  No one gets more excited… or hurts more for others than he does.  It’s one of the many beautiful giftings that God has given him.

I woke up thinking about him today.  And about the ties that have bound us together.  What an incredible blessing Aaron has been to me all these years, and is to Joey and me now.  There isn’t a moment that goes by that we aren’t thankful for him and all he’s done for us and with us.

Today is my best friend Aaron’s birthday.  He’s 48 years young.  Though he is with his wife in Colorado, and I am with mine here in Indiana… we know his heart is with us, and he knows our heart is there with him.

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Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 12.11.54 AM

Aaron, Joey and I want tell you that we love you more than these, or any other words can say.

Happy birthday my friend.