You may recognize David Alford for his long-running role as Bucky Dawes on the hit television show, Nashville, or for his role in the Broadway play Little Foxes, but there is much more to Alford than meets the eye.
Alford grew up on his family farm in Adams, Tennessee, where he became an active participant in the Robertson County 4-H Club. During his time in 4-H, Alford participated in public speaking, leadership and agricultural projects, but found some of his biggest successes during his time with The Red River Boys competing in talent projects.
While in the sixth grade, Alford wrote and directed a parody of the TV show Charlie’s Angels and won the county competition.
“4-H gave me my first success in theatre,” says Alford. “I think the biggest lesson I learned from 4-H was the importance of trying new things, making an effort and having the courage to put yourself out there.”
During his time with The Red River Boys, Alford was able to record quite a bit of music and travel all across the South. The group competed in and won the Wild Turkey Battle of the Bands, performed at National Congress for several years and even opened for Jerry Reed at the Statue of Liberty lighting ceremony in New York City.
But Alford says that during his time in 4-H, he learned more from not succeeding than he did from his wins.
“I learned just as much about myself from NOT succeeding in those areas than from successes I had,” explains Alford.
On paper, Alford has done many things and been to places beyond people’s wildest dreams, but he finds some of the most rewarding projects to be the ones that connect him to his home.
“I am especially proud of the plays Spirit: The Authentic Story of the Bell Witch of Tennessee and Smoke: A Ballad of the Night Riders,” says Alford. “In those projects, I was able to combine my love for the place where I grew up with my love of the performing arts. I wanted to give back to the community. Those pieces continue to be presented year after year, and people make the trip to Adams to see them. That’s pretty cool.”
Alford’s achievements both on and off screen are proof of the important role that 4-H can play in helping children hone in and develop their skills and talents.
Q: Where did you grow up and which 4-H club did you participate in?
A: My family is from Adams, Tennessee. I grew up in the 4-H club at Jo Byrns School in Robertson County.
Q: What 4-H activities were you involved in?
A: I started in Public Speaking when I was 11 or 12 if I remember correctly. I had a little success there. And of course there were summer camps before then. But the biggest thing was the talent project, Share The Fun. It’s called something else now, I think. When I was in the sixth grade, I wrote and directed a parody of the TV show Charlie’s Angels. I called it Cheryl’s Devils. It was a pretty silly little skit, but we won the county competition with it. So you could say that 4-H gave me my first success in theatre. Then, in high school, my friends and I formed a vocal band called The Red River Boys to compete in Share the Fun with the goal of going to All-State. We didn’t make it the first year, but we kept at it. The band wound up being fairly successful, which led to some amazing experiences.
Q: What was the biggest lesson you learned from your time in 4-H?
A: That’s a tough question, because I learned so many things. But I think the biggest lesson I learned from 4-H has to be the importance of trying new things, making an effort and having the courage to put yourself out there. I participated in lots of different 4-H projects, some with more success than others. My Leadership and Agricultural endeavors, for instance, weren’t very good. But I learned just as much about myself from NOT succeeding in those areas than from the successes I had. 4-H gave me those opportunities. It was 4-H that gave me the idea that even a kid from a tiny farming community who went to a tiny rural school could have a career in the performing arts. I just had to have the courage to try.
Q: What is the thing you are most proud of in your career?
A: I have been very fortunate to achieve a lot of my career goals. I’ve played a character on a long-running TV show (Nashville). I’ve been in a Broadway show, last year’s Little Foxes. I started and ran a professional theatre company in Nashville for several years. But I am especially proud of the plays Spirit: The Authentic Story of the Bell Witch of Tennessee and Smoke: A Ballad of the Night Riders. Both of those pieces are performed on a regular basis in my hometown of Adams, Tennessee. Both of them deal with local history. In those projects, I was able to combine my love for the place where I grew up with my love of the performing arts. I wanted to give back to the community. Those pieces continue to be presented year after year, and people make the trip to Adams to see them. That’s pretty cool.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to a 4-H student, what would it be?
A: When you encounter setbacks – and you will, everyone does – don’t get so discouraged that you give up. Instead, learn from it. Work the problem, find a way to get around or through it to achieve your goals. Persistence and flexibility are key.
Q: How has 4-H impacted your life even after you graduated from the program?
A: I could make a pretty strong argument that everything I’ve done in my career has been at least partly due to my experiences in 4-H. That’s where I had some of my earliest successful experiences in the performing arts, which gave me the encouragement and confidence I needed to pursue my dreams, and turn them into a career.
Q: Where are some interesting places you’ve been or things you’ve done thanks to opportunities provided by 4-H?
A: In high school, I participated in two 4-H exchange trips – one to Wisconsin and another to Alberta, Canada. Those were eye-opening experiences for a young farm kid from Adams. But the biggest thing would have to be the Red River Boys, which wound up being pretty successful. Lots of recording and performances all over the South and beyond. We won the Wild Turkey National Battle of the Country Bands in 1985 or so. That was a big deal. All that was due to 4-H. It was the whole reason we formed the band. For me, the highlight of that whole experience was being the headline entertainers at the 4-H National Congress in Chicago. There were thousands of really enthusiastic kids rushing the stage. We felt like rock stars. That’s something I’ll never forget.