There is never a question as to whether Neal McCoy will put on a high energy, unpredictable show at Jamboree In The Hills.
On Sunday, that unpredictability gave 12-year-old Spencer Lay a once-in-a-lifetime chance to not only meet McCoy, his hero, but also stand on stage while tens of thousands of concertgoers cheered him on.
For Spencer and his family, the path to Sunday started several months ago.
Photo by J.W. Johnson Jr.
Above,Neal McCoy holds 12-year-old Spencer Lay Sunday during McCoy’s performance at Jamboree In The Hills.
Diagnosed with a rare genetic disease that resulted in birth defects and developmental delays, Spencer has undergone nearly 30 surgeries. Doctors told Spencer's parents Jennifer and Travis to help Spencer enjoy life while they can.
After watching McCoy perform on television at past Jamborees, Spencer wanted to meet his hero. Travis and Jennifer penned a letter to McCoy, explaining the situation and how important music was to Spencer, who has trouble speaking and difficulty using his hands. Music, they wrote, is the one thing that seems to let Spencer briefly break away from the condition that restricts him.
By Wednesday they had not yet heard anything. That's when family and friends of the Shadyside family sprang into action, bombarding McCoy's social media pages with requests for the meeting.
"It was sort of a last ditch effort," Jennifer said of the campaign.
On Friday while the family sat in the waiting room at the hospital for what has become a routine checkup, the Lays' cell phone rang, showing a restricted number. It was McCoy, and he asked to speak to Spencer.
"(McCoy) was so accommodating and nice, and Spencer was so excited to hear the news," Jennifer Lay said.
On Sunday, Spencer and his family were at the Jamboree site bright and early to meet McCoy. Spencer gave McCoy a bracelet and necklace, and McCoy signed autographs gave the Lays a tour of the backstage area.
While they planned to spend the afternoon listening to the rest of the performers, the unpredictable McCoy had other plans. When he took the stage to close out the four-day festival, Spencer was sitting at the side, smiling and cheering.
McCoy wasted no time pointing out Spencer, picking him up and bringing him to the front of the stage while the crowd roared.
Many of those in the front row sported homemade signs thanking McCoy for his generosity, while others held signs in support of Spencer.
Throughout the set, McCoy turned to Spencer to make sure he was having fun.
The day culminated when McCoy brought Spencer back to center stage to hold an American flag while McCoy sang "The Star Spangled Banner," one of Spencer's favorite songs. Spencer left the stage to a thunderous applause as McCoy dedicated his song, "I'm Your Biggest Fan" to him.
McCoy's performance put a cap on a rainy and hot festival, which saw a record-setting crowd Friday night.
Also performing Sunday were Matt VanFossen, Aaron Tippin, The Oak Ridge Boys and Sammy Kershaw.