Cloud 9 at Peanut Fest

Published 9:50 pm Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sixth-grader Leia Dotson thought this year’s Peanut Festival would be ordinary.

After a day of school at Forest Glen Middle School, Leia went to the celebration on Friday evening with her great-aunt, who volunteered there, and older sister. After a few hours of fun, Leia went to see the Marshall Tucker Band perform.

That’s when it became an extraordinary Peanut Fest for Leia.

Leia’s great-aunt used her volunteer status to get Leia to the front of the band’s performance. Doug Gray, the lead singer of the Marshall Tucker Band, leaned forward and reached his hand down to shake her hand.

Leia reached up to shake Gray’s hand. But before she knew it, he had latched on tightly and pulled Leia straight up onto the stage with him. Gray gave Leia a tambourine and showed her how to play it, and she accompanied the band through the rest of the songs.

“I couldn’t believe that out of 1,000 people out there, I was one of the ones he brought up there,” Leia said. Gray also pulled a younger boy and a man onto the stage with the band.

After the performance was over, Leia stood in the autograph line with the band — even signing autographs — toured the band’s bus, and got a signed tambourine and picture of the band. Gray wouldn’t let her leave his side, Leia said.

“He told me I was going to be his bodyguard for the night,” she said.

Gray even told Leia to stay in touch with him through the band’s social networking sites, and keep him updated on how she is doing in school. Leia is an honor roll student.

“I call her my little star now,” Leia’s grandmother, Juanita Gillis, said. “She was in cloud nine. You could not bring her down the whole night.”

Gillis said many in the family were surprised, because Leia is typically shy and reserved.

“I didn’t think she would go up there,” said Gillis, who wasn’t at Peanut Fest that night. “She cares so much, cares a lot about other people, for something like that to happen to her is just amazing.”

Gillis’ words echoed those of Gray himself, when telling Leia why he had chosen her to pull onto the stage. According to Leia, he told her he noticed she was happy for the boy pulled onto the stage, she was having a good time, and “I looked liked I deserved to be up there with him.”

Ashlin Dotson, 15, Leia’s older sister, saw her sister on stage from far away but couldn’t believe it was her.

“I would have never believed my sister would have gotten on stage,” she said. “I was surprised when she came up with a tambourine and some pictures.”

Leia’s parents were astounded when they heard the news.

“I was just sorry I missed it,” Christine Dotson, Leia’s mother, said. “We were very surprised and happy for her.”

Though the experience was out of this world for Leia, a spokeswoman for the group said it happens regularly at the Marshall Tucker Band’s concerts.

“They do that at a lot of shows,” Liza Sheketoff said. “It’s really important to Doug Gray … he’s very, very involved with his fans.”

Christine Dotson said she felt more celebrities should do nice things for their fans.

“It would be nice if other celebrities would do that for the children.”