On the show, Hannah Montana’s dad was played by what country singer?

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Published February 8, 2024

Duh! is a weekly column that gives circuitous answers to obvious questions. If you dig it, you can find 100 more of these essays in the Geeks Who Drink book, Duh!.

Here’s how fast fame came for Billy Ray Cyrus in 1992:

  • His debut single, “Achy Breaky Heart,” came out on March 23.
  • On May 30, it hit #1 on the country chart, staying there for five weeks.
  • The following week his album Some Gave All hit #1, the first of its then-record 34 weeks atop the country album chart. By July 24–exactly half as much time as Nirvana’s meteoric Nevermind a few months earlier–the album had been certified triple platinum.

“The last time anyone named Cyrus conquered so swiftly,” the L.A. Times quipped, “it was the Sixth Century B.C. and the result was the creation of the Persian Empire.”

All of which goes some way toward explaining why on Friday, July 3, at the dizzying height of his fame, he was gigging at the Midwest Country Music Hall in tiny Crawfordsville, Indiana.1

That same L.A. Times interview noted that small-town touring was not uncommon for rising country stars of the time, but that Cyrus’s manager had suggested canceling some of these smaller shows after his, you know, rising. Cyrus refused: “I feel like I’m still Billy Ray Cyrus from Flatwoods, Kentucky,” he told the Times.

Photo courtesy of Linda Mullens

Speaking to people who remember the Crawfordsville show more than 30 years later, one can see how much that attitude endeared him to his fan base.

“The energy level was fantastic,” Sheila Scott told us via Messenger. “Billy Ray seemed to be enjoying it as much as we did. My sister handed him a rose, and he leaned down and took it with his teeth … never missed a beat.”

“He was BEE-U-TEE-FULL and moved wonderfully,2 and, oh-by-the-way, could SING!” Sue Ann Ford wrote on Facebook. “But… he had a mullet.” (It’s very true.)

“He was amazing and nice when I met him,” wrote Donna Hall, who was a server at the show. The sentiment was backed up by Jonna Booe, a “lifetime fan club member” after the concert, who spoke to the Crawfordsville Journal Review in 2002: “He’s so talented and goes out of his way for his fans, always signing autographs after his shows,” Booe said.

Naturally, Cyrus did go on to play bigger venues; the next year, he was (almost) selling out NBA arenas with an up-and-coming opener named Toby Keith.3 After its country-chart run, “Achy Breaky Heart” peaked at #4 on the Hot 100 pop chart on July 18. It wound up #15 on the year-end chart, behind “I’m Too Sexy,” but ahead of “November Rain,” “If You Asked Me To,” and–oh yeah—“Smells Like Teen Spirit.” By the time Some Gave All lost steam, it had sold more than 9 million copies. Fast-forwarding 27 years, in 2019 Cyrus spent 18 weeks atop the Hot 100 as the featured artist on Lil Nas X’s debut single, “Old Town Road.”

As for his real-life-and-TV daughter Miley, well, we hear she’s doing okay too.

  1. A town of about 16,000, an hour west of Indianapolis, Crawfordsville was the home of Ben-Hur author Lew Wallace, New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz, and–ahem–the writer of this piece… who, lest you wonder, did not attend the concert.
  2. Indeed, before the show the Indianapolis Star wondered aloud if Cyrus was “the next Elvis.” Subjectively we can’t say if he was… but empirically, we can say that Cyrus has lived two decades longer (and counting!).
  3. “We toured together several times around the globe,” Cyrus said in a statement on Keith’s death this week. “He was always the kindest … sweetest gentle giant of an outlaw one could ever hope to entertain and make music with.”