Surely you saw the photos.  In the two weeks leading up to the arrival of Kinky Boots at the RiverPark Center in downtown Owensboro, I shared photos of myself wearing those fierce red boots at popular places around town.  Those photos were shot over two days  and the experience is one I, nor my feet, will never forget.  Nor is the raucous standing ovation that occurred at the conclusion of the performance of the musical last Wednesday night.  And, when I say the ovation for the Kinky Boots cast was "raucous," that may be an understatement.  The applause was immediate and thunderous.  Yes, our town . . . Owensboro, Kentucky . . . where protestors once stood outside the RiverPark to rage against a production of the musical Rent, where, back in 2005, protestors stood in front of the Malco Cinema 16 to rally against the movie Brokeback Mountain . . . embraced a musical about a drag queen, whose personal and heartfelt identity struggle inspired another man's son, a shoe maker, to dig deep and find his own place, way and identity in the world.  That's right.  An absolutely packed RiverPark Center jumped to their feet to applaud THAT story!

If you weren't there, I wish you could have been.  First of all, I have to commend the cast of the touring company.  I had already seen Kinky Boots on Broadway with the fantastic Wayne Brady as Lola.  I was a little worried that the road company would pale a bit in comparison.  But they absolutely rocked it out.  They laid their voices, hearts and Kinky Boots-clad feet on the RiverPark Center stage.  They were tremendous.

But more tremendous was the way in which our local crowd embraced this story. Keep in mind.  It was Spring Break week and RiverPark staff was a bit concerned, rightfully, about potential crowd size, given the fact that lots of folks were out of town.  But Cannon Hall was PACKED.

If you're not familiar with the basic story line of the show, here's the nutshell version.  Charlie Price inherits a shoe factory from his recently-deceased father.  He quickly learns that he's not his father and struggles to keep the factory afloat.  That is until he meets a drag queen named Lola, who, as you can imagine, has "daddy issues" of his own.  Inspired by Lola's rather unorthodox ideas, Charlie's factory starts manufacturing "Kinky Boots".  But at the center of the story is the relationship between these two men- Charlie and Lola.  They are both struggling with being their fathers' sons and the constant fear of not measuring up.  It's a powerful story that highlights the universal struggle between parental expectations and personal identity.  Who our parents want us to be rarely meshes, completely, with who we are.

I have been very honest about this before.  When I moved back to Owensboro from San Diego, California, I was only going to be here temporarily.  I had gotten into graduate school at NYU in New York City and was Big Apple-bound.  And even though I was going to be here for a just a couple of months, I didn't want to be.  I remember standing at a pay phone outside a hotel in Colorado.  I was on the phone with my parents . . . sobbing . . . because I did NOT want to come home.  I didn't want to be back in Owensboro, where "everybody was the same."  That ride home was torture for me.  In fact, I have tears in my eyes as I type this because I just went back to that night and those feelings.  I can feel it like it was yesterday.

But that night was over two decades ago.  Those feelings are long gone.  See, I didn't leave.  It wasn't that bad after all.  In fact, we've come a long way, Baby!  Here's the perspective.  Just a couple of weeks ago, I got to the opportunity, in Owensboro, Kentucky, to partner with the touring company of a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical and participate in a really fun publicity campaign that put me in a pair of kick-ass Kinky Boots all over town. I also should tell you that it's quite rare (maybe even unheard of) that Kinky Boots would partner with a country music station for such a campaign.  But the idea was to bridge the gap.  To bring all these "boots" together.

Kenneth King/Dream Copy Photography

And we did it.  With just a couple of exceptions, no one really batted an eye.  I mean, sure, there were a bunch of double-takes and giggles.  How could there not be??  But I took more selfies with people that I can count.  I got private Facebook messages from men who wanted to know where they could get a pair for their wives or girlfriends.  And I had guys (many you would never imagine) confess they wanted to try the boots on.  And why not?   They were fun!  They were fantasy.  And they were different.  And different, by golly, is actually okay.

I debated about whether to share the story that has stuck with me the most.  But I think I have to for the purpose of this reflection.  When Kenny King (who took the amazing photos for this campaign) and I arrived at Smothers Park, I immediately noticed a family on the playground.  I had parked just across the street from the concrete trees and main playground entrance.  Needless to say, when the first Kinky Boot flew out the truck and hit the street, the family immediately took note.  Man in high heels!  Stranger danger!  Stranger danger!  I had driven to the park with the boots on, but they were not completely laced into place.  So, naturally, I turned my back to them as I laced them up.  I mean, I learned very quickly that day how to be a lady.  LOL.

I heard the young boy ask, "Mom!  Mom!  Why is he wearing high heels?"  I turned over my shoulder and said, "Hang on one second!  I'll be right there and I'll explain what's going on."  A moment or two passed, because I was STILL lacing (it took forever).  Then I heard the young man proclaim proudly, "Mom!  Mom!  I want to wear high heels."  At that moment, there seemed to be an orchestrated effort to go to a different area of the park QUICKLY.  Needless to say, I didn't get the chance to explain the situation because the young man was immediately removed from it.

Of all the encounters during the shoot, that one stuck. For a variety of reasons obviously.  Did I have flashbacks to myself at that age?  Abso-freaking-lutely.  I would have been enthralled if I saw those boots hit the playground at Thruston Elementary School.  LOL!  A bunch of my classmates would have been all over it too.   But that's not it.

I did have some absolutely hilarious exchanges that day with other kids and families at the playground.  One mom said, "I don't know how you're walking in those!"  One dad looked me, shook his head and laughed.  Another couple was videoing me and rolling as I was barreling down a tornado slide in those things.  But that particular young man was denied the opportunity to laugh or interact with me.  He was denied that opportunity because of the preconceived notions his parents had about me and those boots.  And those assumptions they carried were the farthest thing from reality and truth. And that, my friends, is a shame.

However, after reflecting on that situation, it occurred to me that I am just as guilty of making assumptions that may or may not have been true.  I think I know why the boy's parents dragged him away.  But maybe what I think isn't the truth at all.  Maybe they actually didn't drag him away.  Maybe they just wanted to go see the fountains?  How can I expect an open mind in that situation if I haven't afforded them one in return?  Of all the experiences and exchanges I had that day, that's the one I want back.  That's the one learning moment that got away from me . . . and from them.  That's the one bridge that failed to get built.

You know, we used the hashtag #JustBeOBKY for the duration of the shoot and campaign.  "Just Be" is the finale song of the musical and rightfully so.  The whole message of Kinky Boots is to just be yourself and let other people be themselves.  When you do that, we, together as people, accomplish tremendous things.  Truly, we can accomplish ANYTHING.  In the story line of the musical, Charlie and Lola, for example, accomplish greatness in the world of shoes and fashion.  Their Kinky Boots storm the runway at a fashion show in Milan.  That would not have happened without them achieving a mutual understanding, friendship and respect.

Last Wednesday night, here in Owensboro, we accomplished something pretty tremendous too.  We accomplished that understanding and respect.  We accepted the challenge of #JustBeOBKY.  And I can tell you that the moment was felt by nearly everyone in Cannon Hall.  Here are some reactions shared on social media:

Mary-Katherine Maddox wrote: I cried the whole curtain call. What a fabulous show and a fun audience to have been a part of. The way this crowd embraced this story... well I’m glad I wasn’t wearing my lashes!

Judy Adams wrote: This was a great show! Energized and uplifting. Thank you River Park Center!

Brad Youngman wrote: My beautiful wife Brook Youngman and I saw “Kinky Boots” tonight at River Park Center and LOVED it!  What a great show.  We always love seeing shows at River Park and tonight was no exception.

Brad's right.  It was a GREAT show.  And the RiverPark Center crowd, which was represented by virtually every age group and social demographic, rose to their feet and roared when the cast took their curtain call.  As Mary-Katherine stated, "The way the crowd embraced this story . . ."

Yes, without a doubt, Owensboro embraced the story and the cast deserved every moment of that standing ovation.  But, Owensboro, you know what?  You deserved it too.  Bravo!  By golly, different IS okay.