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The worst winter ever was probably '98," recalls Alan Clark. "A Ramen noodles Christmas, for sure." Alan, the eldest of the six brothers who make up The Clark Family Experience, lets out a heavy sigh. That Christmas, with the whole group and their crew stuffed into a small Nashville apartment, seemed like the low point for the group.
Little did they know then that between that winter and 2002, the band would pile up $800,000 in debt and eventually file for bankruptcy. In those four years, the Clarks would win fans, connect with a superstar mentor in Tim McGraw, make a couple of hits - and still wind up deeply in the red.
The reason for their indebtedness remains shrouded in some mystery. "I'd rather not delve into the specifics," says their attorney, J.D. Larson. "But I will say they are not the only culpable ones who caused their current financial situation."
"We were always on the bus, and we weren't very business savvy," explains Alan. "So we didn't always know what was going on back at the office. It was kind of disturbing, but we just kept on going."
But this January, the band realized they had no other option than to file for bankruptcy - which legally relieves the group of their debt. "It was part of our New Year's resolution," Alan explains. "We resolved to turn our situation around, and this was one of the steps we needed to take."
"When the idea first came up," recalls 23-year-old mandolinist Adam, "I had mixed feelings. But I felt like this was the way God chose it to be, so I knew there had to be a light at the end of the tunnel."
Now, says 25-year-old bass player Aaron, "We feel like we have hope for the future. We aren't helpless anymore."
While the guys refuse to ask for financial help from their producer and booster Tim McGraw, their spirits have been lifted by Tim's support - along with that of their family and fans. "So many people showed such major concern for us," says Alan. "That made us feel great."
Things are looking up already for The Clark Family Experience. Their debut album is due in August, they'll be touring all summer - and their hit "Going Away" is climbing the charts.
"And you better believe, we're going to save up over the summer," assures Alan. "Because we're not gonna let the winter of '98 happen again!"
-- Marianne Horner