JOSH'S BIG DAY

Josh Turner returns a hero to his South Carolina hometown.

Josh Turner stands behind a lectern at the city-county civic center in Florence, S.C., overwhelmed as he receives a proclamation declaring today "Josh Turner Day." Even though his debut album, Long Black Train, just went platinum, and he earned a Top New Artist nomination at the upcoming ACM Awards, the 27-year-old can hardly believe his hometown is making such a fuss. "It's like being in a dream!" says Josh later in a deep, commanding voice that belies his youth. "I can't believe that they're doing all this for me. Not that I'm not thankful, but it just doesn't seem real." It's the perfect capper to a day on which Josh is visiting several of his boyhood haunts in and around Florence, a city of about 30,000. Hours earlier, Josh steps into the place that satisfied his early hunger for music, and stoked the dream that brought him to fame. "It's called the Olde Junque Shoppe," says Josh with a smile. "They had everything you could imagine-antiques, furniture. And they sold records." He grins and adds, "There was an old guy running the place who really knew his stuff when it came to music. I bought a lot of my first albums, like Randy Travis' Storms of Life, there." Josh then makes his way to another musical hot spot, radio station WEGX. "That's the one I grew up listening to," Josh recalls. "And it's where I heard 'Long Black Train' on the radio for the first time." Josh enters the station, where he's met by morning DJ Randy Carpenter, better known to his loyal listeners by the colorful name Mudflap. "Hey, brother!" Josh exclaims as the two shake hands. "You ready for some help?" Josh is rolling up his sleeves to play DJ for a day, briefly taking over the morning show by spinning tunes and taking listener calls. Local folks phone in by the dozen to offer congratulations. "That was fun!" says Josh when his DJ shift is done. "The support you get from the people in this town is just amazing." Most of the town folks remember Josh as a baseball and track star at Hannah Pamplico High School, which is where he's headed next. Josh- class of 1996-relives the glory days with one of the school's coaches, Mack Dixon. "Coach Dixon is one of the people who had a big influence on me," he says. Josh was actually born and raised in the farming community of Hannah, S.C., but spent much of his youth about 30 miles away here in Florence, the nearest big city. Now that he's a rising star, Josh and wife Jennifer have made Nashville home. But he'll always remember his Carolina roots and the special day that his hometown set aside for him. "I left Hannah physically," says Josh, "but it's never out of my thoughts. To have something like a Josh Turner Day makes me appreciate home more than ever."

- BOB PAXMAN

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