WEDDING BELLE

Trick Pony lead singer Heidi Newfield survives a traumatic few months, a lost dress and some nasty weather to marry the man of her dreams.

"I actually heard the words 'my husband' come out of my mouth for the first time recently, and it was the coolest thing!" says Trick Pony lead singer Heidi Newfield in describing a new phrase in her vocabulary since taking wedding vows on a Florida beach June 6. "It's a really wonderful feeling."

Yep, Heidi's definitely all smiles since she and the man of her dreams, Bill Johnson, a partner in an Atlanta sports agency, tied the knot in front of about 200 family and close friends in Destin, the place where the couple met more than two years ago. And the timing couldn't have been more perfect - Trick Pony's new single just happens to be "The Bride," a lighthearted look at a wedding that's decidedly less than perfect!

But while Heidi's on cloud nine now, she's encountered some major storm clouds recently - literally, during and after the wedding, as well as figuratively in the months leading up to it. "It's been a bit of a dark year for me personally," she declares quietly.

And the darkest time was the death of her mother, Mary Ann Henthorn, who lost a long battle with multiple sclerosis on Feb. 22. Heidi found out about her mother's passing just before Trick Pony did a show in North Dakota, but somehow rose above the grief to put on her usual high-energy performance.

The band also went through a recent change of record labels, which can be traumatic even in the best of circumstances.

But through her personal heartache and professional stress, Heidi saw the prospect of life with Bill as a light at the end of the tunnel. "There are finally some really bright, happy things for all of us to focus on, especially me," she smiles. "We've been very blessed."

For a time, though, it looked as though Heidi would have to get married in her white bikini and wraparound skirt. Her gown, by designer Anne Barge, failed to show up in Nashville as planned, to be altered and forwarded to Heidi in Florida.

"I wouldn't wish that on any bride to be," declares Heidi. "It was a very stressful time. We had never lost anything via Fed Ex. They've always been very reliable. So when I first heard the box was missing four days before the wedding, I didn't freak out too much.

"I thought, 'OK, they'll find it.' But when it wasn't there by Thursday evening, I finally cried on my fiance's shoulder and said, 'This shouldn't happen. I want my grandchildren to see these pictures ... and their grandchildren.'

"This dress was special to me. I picked out the vintage jewelry, and everything was so perfect. And everything - the veil, the scarves that were dyed to match my bridesmaids' dresses, the ridiculously expensive Jimmy Chu shoes that I fell in love with - was in that box that was gone.

"Then I sort of snapped out of it and realized, 'Hey, I've got the most important part of my wedding licked - I've got the right man. And he's not goin' anywhere.' And Bill just said, 'Don't you worry. Everything's gonna turn out fine.' "

While the original dress and accessories never did make it to Florida, the designer came to Heidi's rescue and helped resolve the situation. "I got the only other dress that was just like the one I'd bought," explains Heidi.

And this time, the dress was driven to Florida and hand-delivered to Heidi's hotel.

It arrived Saturday morning at 6 a.m. and, after several fittings, it ended up being perfect. But the Sunday sunset wedding was even better, in spite of the ominous clouds gathering in the Florida sky.

"Because we're so fortunate to have great family and friends, the wedding grew to where we both were having a party of 10," explains Heidi. "Mine included my older sister, Kelley Parsons, who I was very, very proud to have stand up for me as matron of honor.

"Then I also had something kind of unique on my side. I had my two Trick Pony partners, and two of my dearest friends ever - Keith Burns and Ira Dean - stand up for me on my side, too. Only they didn't wear dresses! They were dressed in classic tuxedos and they looked like a million bucks - well, at least $750!"

Heidi called upon a cousin, a niece, her manager, fiance Bill's sister and a couple of good friends to round out her side. Bill's best man was his longtime friend Ray McDonald, and his groomsmen included his business partner, several friends and NFL football players Keith Brooking, Marcus Stroud and Charles Grant.

While Heidi's biological father, Victor Newfield, attended the wedding, she chose to have her stepfather, Bill Henthorn, walk her down the aisle.

"I've always loved Brad Paisley's song 'He Didn't' Have to Be,' " she explains, "because that's kind of the story of my stepfather. He has raised me since I was about two years old.

"I have a relationship with my dad, and everybody's amicable. But I chose to have my stepfather walk me down the aisle because he's the one who took me to my high school rodeos. He took me to my basketball games. He was the one who was there. He did all the fatherly things that any child would hope their daddy would do."

As Heidi walked down the aisle to the music provided by Trick Pony band members Todd Woolsey on acoustic guitar and Daniel Blank on violin, she carried a handkerchief given to her by her mother-in-law, Ann Paul Johnson.

"It belonged to her mother," declares Heidi, "who also owned and wore the ring that I wear - for almost 55 years.

"I'm very fortunate to be able to say - and I'm not just saying this for the sake of being the proper daughter-in-law - how blessed I am to have this woman in my life. She's amazing. I feel like my mom is smiling down on Ann and me because we have a new relationship and new friendship that I know my mom would be very proud of.

"In my mother's honor, I carried her favorite flower, a long-stem yellow rose, and placed it in a vacant seat. It was very bittersweet. I've never felt my mom's presence more strongly than at the wedding, and onstage - the night she died."

The ceremony was marked by a couple of high points - one touching and one humorous.

"When Bill said his vows to me," recalls Heidi quietly, "it could not have been more heartfelt. And that's when my heart stopped and I said, 'Thank you, God, for all of this, for all of these people ... and for this man.'

"After the ceremony, Ira and Keith came to me and said it was one of the most touching moments they had ever shared. They were both drawn to tears - all of us were."

On the other end of the sentiment spectrum was the release of two symbolic white doves just before the bottom dropped out of the clouds and a pelting rainstorm erupted. Heidi had encouraged the minister, David Amason, to have a little fun with that moment - and he took her up on it!

"Before Bill and Heidi release the doves," the reverend said during the ceremony, "they tell me we've got quite a few hunters here today. So, as Jeff Foxworthy might say, if you whip out a shotgun to shoot the doves released at a wedding ... you might be a redneck."

But the fun didn't stop there.

After the ceremony, says Heidi, "somebody in my family came up to us and commented on the pigeons we released. And we laughed and said, 'What do you mean "pigeons"? I paid for doves!'

"But we found out they were white carrier pigeons that looked like doves! So there you go - if that's not perfect, I don't know what is: Bill and me releasing a bunch of pigeons."

She laughs. "But nobody raised their shotguns!"

-- Story by David Scarlett

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