In order for any art form to survive, there must be generations willing to pass on the traditions, thankfully for country music, in Arlington, Texas in a restored theatre, there is no shortage of people willing to share the roots of country music weekly in their live country music revue show every Saturday night. The Arlington Country Music Revue, has some pretty solid roots of its own, its beginnings being established in the 1970’s a few miles away in Fort Worth, Texas with the legendary Johnnie High Country Music Revue. Johnny purchased the former movie theater in Arlington in 1994, making it the permanent home for his highly successful weekly production.
The show’s alumni includes such notable names as LeAnn Rimes, Steve Holy, Lee Ann Womack, Gary Morris, John Anderson and Box Car Willie. Most recently Baylie Brown has been short listed on this season’s American Idol.
Seating 1200 patrons, the venue has been painstakingly restored to capture the ambiance of the venue’s heyday. A new addition to the theater, however, is the hospitality room where patrons and performers alike gather before, between and after the show to mingle or grab a bite to eat from the snack bar or Babe’s restaurant next door.
Emceed by the affable Michael Hix, the three hour revue has the feel of a small town Opry show, with the evening kicking off recognition being given to the birthdays of audience members. It’s as if everyone is family, and the lines between performers and audience are blurred so that everyone feels right at home.
Every performer is backed by the venue’s stage band, The Superpicker Band and its no stretch to guess how they came up with their name. Each and every one of them are fine musicians and artists in their own right from Ron Jones on bass who has backed the great Charley Pride to Dale Morris. Jr who tours with Ray Price when he takes his show on the road. Steel player Maurie Anderson is in the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame and Kevin Bailey is a member of the Light Crust Doughboys. Ron Jones #2 (yes there are two band members with the same name) is a versatile addition to the band, and plays saxaphone, flute and guitar as needed.
I’d be hard pressed to pick only a couple of highlights from the evening, because there was one memorable performance after another taking the stage. John Sharp and Krista Bailey kicked things off respectively with Buck Owens’ Act Naturally and Patsy Cline’s Back in Baby’s Arms. Jon Rutherford performed two new original songs, including one that contained a timely message titled Love Makes the World Go Round. The remaining versatile cast, a mix of regulars and special guests, pay homage to some of country music’s most endearing legends. The high spirited, raw talent was obvious as sixteen year old Kaylea Harris took to the mic, making her debut on the show, belting out Loretta Lynn’s You Ain’t Woman Enough and Waylon Jennings’ Good Hearted Woman. I couldn’t help but think while I was listening to her that she’s going to go far in this business and some day she’s going to be singing these same on a much larger stage.
Bill Brooks had audience members on their feet after a powerful and emotional performance of Alan Jackson’s I’d Love You All Over Again and Dave Keys sang standards from the back catalog of such endearing legends as George Strait and Lefty Frizzell.
Manuel, a Nashville based designer, who has been behind such notable stage costumes as Johnny Cash’ the “Man in Black suit, and Elvis’ gold lame jumpsuit, also created the white stage costume of the evening’s next performer, Burk Collins. He paid homage to Hank Williams They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me and Standing in the Shadows, a song penned by Hank Williams Jr. about his infamous father. Burk’s connection and commitment to the revue goes deeper than his on stage performances. He and his wife Jean, own and operate Center Street Station, which includes The Arlington Music Hall and the Country Music Revue and adjoining buildings.
Hailing from Sulpher Springs, Texas, Monty Tipps took the stage next. Monty works full time as a Detective Sergeant for the community’s police department and spends his off time spending time with his family and singing real country music. The Arlington Music Hall is pleased to welcome him when he’s able to fit them into his busy schedule and the reason was clear as soon as he began his song selections. He took command of Whisperin’ Bill’s Walk Out Backwards and followed up with Ronnie Milsap’s The Girl Who Wait on Tables.
Clancy Davis made his revue debut singing a couple of standards from Merle Haggard and George Jones. I am certain of two things. One – if I closed my eyes I could have sworn that the Hag and Possum were on stage themselves and secondly, gauging by the response from the audience and fellow performers, this Oklahoma native will be extended a return invitation.
You’d think that everything I’ve told you so far would have been a great evening of country music – but wait. That’s only half of it — literally. After a brief intermission there was more great music to be heard from the bluegrass twang of Krista Bailey to the polished vocals of Ginny Lynn. Mike Stewart brought many smiles to the faces in the audience with a rousing, spirited rendition of the George Jones hit I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair and captured the house’s full attention with Jack Greene’s Statue of a Fool. The show’s emcee took his turn center stage proving that his gift for gab is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his talent. He easily made his way through Blake Shelton’s Don’t I Matter Anymore and Vince Gill’s Don’t Let Our Love Slip Away. Ginny Lynn made a second appearance and sang the Harlan Howard classic Pick Me Up on Your Way Down and Burk Collins and Monty Tipps teamed up to tackle the Jones/Haggard hit Born With the Blues.
The evening ended all too soon with Clancy Davis and Dave Keys returning to the stage. Clancy had the crowd revved up with Louisiana Saturday Night and Tennessee Whiskey while Dave turned the fire down a notch, and left everyone feeling mellow, closing with Conway’s Hello Darlin’ and Josh Turner’s Your Man.
As the crowd filtered out I saw smiles on the faces of everyone from the very young, to the not so ready for the rocking chair yet set. Thanks to the Arlington Music Hall and it’s Country Music Revue, its safe to say that the tradition continues.
Upcoming shows in 2012, in addition to the regular Saturday revues:
April 13th – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
April 27th – George Jones
May 26th – Bryan White
September – Marty Stuart