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Friday, May 6, 2016

Gene Williams returns to the stage

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gene Williams
Before CMT, GAC and Nashville Star, there was the country music legend. He toured. He came to town once, twice if you were lucky. Music Mountain Theater in Horseshoe Bend was such a venue to catch these stars. A glimpse of opry history was captured on the stage of the theater.

The greats -- Mickey Gilley, Dolly Parton, Johnny Paycheck, Tex Ritter, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Porter Wagoner -- they were all there, and all thanks to one promoter, Gene Williams.

In its rebirth the Horseshoe Bend Theater will honor Williams at its September Music on the Mountain, Sept. 19.

Photo submitted When the big Opry acts came to the Music Mountain Theater in Horseshoe Bend, regional crowds grew so big that all the people could not fit in the auditorium, which could house about 600 comfortably. Today, the theater, named Horseshoe Bend Theater, is the home of Music on the Mountain, an Opry show performed every third Saturday of the month.
In the 70s and 80s, the theater would have three or four cinema shows a night. The auditorium could house 600 people with its balcony open. Once every couple of months Williams brought in a big act and it was packed "absolutely," he said.

"We couldn't hold all the people that came to that theatre," he said. "They were all great," he said, noting that Roy Acuff did his last show on tour at the Horseshoe Bend Theater, then Music Mountain Theatre, as a personal favor to Williams.

Williams has always been a promoter. As show host of the "Gene Williams Country Music Show," a nationally syndicated talk show broadcast from Branson, Mo., he carries the flame of country music history, having befriended so many of the iconic artists along the way. Williams is stopping by the Horseshoe Bend Theater on his way to being inducted into the George D. Hay Hall of Fame in Mammoth Spring.

"Everyone I booked in there I knew," he said. "I've been in the business long enough to know quite a few music celebrities."

Williams went to school with Johnny Cash, the iconic opry/rockabilly that sang country blues. Three years behind Cash in school, Williams grew up with him in Dyess, Ark., southeast of Jonesboro. He worked for Cash on the road in the 1960s.

"He was mean as hell," he said "We had a lot of fun."

A ways from its hay-day beginning in the late 1970s, the Horseshoe Bend Theater has come a long way under the direction of the Music on the Mountain project.

Established as a non-profit theater, the doors of the theater open every third Saturday of the month to opry-style music, open to the public on donation admittance. Three years ago as part of the mayoral campaign of Bob Barnes, the current mayor of Horseshoe Bend, Music on the Mountain was founded.

"(Barnes) wanted to do a Friday night singing thing," said Melody Clemmons, MC of Music on the Mountain and lead vocals of its house band. The show was such a success that it carried on well after the campaign, on into the present. Music on the Mountain begins at 6 p.m. and is usually finished by 8:30 p.m.

"When we first started there was a hole in the roof in the back, where there had been a fire. It was in bad array," Clemmons said. Every dime that came in to the theatre went into the theatre, repairing the structure of the building back to a point that it was once again habitable, she said.

After repair to the structure was completed, Williams donated enough funds to the Horseshoe Bend Theater to renovate the back stage dressing rooms. Before the renovation, that portion of the theater was exiled as a no-man's-land, broken and in complete disrepair, Clemmons said.

"(Williams') work was instrumental to getting a head start on repair in the interior of the building," she said. Clemons met Williams at a Horseshoe Bend Founders Day in April 2008.

"It has really blossomed into something," Clemmons said. "I get calls from all over the place from people wanting to come."

The theater is able to seat 320 people on its bottom level. Anywhere from 175 to 250 people attend the Music on the Mountain shows.

"Over the years we have had several local guests, different variety acts -- country, blues, even classical," Clemmons said. "I try to have at least three invited guests. Sometimes, we will feature a band. It's not a jam session type deal. This is a very structured professional show." The public is encouraged to attend and enjoy the various vocals and harmonies.

The artists who participate in the show are not paid, but are allowed to return to the Horseshoe Bend Theatre to perform their own shows, she said.

"We have been fortunate for people to donate enough to keep the doors open," Clemmons said. "Everyone likes to have some place to go for entertainment. In these economic times having something close to home becomes very valuable. We try to keep things so our people have something to come and enjoy without it costing a lot of money."

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