At Grandma's Country Music, people start entering for the show by 6:45 p.m. It is mostly a regular crowd, says Adelaide Minor, 86.
J.R. Love stepped up to the microphone on Saturday night, and asked one simple question:
“Who wants to hear some Charlie Pride?” Love asks an audience of about 90 people.
The audience replied with loud applause and Love belted out a couple of classic Pride hits including, “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’.”
Thus, another Saturday night of traditional country-and-western music around Mark Twain Lake. Love’s group, J.R. Love and Country Sensation, is the feature for the Cannon Dam Opry, located on the grounds of the Junction at the intersection of Missouri Route 19 and Missouri Highway 154 in Perry.
About 20 miles away, on Route 107 in Stoutsville, Adelaide Minor, 86, has been leading Saturday night performances at Grandma’s Country Music since 1995. She sings and plays keyboards and seems to know all her customers. And it is a family affair, as her son, Mike, who is the Monroe County Presiding Commissioner; her daughter, Sheila Harrison; and her son, Garrett, perform with her.
Love, 64, who lives in Wentzville and has driven a UPS route from St. Louis to Nashville, Tenn., each night for 32 years, performs country music on weekends. He has worked to revive the Cannon Dam Opry over the past two years, completely remodeling the venue. Love performed at the Cannon Dam Opry for 10 years from 1988 to 1998, and was approached by its owners in 2016 to help the revive the aging facility.
Love grew up in Eolia, and attended Clopton High School. Always talented in music, he tried a variety of styles before settling on country-and-western.
“We spent a lot of time up there working to give the opry new curb appeal…it took some paint and we fixed the lights, redid the concession area and just updated everything,” he said.
He says that northeast Missouri is a great location for country music opry venues because there is a loyal fan base for the sounds of country-and-western yesteryear tunes. The audience is mostly older, and moves in synch when the music is playing.
Since the facility has been refurbished, Love says that people in the surrounding community and the lake area are rediscovering the Cannon Dam Opry.
“We have seen a lot of new faces this year,” he said.
At Grandma’s Country Music, people start entering for the show by 6:45 p.m. It is mostly a regular crowd, says Minor. People who attend know what to expect and what they get is a free-flowing evening of music with a steel guitar, some corny humor, sometimes a harmonica and singers who clearly love what they are performing.
The inside of the building is aging a bit, and rather than a modern stage, the singers perform on with a wood-paneled backdrop that might have been found in a small venue in the Tennessee hills 40 years ago.
She said that the idea for Grandma’s was presented by her late husband, after the two traveled to hear their daughter, Sheila, perform.
“He looked at me and said I am going to build an opry,” she said. “My thoughts were that he is retired from the post office, the kids are all raised and we are set to travel…but he was determined.”
Before too long, land that the Minors owned was rezoned from agricultural use to commercial, and in 1995, Grandma’s Country Music opened its doors.
“We are so fortunate to have so many loyal people,’ she said.
During intermission on a recent Saturday night, Minor walked through the audience, talking with people, giving warm greetings to her regulars.
“I have gotten to know people very well over the years, and some of them have passed away,” she said.
Minor has never taken a day of music classes in her life. An aunt owned a player piano, and she would listen and then play the same music on a piano.
“Everyone was amazed that I could hear a song and then play it,” Minor said.
Although they are competitors, both Grandma’s Country Music and the Cannon Dam Opry share some traits. For instance, Coca-Cola products are the hardest thing offered to drink, and both facilities work to maintain a family friendly environment.
But they also share a shrinking market. Their audiences tend to be older, and each draw from 60 to 100 people a show, which is less than half their capacity.
Both Love and Minor hold our hope that younger families will discover their shows.
“We are seeing some younger folks,” said Love.