Texas has a proud history of contributing to the American popular music scene, whether you’re talking about hard rock (ZZTop), light rock (Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison), alt-rock (Bowling for Soup), Texas blues (Stevie Ray Vaughn), or punk (the Judys). We’ve even got ties to ragtime, since the great Scott Joplin was born and grew up in Linden, which is near Texarkana.
Of course, most people identify Texas with country music, since that’s where the Lone Star State has arguable made its biggest musical mark. While we’re not going to rival Nashville anytime soon, Texas has contributed a lot of people who’ve gone on to fame there: Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Earnest Tubb, Bob Wills, Tex Ritter*, Jim Reeves, and George Strait spring immediately to mind. Then there are the folkies like Robert Earl Keen and Nanci Griffith, and artists who fit no specific mold but have folksy country roots, including Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett. (And did you know Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen were roommates when they were at Texas A&M? It’s true.)
We even have our answers to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, though at a somewhat reduced scale. I call ‘em Li’l New Oprys. They’re a step up from honky tonks (which are fun in their own way), in that they’re intended to be family venues. You’ll usually find them in the smaller cities, such as Alvin, Crockett, Stephenville, Magnolia, Italy, Desoto, and Temple. The performances are always on Saturday nights, which is a Texas tradition, and some of them do gospel shows on Fridays. Either way, they’re often springboards for talented performers poised to move on to something bigger.
I know of three Li’l New Oprys in the immediate D/FW area: Garland, Wylie, and Grapevine. If you want to stretch the definition of the Metroplex, there are two more in Granbury (northeast of Fort Worth) and Italy (south of Dallas), both of which are about an hour’s drive away from the boundaries of the Metroplex. They’re something to check out if you go out of town in those directions.
I’m most familiar with the Garland Opry, since I used to own a bookstore about a hundred feet away from it in downtown Garland.
The Garland Opry operated continuously for 34 years before Garland Country Music Association president Jaree Brasher, who ran the place, was stricken with cancer about a year-and-a-half ago. She beat the illness, but was forced to close the place down in April 2007 due to financial an personal difficulties. But the show must go on! Recently they found new sponsors and quietly reopened. Heck, I didn’t know they were back until I went downtown on an errand a few days ago. Here’s what the place looks like inside.
They’re not big — they never were — but they’re something of an institution. Lee Ann Rimes got started there, and so did the original incarnation of the Dixie Chicks. You know, before they hired that singer who ticked off most of the nation by running down the Prez in London. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of George W.’s intellectual achievements, but jeez. Anyhow, two of the four ladies in the current Dixie Chicks lineup started out at the Garland Opry.
It costs $10 to get in, with a discount for seniors and the kiddos. Most shows include multiple talents, including the house band and various guests.
I’ve also visited the Wylie Opry, which is located, not too surprisingly, in downtown Wylie, just about 15 miles from Garland.
It’s been active for 24 years now, and was originally the brainchild of local couple George and Clara Riley, though it’s now owned by a gentleman named LeGrant Cable. I don’t know much about them, but I do know that they draw in talent from all over the region, including all the surrounding states. While they can’t boast of famous alumni like Garland (or they don’t, anyway), they’ve got a great house band and maintain a busy schedule of both gospel and country guests (with a little bluegrass thrown in). Adult tickets are $8; tickets for seniors and kids under 12 are $7.
*Who was, no joke, the father of the actor John Ritter. You know — the guy in “Three’s Company” who had to pretend he was gay so he could stay in his apartment with the two girls? Billy Bob Thornton’s gay friend in “Sling Blade”? Yeah, that guy.