She Said: Country Tonite
I grew up in East TN and have been to Dollywood more times than I can count. I’ve seen lots of music shows in theme parks. Watching music shows are usually one of my favorite things about visiting a park because I love watching live performances. I also have vertigo, which makes riding theme park rides difficult. As many times that I have been to the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area I had never been to a show at a free standing theatre. You know, like a musical review or comedy show- I had never been to one before. I’m doing a 101 things in 1,001 days project and going to a show in the Smoky Mountains was one of the things on my list. After much research we decided to visit Country Tonite when we were in Pigeon Forge in May. It was awesome! I’ve got to admit that I didn’t have very high hopes because the shows at Dollywood have waned in receiving my favor in the past few years. I liked it so much that I’ve already purchased a Groupon deal for tickets to go back again. I love Country Tonite.
First of all, I think that they have a good location and good parking. Believe me, if you’ve never been to Pigeon Forge it’s a good thing to have both a good location and good parking. The lobby has a cute gift shop and some neat display cases with celebrity costumes. They have nice concession stand and they actually let you eat in your seat (I hate places that expect you to choke your candy or popcorn down while standing up during a short intermission). The theatre itself is nice. My only complaint is that the seats are a little too close to each other. I really liked their use of sound and lighting equipment. I’m a little sensitive those things being used improperly but they did a great job and I didn’t feel a bit sick. I had a really good time. The show was easy to see and hear, but not overwhelming. The lights were also well designed to enhance the various moods.
The show itself was exactly what I was looking for- lots of great music and some good, clean humor. I was amazed when intermission started because I would have been happy if that had been the whole show. You definitely get your money’s worth on your ticket here!
I was really blown away by the talent. Kevin Wilson does a wonderful job as host! He can really sing! His versions of “This Old Boy” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” were terrific. When he sang “When I Get Where I’m Going” I cried. I totally cried. His voice, that beautiful song and the stunning choreography formed a combination that pierced my heart. Tryphena Layman (who is probably on maternity leave right now) is a great singer, too. I never even liked “Good Girl” or “Baggage Claim” until I heard her sing them. And it turns out I really just like her versions! Country Tonite has a very talented cast!
Yes, this is definitely a country music show. You’ll hear a lot of today’s mainstream country and a good amount of hits from several years ago, too. I was pleased that they also had some classic country music hits (Hank, Patsy, etc) and a whole Johnny Cash section. I was really excited about their bluegrass section. I’m a bluegrass fan so it was a big treat. Their version of “Single Ladies” has had me on a Bluegrass covers on pop songs kick all summer. But, there was one thing that I was very pleasantly surprised about. They included a large section of Christian music! I was so pleased! They actually acknowledged Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior talked about the influence of faith in country music I loved it! It made me so happy to be entertained, spiritually uplifted and given a chance to worship at the same time. They performed hymns and gospel music selections and it really unexpectedly encouraged me.
I enjoyed many of the group numbers, too! “Swingin” was a lot of fun. The section about some of country music’s favorite quartets has had me singing “Elvira” for three months straight. I used to hate that song so much! But, they made it so much fun that I’ve been singing it all over Tennessee and Virginia since we went. The opening of the show is fun and exciting and the finale is touching and patriotic. Of course they also have an awesome rendition of “Rocky Top”! It’s hard to pick a favorite number or even a favorite section. The dancers for the show were all really talented as well. They added both fun and some lovely dramatic expression to the show.
The musicians are all so talented. Jack Mollette’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “Walkin’ The Floor Over You” are wonderful. Their music director “Harmonica Mike” is the best harmonica player that I’ve ever heard! Brad Hudson is a wonderful musician and a fabulous singer, too (I loved “Banjo” and “Jambalaya”). Ronnie Spann did a wonderful job on keyboard and actually finally convinced me to like Tennessee Waltz (a song I’ve loathed my whole existence) and now I listen to al the time.
One of my favorite things about the show was Willow Osborne. She’s an eleven-year-old cutie pie who’s amazingly talented! She’s such a talented singer and banjo player. She definitely held the spotlight whenever she was onstage. Her duet of Orange Blossom Special with Harmonica Mike was so cool!
Chan Mullinax as Bubba the Redneck Ranger was hysterical. I’m still singing some his songs and laughing over his jokes weeks later. I feel like an artist has to work twice as hard to produce comedy today that isn’t blue and I appreciated that this was so much fun. I have to say he’s a really a good singer, too. Don’t let the fact that it’s comedy singing fool you!
The costumes for the show were wonderful, too. I know RJ wants some of Kevin Wilson’s wardrobe, and I thought the girls were well dressed, too. I loved the outfits for “Camouflage” and thought they were especially inventive. They also did a wonderful job of costuming a pregnant performer, which can’t be easy. But, Tryphena had some really chic and cool looks.
I know that some may scoff and claim that it’s not a “Broadway” production or that it’s not a “serious and artistic” show. But, I really thought it was wonderful. Frankly most Broadway productions are too raunchy at this point for us anyway. Country Tonite had a very high production level and felt completely professionally. We also met most of the performers afterward and they were all so friendly and kind. I loved that we had the opportunity to see and support artists who don’t live in NYC or in LA, but who still share their time and talent in performing. Frankly, I’ve seen several professional theatre shows that didn’t contain as much talent or as high level of production values. I had wonderful popcorn, heard some great music, laughed and cried. What more could you want from an evening’s entertainment? I can’t wait to go back again and again!
He Said: Country Tonite
When we vacationed in Pigeon Forge, I really wanted to see a show. It was very difficult to find a show that wasn’t very tacky. Even when I found a few that I thought we could take a chance on, Kari thought they looked tacky. Country Tonite was voted the best show in Pigeon Forge, so we agreed that even if was cheesy it was at least worth a try. I have to say that it was not tacky or cheesy. It was a great night of singing and dancing from underrated performers that I’m seriously surprised aren’t stars that everyone has heard of.
Country Tonite was so enjoyable that I was sad when it was over. They broke the show up into sections for the most part and my favorites were the Bluegrass section, the tribute to Johnny Cash, and the section they devoted to Gospel music. It was all so amazing. In most cases their versions were better than the original.
The show did a wonderful job of adding some visuals to the songs. In short, the dancers were great. I really appreciated that their costumes didn’t expose very much skin, and their choreography wasn’t salacious. The quality of the dancing easily surpassed what you see on any episode of So You Think You Can Dance or comparable professional dancing arena. My favorite number was a dance to the song “Family Man.” It was very moving. The dance to “When I Get Where I’m Going” was also powerfully emotive.
There were three performers that stood out to me above the others: comedian Bubba the Redneck Ranger, child banjo prodigy Willow Osborne, and bandleader Harmonica Mike Caldwell.
Bubba was so funny. Every time he came on stage I couldn’t stop laughing. His comedy songs were awesome. He can really sing too. It takes a lot of talent to be able to sing “badly.” He does a fantastic job. I can’t say too much more without ruining all his jokes. The fun is in not knowing what’s coming next.
Willow’s talent with a banjo is just amazing. I’ve never heard a banjo player of any age that could match that speed and quality. I was blown away. The night we were there I especially liked her version of John Denver’s “Country Boy” and Loretta Lynn’s “You’re Looking at Country”
I love the harmonica. I learned to play a little when I was in high school. I could do two standard blues riffs, and sound like a train, but that’s about it. Harmonica Mike was incredible. He can sound like a whole band with just one little instrument. I don’t think I’ll ever hear a better version of “Orange Blossom Special” than his battle duet with Willow. I met him after the show, and he hugged me and offered me lessons! How cool is that!
I can’t say enough about this show or these performers. They are wonderful. The songs are well chosen, well arranged, well choreographed, and well performed. We’ve watched the DVD we bought of that night’s performance at least once a week. We’ve already got tickets to go back next time we’re in town.