Shelby, NC is where I grew up and where I now live. It is also Miss A’s hometown. For those of you who have not been here, mostly everyone, I will try to paint a picture. It is a town of 20,000, which honestly doesn’t mean much to most people. We have no Starbucks. Does that help? Times being what they are, plus a little harder on this outsourced textile town, we don’t even have a bowling alley and the Blockbuster is about to close. Now I’m sure you get the picture.
But happily this article is not about what we don’t have, but what we DO have. Thanks to the efforts of local unpaid citizens such as Brownie Plaster, we have a gem of a theatre in our town. The Don Gibson Theatre is a 400-seat theater brought to life by members of our town. This project intrigued me. It calls to mind an upscaled version of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney saying, “let’s put on show!” Out of a desire to take our fate as a town into the citizen’s own hands, a few concerned citizens formed a group called Destination Cleveland County. From there, they got down to business, capitalizing on what our town had to offer.
If the name Don Gibson is not familiar to you, let me shine a little light on it. He was a singer songwriter during the evolution of modern country music. He and Chat Atkins produced what is known as the Nashville Sound. He wrote “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” a song recorded by more than 700 artists. He also wrote “Sweet Dreams” famously recorded by Patsy Cline. He is as classic as they come to music fans and wrote hundreds of songs recorded by many artists, from Johnny Cash to Bob Dylan. This musical heritage is what Destination Cleveland County felt should be shared with everyone.
Through many campaigns and a small grant from the state, all the money for this $5.1 million project was raised by volunteers. This maybe done in one night in DC, but it is a huge undertaking in small-town America. I am so proud of the vision, hard work, and downright gumption of the people who can accomplish such a task. I was amazed, but not surprised, to experience the impressive results of all this effort when I attended a show April 10th.
I went online to www.dgshelby.com to choose which show I wanted to attend. The choices were many and varied. There was Grada, an Irish band for St. Patrick’s Day, Bobby Vee, an oldies crooner, Over the Rhine, a duet with a cult following, and then the one I chose, Lizz Wright, a jazz singer. To be honest, I chose her because she seemed to be a good fit for this article and its readers. She is young and very hip and people I know have heard of her. This means a lot if you remember that I am a home schooling mother of six, a virtual shut-in at times. Little did I know how well I chose.
Writing about the show itself is very difficult, because adjectives are powerless to describe the experience at the theatre that night. I had looked Lizz Wright up on youtube and watched her videos, along with others provided on the DGT website. They did not begin to do justice to her live vocal performance. She was flawless, truly. I did not know any of her songs but I understood every word. It was the best live vocal I have ever heard. She was also beautiful to look at, beautifully dressed, and the set design was even beautiful. There is no question that the DGT is able to book top- tier talent.
What used to be a movie theater from 1939 through the 1980’s (I saw the movie Breakin’ there as a teenager) is now beautifully restored. The building is an art deco, posh kind of place. The acoustics were impressive, even to an untrained ear like mine. The intimacy of the setting made for a great exchange between the artist, the band, and the audience. The audience was able to participate in a way that would not work in a different setting. They encouraged her on and danced in the aisles. It was a beautiful experience that I wish I was better at describing.
I asked around and found that people had traveled from all over our state to be there. These acts that the Don Gibson Theatre operators are able to book may not be household names, but they have very loyal fans who will travel far to see them. According to Emily Epley of Destination Cleveland County, The Don Gibson Theatre has sold tickets to customers from states as far as New Mexico and New York, and once sold tickets to customers from Denmark. The economic impact is an ever-expanding ripple in our pond. We may not have a Starbucks, but we do have original, locally-owned shops and restaurants that have reported as much as a 25% up-tick in business on show nights. These are great places that would have been hidden from these customers otherwise. Lizz Wright was enjoying dinner with her band at Pleasant City Woodfire Grill in Shelby’s historic uptown, a few tables away from me and my husband.
Only one week after that show, I was able to attend another show at the theatre. Paula Poundstone was bringing her comedy show to the Don Gibson Theatre and was offering tickets to anyone unemployed in the area. After a simple comment on her Facebook fan page, I was contacted by her “people” and told to go to will-call for my tickets. This was no last-minute purge of unused tickets. Her show was nearly sold out at the time. The theatre was full and we all had a great time with Paula. The size of the theatre contributed to a great connection between audience and performer again. Poundstone had clearly customized her material for the small town, Bible-belt audience, and it paid off. Again, top talent in a great setting.
You can tell I am proud of our town and the community’s ability to rally and do something truly great in scope and impact. I got a new look around at a town that is struggling, but also doing what Americans traditionally do. They dust off and start something new. Besides the new theatre, we have our own coffee shops, farmer’s market, chef-run restaurants and many perks of urban life. For readers in our region, I recommend you take your next drive here. We are located 40 miles west of Charlotte and 60 miles east of Asheville. Go to www.dgshelby.com and pick which show you would like to see. Have a great meal in an uptown restaurant. You can even get a great coffee that doesn’t cost more than a gallon of gas. As we say down here, “Ya’ll come go with us”.