The Barn Dance is Back
By LYNDON GERMAN
Feb 13, 2017, 09:54
Image courtesy of Old Dominion Barn Dance: The entire cast of the Old Dominion Barn Dance come together for one last number at the Heniro Theatre.
In late December the Hopewell News was invited to speak with performer, producer and showrunner Donna Meade Dean-Stevens, executive producer of the Old Dominion Barn Dance. The show that captivated the city of Richmond for several years will call the Beacon Theatre home starting March 11.
Meade is member of Virginia’s country Music Hall of Fame and performed with the Old Dominion Barn Dance back in the 1970s. During her career she met acclaimed country music artist Jimmy Dean. The two married in 1991. After Dean’s passing in 2010 Meade has spent the last several years reviving the Old Dominion Barn Dance whose history speaks for itself. Meade recounted the Barn Dance’s past during an extended interview at her Varina home.
The Old Dominion Barn Dance was created in 1946 and was a linchpin of entertainment for the city of Richmond until 1957. The Barn Dance was founded by performer, producer and emcee Mary Workman aka Sunshine Sue. The performance took place at the old Lyric, WRVA Theatre and broadcast in 38 states and Canada.
The Barn Dance broke barriers. Not only was Sunshine Sue one of the the first female radio emcees, The Old Dominion Barn dance introduced acts like Andy Griffith, Chet Atkins, Earl Scruggs, Jean Shepard, Hawkshaw Hawkins, The Carter family, Mac Wiseman, Jimmy Dean.
Before the rise of television and the entertainment industry, the Old Dominion Barn Dance was one of the only sources of entertainment in the Richmond area. Listeners enjoyed the wholesome, high production country acts in what Meade calls the biggest thing of its time.
After halting in 1957, the previous show runner attempt to bring the Barn Dance back in the 70’s and again in the 90s, but had little success.
“The revivals didn’t sustain…, “Meade recalled. “Promoters didn’t know what they were doing or there wasn’t the need for that kind of entertainment at the time. There was more competition with television and night clubs. I don’t know why it didn’t’ sustain but it didn’t.”
“It's been my hope and desire to bring it back for many years because it offered traditional country music, not really what you here on the radio nowadays, but country music that the older folks enjoy that they don’t get to hear on the radio.”
For the past two years the Old Dominion Barn Dance has been held at the Henrico Theater where the show saw a great amount of success. Originally Meade had wanted to book the Beacon but felt the venue was a little too large, but soon the production outgrew the 400-foot Henrico Theater, and the move to the Beacon was the inevitable next step.
“We’re excited about moving to the beacon. It’s got much more amenities then we had,” Meade said. Amenities like a box office, larger dressing rooms, seating and general facilities will aid the production but also the patrons.
“It was my intention from the beginning to have it in a nice theatre and present it in the best possible way, with a top notch production. I think we do that and we have the best local and national stars combined in our shows. “
With the Beacon’s success in booking country music acts and the Old Dominion Barn Dance’s new found fans since its revival they may become the foundation of entertainment it once was in Richmond. Meade believes it can be.
“They’ve done extraordinary well with their country music acts. They do a great job of promoting and advertising and I think they’re a well-oiled machine nowadays and I like that looking forward to working with everyone there.”
Meade hopes her quality production will bring wholesome entertainment to Hopewell community. On March 11 the Old Dominion Barn Dance will showcase guest bluegrass band the Williamson Branch and headliner Ronnie McDowell. After which the Barn Dance will host a show each season with multiple acts.
Meade will also bring Jimmy Dean Music Festival to the Beacon Theatre in Hopewell on Saturday May 13 where country music icon Loretta Lynn will perform.
With all the excitement surrounding the Barn Dance’s revival, Meade believes that the great Jimmy Dean would be proud of her efforts and ecstatic to see its revival. Though Meade has remarried she still lives in her and Deans’ Varina residence and Dean’s final resting place.
Outside of the property is Dean’s mausoleum; a 9 and a half foot granite tomb in the shape of a piano. The epitaph reads “Here lies one hell of a man,” alluding to one of Dean’s songs, Big Bad John.
Like Dean’s legacy, the Old Dominion Barn Dance continues to make its mark. With the leadership of Meade and her team, the Barn Dance lives on.
“This history of this legendary show is bigger than all us…” Meade said, “We know that Hopewell is going to be a good home for us.”
For more information on the Old Dominion Barn Dance visit their website at http://olddominionbarndance.webs.com. For tickets contact the Beacon Theatre at (804) 446-3457 or check their website at http://thebeacontheatreva.com.