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08 Sep 09 Greenville Prepares to Enrich Its Musical Heritage

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It began with the King Opera House. And coming up in just a few weeks, the city of Greenville will continue its musical heritage with its Rally ‘round Greenville Festival.

The festival will take place September 18-20 in the north Texas town, not far from Dallas.  Ray Wylie Hubbard will headline the big show Saturday night in the auditorium, and Eleven Hundred Springs – one of the most popular Texas bands today – will perform in a free show at the Lee Street Bar and Grill on Friday night.  Lots of music will fill the time during the festival.

As exciting as the upcoming festival and its performers will be, it’s the town’s entertainment history that makes this a logical place to hold such an event.

From left to right: John Philip Sousa, the Four Cohens, John Love Boles

From left to right: John Philip Sousa, the Four Cohans, John Love Boles

Greenville became a hot spot for musical entertainment near the turn of the 20th Century, with the opening of the King Opera House.  Tom King, Greenville’s first millionaire, traveled to New York, saw the acts he liked and booked them himself to bring to Texas. For example, Vaudeville acts preceded John Philip Sousa and his military band, which performed there.  John Boles, a movie actor and singer in the 1920s and 30s, was born in Greenville. He got his start at the King Opera House.

Beginning in the 1930s, the town’s WPA project Municipal Auditorium became the entertainment center, as it remains today. Elvis, Duke Ellington, Van Cliburn, Roy Orbison and others have all performed on its stage. The Dallas Symphony has played regularly in performances for 60 years.

Among those who have claimed Greenville as home include Lefty Frizzell, MercyMe, Ben Kweller and Collin Raye.  Frizzell lived in Greenville about the time he had his breakthrough hit, “If You’ve Got the Money, Honey, I’ve Got the Time.”

To bring things full circle in Greenville, one of the music venues for the festival is Blue Armadillo Winery. It is in the building that housed Tom King’s original bank in the late 1800s.

Greenville Tourism Director Milton Babb is excited about what is going on now in their community.

“Greenville has a rich history in terms of being an entertainment venue,” he said. “Music is now helping us in our downtown revitalization efforts.”

From left: Elvis, Roy Orbison, Duke Ellington, and Left Frizzell

From left: Elvis, Roy Orbison, Duke Ellington, and Lefty Frizzell

Inside the Blue Armadillo, you’ll likely find a jazz or blues group on any Thursday, Friday or Saturday. It is generally a laid back place to have a glass of wine over conversation with friends.  At Lee Street Bar and Grill, they have an outdoor stage featuring Texas Country artists or a blues group. The energy level there is a little higher and they bring in people from all over this area of the state. On select weekends, you may also find music or a variety show at the Municipal Auditorium or a performance at the Stonewall Music Hall. The Stonewall Music Hall is housed in a 1925 Egyptian Revival Style building that is a former mortuary. As they say down there, people are still dying to get into it!

Greenville is home to Mary of Puddin’ Hill, where they make chocolate, fruitcakes and other award-winning confections, including Habanera Peanut Brittle. Visitors can tour the chocolate factory, where they have an assembly line identical to the one in the famous “I Love Lucy” episode. Visitors also come from around the world to see the Audie Murphy/ American Cotton Museum. Hunt County native Murphy was the most decorated soldier of World War II who went on to a successful acting career.

“If you bring people into your town with music, food and fun for the kids, you can’t lose,” said Babb. “Add to that the small town charm of our historic downtown, and I think you have the beginnings of something great.”

The festival itself promises to be a lot of fun.

“The Threadgill Concert on Saturday night features Hubbard, Radney Foster, Walt Wilkins and Brandon Rhyder in what we’re calling an ‘all-star guitar pull,’” said Babb.  “Having that level of creative talent on the same stage at once generates some great moments for the audience. They are going to be surprised at the intimacy they will feel with the artists in our Municipal Auditorium. It has great acoustics, and is a more relaxed setting where you can really hear the nuance of music.”

Sunday’s activities include the Bluegrass and Gospel Fest at Johnson Street Smokehouse Barbecue.

In addition to the two main performance areas, Stage One – on the Hunt County Courthouse Square – will highlight Greenville’s local talent.

Babb commented, “Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles can come to see the kids perform. You may have dancers followed by a band followed by an animal act. You get the whole spectrum of talent from the community.”

For those looking for non-musical activities, there will be plenty of them. A bicycle competition will bring more than 1,000 cyclists into downtown. Add food, arts and craft vendors, along with sidewalk sales all over the historic downtown area, and the ingredients will exist for a great family getaway weekend.

For more information on the festival, or on Greenville in general, visit www.greenvillechamber.com or www.greenville-texas.com.

In addition, organizers have put together a commercial for their event, and have posted it online. It can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adsWQC557HU. The second can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNj_y4RIgHc.

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