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End of an era

Friday, June 24, 2011: the day the music died …for Barrhead’s old time country fans. After 28 years, the Barrhead Country Opry is closing its doors, marking the end of an era in local entertainment.

Friday, June 24, 2011: the day the music died …for Barrhead’s old time country fans.

After 28 years, the Barrhead Country Opry is closing its doors, marking the end of an era in local entertainment.

Ill health and age have taken a toll on board members, and with no new volunteers stepping forward, accordions, violins, guitars and voices have been silenced.

The June decision — which has only just been made public — has saddened board members like treasurer Elsie Measures, who believed it signalled a generational shift in attitudes. Young people seem less prepared these days to commit themselves to running clubs and organizations, she said.

There are very few organizations in Barrhead that haven’t got seniors running them. There are some, but not many, she said.

"We are all retiring and a lot of organizations are folding because of the lack of young people stepping forward, " she said.

Tastes have also changed, with younger people preferring rock and modern country music to the old acoustic variety featuring violins and accordions.

"The opry never had professionals. It was a good family show, with people getting together for fun without liquor, " said Measures.

"Latterly we had grandpas and grandmas attending. The audiences were mostly over 70 years old. "

The opry struggled on until June 24 when "hardly anyone was there " and the seven volunteers decided enough was enough — the show had to end for good.

"I had to throw the lunch in the garbage. We made sandwiches, egg salad, ham and coffee, but there was nobody there to eat it, " she said.

The opry used to attract up to 100 people a night, but numbers dwindled by about two-thirds.

The last three or four opries made no money, with the board just about breaking even.

"We have never asked for funding. We have always been self-sufficient, " said Measures.

Violinist Oscar Degen, a regular and long-time player at the Barrhead Opry, said the crowds are just not coming out any more.

"The interest is not there. Young people don’t care for old time country music, " he said.

The 80-year-old, whose repertoire included Life in the Finland Woods and You Are My Sunshine, added that they couldn’t make ends meet because there was too much work. "

Clogger Ruby Hoag, also a former secretary, has been associated with the opry for 23 years.

"There was a real esprit de corps in the group, it felt like a family. We shared a bond, " she said. "Barrhead was one of the first opries in the area and very successful. We had 39 entertainers on one night and had some great times. But as the years go by we get a little bit older and a little bit slower. It’s a shame we have to close, but we can hold our heads up with great pride. "

Measures said the board of directors was grateful to the opry’s early pioneers, as well as countless singers, musicians and other acts like Degen who had graced its stage.

All the sound equipment will be offered for sale.

The opry was the brainchild of Don and Phyllis Donnelly who modeled it after the Coombs Country event they participated in while living on Vancouver Island.

In 1982, shortly after moving back to Alberta they got together with Don’s father Ed, Clifford Holm and others.

The search was on for people who sang, played or otherwise entertained. Audiences were invited to take part and on Jan. 28, 1983, the first opry was held at Campsie Hall before an audience of more than 50.

Among the performers that night were the Donnellys, their daughters Pat, Sheilagh, Kim and Colleen, Clifford Holm, Vern Stocking, Brian Roth, Wilbert Kruschel and Oscar Degen. Bill Duperron was the MC and Roth volunteered the use of his sound equipment. Mike Donnelly became the first sound man.

A few opries were held at the seniors’ centre in Barrhead before it moved to its permanent home at the Legion in 1984.

The first meeting of the Barrhead Country Opry took place in Campsie on March 3, 1983 and the following members were elected: president, Pauline Hillman; vice-president, Rose Nutt; secretary treasurer, Valerie Brinton; directors, Don Donnelly, Freida Nelisher, Bill Duperron and Marion Bendrien. Advertising and public relations was handled by Phyllis Donnelly.

Twenty people paid a membership fee of $2 each. It was decided to have the opries on the last Friday of the month — this was later changed to the fourth Friday — and keep most of the performances acoustic. Entertainers would be admitted free.

Socials were put on for fundraising twice a year and the first one took place at the Legion on April 9, 1983 and continued for a few years.

Opry performers volunteered their talents at major events in the area and the organization donated its profits to many worthy causes.

To mark the opry’s 25th anniversary three years ago, Measures compiled a history of the organization, including the following items of note:

•A record 38 memberships were taken out in 1984, as opposed to nine in 2008.

•Dancing at the opry was initially discouraged because it obstructed the view of the audience. This was later changed.

•Operating of the concession was given to groups for fundraising. They sold bars, chips, pop and doughnuts. In 1995, volunteers took this over and added sandwiches, cakes and other baked goods for sale. In 1997 it was decided to raise admission to $3 and include free lunch, coffee, tea and juice. Performers would still be admitted free of charge and their spouses or partners would only pay $1.

•Fruit baskets were raffled until 1997 when it was changed to a 50/50 draw.

•The sound man was paid to operate equipment until 2001 when it became a volunteer position.

•Janitorial services at the Legion previously charged to the opry were now free. Hall rent has not changed since the opry began.

•In 1998 the opry went smoke free.

•Bank service charges at the treasury bank were discontinued in 1995.

•Awarding of entertainer prizes began in 1995. Previously plaques were given to long- standing performers.

•Stickers with placement numbers are attached to performers’ cards and taken to the MC.