Sad country swansong
With seats front-row, center at Annie’s Country Jubilee, Robert and Shirley Bowser spent Saturday as they have most for the past 18 years.
“We’ve been coming since Glen (Smith) owned it,” Robert said. “There was five years when we didn’t miss a Saturday. We still come every Saturday except when we have visitors.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do now. We’re going to have to find another place to go.”
The Bowsers and other faithful Annie’s customers learned a week earlier the 400-seat “classic” country music venue would close after the June 2 show. Annie Dunavin, who owned Annie’s with her husband, Terry, since they bought Glen’s Opry in 2003, said it was a victim of the recession, soaring gas prices and the death of many loyal fans.
“We’ve seen attendance decline the last three years,” she said. “We bought this place eight years ago because this was my favorite place to play because they treated guests (performers) so well. Guests still say the same thing.
“We gave the audience quality, family entertainment. They gave us love and respect.”
Shirley Winters, volunteer at the opry and mother of the Annie Country Jubilee Band vocalist Jim Winters, said the love, respect and loss was evident when regulars at the May 28 show learned of the impending closing as they waited to enter the building.
“I saw more tears than smiles, taking tickets last week,” she said. “They just learned this would be the final night.
“Some of those people never miss a show. I’ve known them for years. I’m going to miss them.”
Bill and Silva McCollum of McLouth, regulars since 2004, attended Saturday’s farewell performance with friends, said they would miss the friends they made at Annie’s and its family atmosphere.
“It’s family entertainment for everybody, young and old,” Bill said. “It brings everybody together.”
Silva, who worked with Annie in Lawrence, said the Dunavins had also contributed to the community, noting they had shared a pizza with their friends in Tonganoxie before the show.
Longtime fans such as the Bowsers, McCollums and newer customers such as Nancy and Gerald Hays of Kearney, Mo., also raved about the music played by a band they said was as good as a big-time Nashville act.
“We love country music,” Gerald said. “They have a great band. They just do a great show.”
The music and the atmosphere were inseparable, Dunavin said. She was proud she and her husband remained true to both and passed on bringing in other types of acts or pursuing other revenue sources.
“If you don’t play classic country music, followers of any other music would want alcohol and a place to dance,” she said. “That’s not where we wanted to go.
“I’m proud we decided to shut it down rather than stray from that.”
The closing disappointed her because of her and Terry’s relationship with other performers and the audience but also because of the loss to other Tonganoxie businesses, Dunavin said.
The closing would be felt by restaurants, gas stations and other Tonganoxie businesses, said Tonganoxie Chamber Director Susan McClellan Freemyer.
“It’s closing is going to leave a scar on Tonganoxie,” she said. “It already has.”
She wouldn’t be leaving music with Annie’s closing, Dunavin said. She planned to start doing shows across the country in the near future.
Six members of the house band, who have been together since 1995, will play on together as The Wild Hayride and have regular gigs scheduled for Leavenworth and Eudora.
“We weren’t ready to quit playing together,” Jim Winters said. “We’re already booked through November and December.”
Winters and other band members hold out hope they will play once again at their home for the past 17 years.
That is her hope, too, Dunavin said. She and her husband are open to offers for the building but hope someone would buy it with the intent of keeping it as an opry.
“I would love for this show to go on,” she said. “I would love to come back and perform as a guest.”