Country Tonite Theatre hosts another season of classic country artists

Mar. 30, 2014 @ 11:48 PM

In April, Country Tonite Theatre will host two performances by Country Music Hall of Fame member Loretta Lynn. Over the years she has performed regularly at the venue, which is at 129 Showplace Blvd.

“We all love the Coal Miner’s Daughter,” said concert promoter Tim McAbee, referring to Lynn’s signature hit about her childhood in Butcher Hollow, Ky. “It’s still exciting to go see this lady.”

With his company, First Class Productions, McAbee organizes the Celebrity Concert Series, which Country Tonite has hosted since 2000. Every year, the series brings legends of country music to the theater’s stage.

In addition to the Celebrity Concert Series, Country Tonite presents its namesake daily show, a revue of country, gospel and patriotic music.

Lynn kicks off this year’s Celebrity Concert Series with performances on Saturday, April 26, and Sunday, April 27.

“They love her,” said McAbee, referring to Country Tonite audiences. “It’s absolutely amazing to walk to the back of theater and observe as she comes out. Not only does she sing those songs – she lived them.”

Also in this year’s lineup: Ronnie Milsap, whose smash singles include “It Was Almost Like a Song,” “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me” and “Smoky Mountain Rain.” He performs Friday, Dec. 5.

“Ronnie Milsap is always an audience favorite,” McAbee said. “He has such a connection to this area, being from North Carolina, just over the border. ‘Smoky Mountain Rain’ is one of our state songs.”

Other performers in the 2014 series include Don Williams (Friday, Oct. 17, and Saturday, Oct. 18); Con Hunley and Jimmy Fortune (Friday, Nov. 7); and the Oak Ridge Boys (Saturday, June 14).

“The Oaks are back,” said McAbee. “That’s a big deal. This band has toured for over 40 years, and they’re better than ever.”

Classic artists like Lynn and Williams still draw enthusiastic audiences, McAbee said.

“One thing that really is special is that we may not to get to hear these folks on the radio now, but we get to hear them sing in person,” McAbee said. “And we get to hear them sing as well as we used to on the radio.”

The country music industry has changed, McAbee noted. “Country is often difficult to tell from pop, and the artists we keep booking are more traditional artists,” he said. “They still deliver amazing shows, and that’s what we’re all about.”

The schedule includes performers whose chart successes began in the 1980s and 1990s, like Mark Chesnutt (Friday, July 4) and Steve Wariner (Friday, July 25).

“Their music appeals to people who come to our shows,” McAbee said of the younger artists. “It’s very traditional. Their music is in the same vein as the folks who paved the way.”

For more information about Country Tonite Theatre and the Celebrity Concert Series, call 865-453-2003 or 800-792-4302, or visit countrytonitepf.com.

kburns@themountainpress.com