By Debbie Hall
Before the first note of the Patrick County Music Association’s Christmas Show is played, a majority of the 2020 slate of performers is already set, according to Denny Alley, organizer.
The Christmas Show, to be held on Saturday, Dec. 14, will feature the Chords of Faith at 5 p.m., Mike Hall at 6 p.m. and the Country Boys at 7 p.m. Doors at the Rotary Building, 420 Woodland Drive, Stuart, open at 4:45 p.m.
Concessions will be available and donations are welcome, Alley said.
“The Christmas Show is our last one for this year. Next year, we’re going to try something new every few months,” said Alley, before sharing a partial list of the shows already set for 2020.
“Sammy Shelor and six other banjo players will play at our January 25th show,” Alley said. “The Foddrell Blues Show will be in March. Kenny Smith will headline the first ever Guitar Festival in April. We hope that will be an annual thing. In August, fiddle players and in November, mandolin players” will be featured.
“We’ve been doing the PCMA for 17 years now. I think it was August, 2002 when we held our first show,” Alley said.
The monthly PCMA shows provide an outlet for performers and entertainment for local residents, as well as attracting out-of-towners, he said.
“Regardless of what people think, we do have tourists, and they say they feel like they’re in Mayberry” while visiting the area, Alley said. “Music is a common thread. Everybody likes some kind of music. I hope in the future music will be recognized by officials in our area as part of the reason to get people to visit. I think music will be the center of tourism in this county.”
PCMA shows are successful because of the large pool of talented musicians.
“There is so much talent in this area. Many people you find play in the public, but you know that’s only about half of the talent in this area. That means about 50 percent in this county are still waiting to be heard,” Alley said.
In addition to the PCMA, Alley also showcases musicians in his café, the Coffee Break.
“Whether you write it, play it or listen to it, music is a major stress reliever for a lot of people, and we have a lot of deep roots in this area,” Alley said. “Music still runs pretty deep in this area.”
Photos of various musicians adorn many of the walls there. It still is a hot spot for rehearsals and the live music featured there on Tuesdays from 8:30 to 11 a.m. still draws a crowd and musicians from all over. On a recent Tuesday, Nathan Aulridge, a fiddler with Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, traveled several hours to entertain in Stuart.
An accomplished guitarist in his own right, Alley recently participated in Guitar Summit 2019, hosted by the Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Arts & The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, in partnership with American Evolution™. The event was designed to celebrate the guitar’s role in Virginia’s history.
“I thought it was quite an honor to be invited to play. Anytime I can represent this area, I’m happy to do it,” Alley said, but chances are, he doesn’t even recall when he first picked up a guitar.
What he does remember is traveling with his father in the family’s Ford Falcon to downtown Winston Salem N.C. for guitar lessons.
He recalls another trip to Resnick’s Music Shop, circa 1963, and also in Winston, to buy a better guitar.
Before that, Alley played a guitar that cost $15. Because the strings on the neck head were so thick and so high, his fingers often bled when he practiced.
“If you’ve got a good instrument, you may play more, but when you were looking at a Gibson guitar in the store that cost more than your car,” it was difficult to justify the purchase.
When he was 11, Alley said he “did a TV show in Roanoke with (Don) Reno and (Red) Smiley.” At 13, Alley played in a packed coliseum along with the likes of Tex Ritter and Ralph Emory.
Before he went onstage, “they told me I’d play one or two” songs, Alley recalled. “I had a standing ovation with the first song, and ended up playing three or four. My dad thought I was in shock.”
Alley was invited to play with the legendary Chet Adkins two summers – 1970 and 1971; one was in Nashville, Tenn., the second in Knoxville, Tenn., he said.
“In one afternoon, I went from priming tobacco to daddy coming across the field, waving a letter and telling me that we were going to Nashville,” he said.
One of the most memorable lessons Alley learned was to develop his own style, he said, and recalled that Adkins said “if they want to hear Chet Adkins play guitar, they’ll hire that man.”
Later, Alley spent a summer on the road with Sonny and Bobby Osborne, otherwise known as the Osborne Brothers.
It was while he was touring that Alley said he received a call from the then-publisher of The Enterprise, who offered him a job as an ad representative.
Later, when the costs of fuel escalated, Alley bought the booths, stools and soda fountain from a local drug store that was discontinuing its food service.
Alley bought the building that now houses his café in 1973.
“I’ve been here ever since,” he said, chucking as he added “I didn’t have sense enough to run.”
For more information about the PCMA, call Alley at 276-694-4232