KINGS MOUNTAIN It started 12 years ago as a fixer-upper project at an art deco movie theater from the 1950s.
The Joy Kings Mountains aging downtown gem had seen better days.
The local little theater group bought the building and stabilized it to the point where productions could be staged there.
As money becomes available, volunteers have been fixing up the 250-seat Joy Performance Center ever since. This year, a $100,000 renovation was completed, including new seats.
In 2013 the center will host Darin and Brooke Aldridges bluegrass festival in April and its first major concert series, featuring such acts as the Red Clay Ramblers and Nashville singer-songwriters Jerry Salley and Lisa Shaffer.
We keep it busy most weekends, said Jim Champion, past president of the little theater. Church groups, weddings, class reunions, free movies with free popcorn. Were trying to give back to the community. A lot of people and businesses are involved. The community is the key.
Built in 1950, the Joy was a popular movie theater that also hosted live performances including such acts as the country music duo Ira and Charlie Louvin.
Champion remembers when WBTV cowboy personality Fred Kirby packed the house with kids.
The Joy closed in the mid-1980s and a church owned the building until the little theater bought the property.
When we got it things were in pretty bad shape, Champion said. We raised about $330,000 and started refurbishing the place. Our first performance there was in November 2001.
Local folks want to pitch in and help the Joy in one way or another.
Its nostalgia, Champion said. People remember the Joy from their youths and want to see it saved and used again.
The Joy is the second vintage art deco theater in Cleveland County thats been converted into a performance venue.
In Shelby, the 400-seat, 1939-vintage Don Gibson Theater opened in the former State Theater building in 2006. The theater continues to book such nationally known performers as Shelby Lynne, Suzy Bogguss, Asleep at the Wheel and Max Baca and Texmaniacs.
Champion doesnt see the smaller Joy in competition with the Gibson theater and, if anything, they compliment each other, he said.
The music series that begins on Feb. 22 is the brainchild of Rick Dancy, retired executive director of the Cleveland County Chapter of the American Red Cross and former director of development at Charlottes Spirit Square.
A Charlotte native, Dancy, 68, is a volunteer at the Joy and promoted three music shows there during 2012, donating the proceeds to the center.
Acts included nationally popular Sweethearts of Bluegrass Darin and Brooke Aldridge of Cherryville and four-time Grammy winner David Holt.
We did pretty well, Dancy said. They were all nearly sellouts.
Based on that response, he decided to expand the program in 2013.
In order to book top quality talent Dancy had to talk entertainers into reducing their normal fees. He wanted to keep tickets prices at $20 each in advance and $25 the day of the show.
Dancy had booked most of the performers at Spirit Square during the early 1990s. But he didnt know veteran tunesmiths Jerry Salley and Lisa Shaffer, who will open the series on Feb. 22. He connected with them through Darin Aldridge.
Salley has written more than 340 songs for such singers as Elton John, Loretta Lynn, the Oak Ridge Boys, Reba McEntire, Toby Keith and Brad Paisley, and performed on such shows as the Late Show with David Letterman.
Shaffer is also a singer who has written songs for Colt Ford, Bradley Walker, Rhonda Vincent and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, among others. Two songs she wrote for Darin and Brooke Aldridge hit No. 1 on their genres charts.
Dancy said that Darin Aldridge is highly respected in Nashville music circles and helped open doors for him.
Aldridge and his wife perform all over U.S. and Canada and think the Joy Performance Center is one of the best venues of its kind.
Its got a real intimate setting and the sound is good, said Aldridge, 35, a former member of the famed Country Gentlemen bluegrass band. Its a wonderful little theater.
I love the Joy
Meanwhile, Dancy made the pitch to performers about the Joys intimate setting and the need to save small venues like this.
The list of people who agreed to come includes Charlotte native Robin Williams and his wife, Linda Williams. The singer-songwriters are regulars on A Prairie Home Companion radio show and were in Robert Altmans movie of the same name. The couples songs have been performed by Emmylou Harris, Tom T. Hall, George Hamilton IV, Tim & Mollie OBrien, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kathy Mattea and The Seldom Scene.
Dancy is assuming all financial risks for the series. Even if its a success nobodys getting rich, he said.
I love music, said Dancy. And I love the Joy. Im trying to keep it alive and open so people can come out and have a wholesome entertainment experience without breaking the bank. Ill be having fun at the shows and get the best seat in the house.
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