Commentator Brooks Smith shares a story about the Old Dominion Barn Dance. In this “Rediscovering Richmond” segment, he tips a hat at its successor, the New Dominion Barn Dance, which featured “The Country Cavaliers,” an award-winning house band that also hosted a television show on Channel 8 (ABC) for many years. Though the new review did not have Sunshine Sue, it did have its share of visiting celebrities, including Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Buck Owens and Little Jimmy Dickens.
Commentator Brooks Smith continues to rediscover Richmond’s performing arts history.
Ferrar: Brooks, you’ve covered quite a range of activities in your commentaries this year.
Smith: That’s right. The research took me as far back as the very first fine arts academy in America, right here in Richmond in the late 1700’s. To radio greats like Harvey Hudson, who sadly just passed away last week after a remarkable 70-year run in broadcasting.
Ferrar: One day we talked about the Old Dominion Barn Dance, which has a lot of fond memories for a lot of Richmonders. And today you have a sequel.
Smith: I do. And let me back up a moment. You know, in Richmond it seems like there’s plenty of predecessors. I did a piece on June Jubilee, which claims to be the very first downtown performing arts festival, only to find that in 1900 we had something called the Great Free Street Fair, which also claimed to be the very first downtown performing arts festival. I haven’t ever tackled the sequel, but this is the day. You mentioned Old Dominion Barn Dance, Sunshine Sue, it was a very popular oldtime hillbilly review back in the 40’s and early 50’s that broadcast live from the Lyric Theatre, 9th and Broad, and it’s, despite an amazingly short duration, it had such a legacy here in Richmond and beyond. It, by many accounts, rivaled the Grand Ole Opera. So, what I did not know is there was a sequel called the New Dominion Barn Dance.
Ferrar: How did you find out about it?
Smith: It’s fun for me as a radio personality to hear from listeners, and after the Old Dominion Barn Dance piece I got a call from a fella who said, you didn’t talk about my mom. I said, well, shoot, who’s your mom? And his mom is Irene Lancaster Parks, better known back in the day as Irene Lancaster. And she was part of the house band that played at the New Dominion Barn Dance in the 50’s and early 60’s. House band was called the Country Cavaliers, which was quite popular locally. And so the more I learned about this New Dominion Barn Dance revival, the more I realized I needed to share it with the audience. It lasted about 10 years, it was headed up by a fellow named Carlton Heaney, who had been recruited to Richmond to try to bring some fresh air into this review. And his theory of success was to book artists with sufficient name recognition to draw a crowd. They had some incredible artists perform over the decade-run of the New Dominion Barn Dance, including Jonny Cash, June Carter, and a young Willie Nelson, who at that time was a bass player for Ray Price. Now they played after the Lyric had been torn down.
Ferrar: Right, so where did they perform?
Smith: They moved the Review over to the Bellevue Theater on the Northside. Apparently it had the same stage backup as the Old Dominion Barn Dance, just obviously a different kind of performance hall. The Country Cavaliers, this house band, went on to play TV, it played WXTX, which was the predecessor to what we now know as Channel 8. They did that for about five years. They also cut an album, which we can sample a little bit later.
Ferrar: So, how long did it last and what finally caused the demise?
Smith: Well, it lasted from ’57 until the late 60’s. I wish I could tell you what caused its demise. I think that music had changed over the 60’s. Of course, we had the advent of rock and roll, we had the beginning of the Woodstock generation, and country music has a loyal following, but some of those followers probably moved on to other genres of music.
Ferrar: I see. The New Dominion Barn Dance. Okay, well, as we sign off this morning we’ll play a little bit of that album you were talking about. By the Country Cavaliers, was it?
Smith: That’s it.