TO THE EDITOR
CAMDEN COUNTY TRIBUNE & GEORGIAN
Visitor wowed during stay
Sometime ago I was talking to my friend, Sharon Bowen, about coming to
south Georgia for a visit. As we talked she told me that we might go to
a place called Woodbine for some entertainment. A couple of days later I
read an article in our local paper about Woodbine and the school they
were trying to save.
We finally made our visit to Sharon's and Barry's house in St. Marys. We
left their house and traveled to Woodbine. As we entered the old
schoolhouse we were transported back in time. We had a wonderful supper
for a wonderful price! During the meal I met local people who made me
feel so welcome.
We walked down the hall and turned to the left into the most beautiful
auditorium. For the next few hours (it seemed like two minutes) I
enjoyed the most amazing entertainment. Billy Maxwell was so perfect
with his tribute about the Civil War soldier. As I listened I wished
that my parents were with me. I listened to songs that my daddy had sung
to me as a child. Some of those songs I really thought he had just made
What a wonderful thing you are doing there in Woodbine. You are giving
your children great examples of what a community can achieve when it
works together for a cause. You are sharing your talents and teaching
your children at the same time to expand their talents. I enjoyed little
children playing instruments. (I still want to hear the rooster song!)
All this because you are saving a beautiful building with a rich
history. I enjoyed every minute of the evening. I want to thank Sharon
and Barry Bowen for such a splendid evening. I want to thank all of you
for making me feel so welcome.
Elaine Howard - LaGrange
Woodbine Opry is gettin' famous in these parts! Read the
various news articles from our local papers here!
St. Mary's Magazine-FALL 2006
Barbara J. Ryan, Publisher
TOE TAPPIN', HAND CLAPPIN',
THE WOODBINE OPRY!
"Roll back the rug on the floor.
Light up your corn cob pipe.
Everyone is gonna have some fun
At the Woodbine Opry tonight."
Excerpt from The Woodbine Opry Song,
by Richard Owens
"The most fun you can have with your overalls on,"
is how some locals describe the Woodbine Opry. Travelers on Interstate
95 can venture just 14 miles north of the Florida/Georgia border, mosey
over west just a few minutes, and find themselves in the heart of
Woodbine, Georgia-population: 1353 (or thereabouts). And Friday and
Saturday nights are always Woodbine Opry nights.
This is where the Grand Old
Opry meets Hee Haw. Where fiddles, mandolins, and banjos meld with
steel guitars, harmonicas and autoharps. This is where the legendary
sounds of Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Jr., Johnny Cash and Jim Reeves
revive lost loves, faded dreams and hard times. And this is where you
come to suspend time, to check your troubles at the door, and immerse
yourself in a night of music and remembering and smiles, and some good
old-fashioned down home cookin'.
a stranger once at the Woodbine Opry. And once is never enough for
people who appreciate real Americana. Come along and experience a
sliver of American culture that is as sweet as the honeysuckle for
which Woodbine is named.
You arrive at the Old Woodbine Schoolhouse about 6 pm. You know it's an
hour before the music starts, but your stomach's been growling since
4:00, and rumor has it that Miz Katie Cooler has whipped up an extra
big batch of her famous banana pudding. Woodbine's long-standing Mayor,
Burford Clark, greets
you at the door with a warm hand-shake. You're not surprised. You've
heard of Burford's dedication to the preservation of the landmark
school building, and know as well that he's at the Opry more nights
than not-rallying the school's supporters, making friends of strangers,
and just being a part of the kind of thing that makes small towns
wondrous to those who live in the big cities.
Like the southern siren that it
is, the distinct aroma of fried chicken pulls you down the hall to
thecafeteria where before you lays a cornucopia of
scrumptiousness-chicken and dumplings, okra,jambalaya, collard
greens,cornbread, peach cobbler, apple pie, chocolate delight cake and
renowned banana pudding you've heard so much about. Seven dollars buys
you an eveningmeal you will long remember. A meal cooked up by the
local womenfolk whose love for the old schoolhouseinspires good cookin'
and personal vigils to make sure everybody gets their fill. The cooks
dish out generous helpings of food and great cheer. You've probably
figured out by now that we call
all the ladies "Miz" here in the South-married or single..... Miz
Katie-it's a sign of respect). Miz Katie is a sassy 81, she still
works, preserving the past at the Bryan-Lang Historical Library in
Woodbine. But we digress.
Nothing like a full belly to sharpen one's listening skills. Time to
settle back in the school auditorium, perhaps in the same seat that
held a squirming 9-year-old nearly a century ago-and let the music take
over. The lights dim,and an authentic southern-style jam session begins.
Friday nights are "unplugged," with rousing bluegrass, gospel and
classic country dispelling the need for electric instrumentation.
Silver-timbred voices in sweet harmony fill the room. The sorrowful
wail of double harmonicas might bring a tear to our eyes on "He Walks
with Me." Al Chapman of St. Marys gets the audience singing along with
his warm-molasses rendition of "The Great Speckled Bird." On the
stand-up bass is a Helen Hunt look-alike, pumping out deep echoes in
time with six guitars, a ukulele, a
banjo, and a harmonica. Little Jessica from Chesapeake, Virginia-not
more than four years old-belts out a glorious "You Are My Sunshine."
The house is packed. The energy palpable. The sounds golden. And the
memories flooding.The evening ends way too soon. Tomorrow, we must
We've managed to wait 'til 6:30 tonight, and arrive in time to witness
MayorClark making a couple of newcomers feel like they've been part of
the Opry family for years. This talent of his "down-homedness"
combined with an unwavering generosity of spirit is a testament to why
the people of Woodbine saw fit to keep him as mayor during a legacy
that runs all the way from 1973. We eagerly purchase our meal tickets
and recognize Miz Katie from thenight before. We're told she hasn't
missed a night since the Opry started. It was, in fact Miz Katie
who, upon hearing that the old schoolhouse would be torn down, wrote
the Preservation Committee in Atlanta, taking the first step to saving
the 1926 building. From there, the City of Woodbine got behind it with
the Mayor and City Council seeding a fund by contributing a month's
A committee was formed to
"preserve, protect, interpret, and manage" the Historic Woodbine
School, and the Opry was birthed and evolved into a twice-weekly
fundraising event. Miz Katie attended the school herself in the 1930s,
and went on to become the city clerk. She's quick to point out that all
the proceeds of the Opry (admission to the music is free)-the meals,
the thrift shop, the raffles-goes to the restoration fund. Again, we
Tonight, the auditorium is overflowing. Music fans of all ages fill the
258seats nestled between walls festooned with patriotic banners. "God
Bless America" and "Proud to be an American" boldly proclaim the
12-inch high red letters. Velvet curtains frame no less than 20
musicians onstage-tuning up,trading light-hearted barbs with the last
of the procession to take their seats. Again, the lights are lowered,
and it's showtime!
"Put Your Sweet Lips a Littler Closer to the Phone," Paul Donahue
entreats the audience with a sincerity that would make Jim Reeves
proud. Paul, we're to learn, is an officer with the Camden County
Sheriff's Department. That explains the uniform. And his beautiful
voice explains his presence. J. C.Honeycutt, bedecked in Native
American turquoise treats us to a fine sample of Waylon Jennings. J.C.
hails from Jacksonville these days, but was raised in North Carolina.
Later he'll tell us his ritual dedication to performing at the Opry is
"all about the people."
finest people in the world are in this audience," he will tell us.
"I could get money playing other places, but playing here for
free is what I love." Having just recorded his third cd in Nashville,
one doesn't doubt that J.C.along with all of tonight's musicians could
find paying work at other venues.
Mayor Clark says that tonight's
performers, as other nights, are from "parts all over." They've come to
jam-many having never played together before. One would expect a bit of
disharmony, at least at the beginning. But, it is as if a singular
voice is wafting over the bobbing heads and clapping hands of
the audience-a voice as melodic as that from a band tied together by
years and years of practice. Tonight the instruments are electrified.
And so isthe audience. More so, when the comedic "Wildettes" prance
down the aisle with J.C.'s "Pistol Packin' Mama" blasting. These
ladies, Sandra Mitchell and Alice Murray, are proud of their
"Buffoonery" certificate that hangs in the hall amidst years and years
of school memorabilia. They're "funning" themselves for the
cause-bellyfuls of laughter and an historically
significant building saved from the demolition ball. The Wildettes
perform at nursing homes around the area as well. Warm smiles reward
enough for their red-boots, toy-gun antics. Sandra returns later all
dressed up in a cow outfit, throwing out Moon Pies, and cheeky
rhetoric. It's udderly ridiculous and udderly fun. And appropriately
connected to the bigger spirit at work tonight.
"We are blessed," Mayor Clark tells us. "This is truly a family experience,and everybody has fun."
As if on cue, our attention turns back to the stage where nine-year-old
Elizabeth Staats, of Brunswick, Georgia has just joined her
"Papa"(grandfather) Bob Staats in Johnny Cash's famous "Ring of
Fire.""Folsom Prison Blues" follows, with Papa Staats bringing it on
home in reverent honor of the great "Man in Black."
The off-stage characters at the Woodbine Opry sometimes steal the show,
but will always steal your heart. There's Wilbur Readdick who lives "up
at Mush Bluff." He'll tell you about sliding up and down the halls as a
second grader at the school when it first opened. You do the math.
Wilbur was wounded in World War II, and coming homeacross the Atlantic
a nurse told him he'd be hearing a brand new song that just came out
called "Pistol Packin' Mama." J.C.'s earlier version of the hit
reminded Wilbur, as always, of that poignant time. It's easy to take up
with folks like Wilbur when he uses words like "quituated," as in "I
quituated (from school) and entered the Civilian Conservation Corp."
And, "By the way, I got a mess of oranges about to ripen up. Come on by
and get you some next week," even though he'd only just met us a few
There's the wiley Jim Taylor who comes from Folkston every Saturday
night-hair slicked back, spiffy scarf around his neck, and a glint in
his eye that has decidedly spelled trouble for the ladies for decades
and decades. There's Committee President Hoydt Drury and his wife,
Florence, who cooks for the cause, and plays fiddle and bass banjo.
There's 91-year-old Eudell Gooding, another dedicated committee member.
And finally, there's a whole passel of other committee members working
tirelessly toward the restoration of the schoolhouse that most of them
attended and at which many of them taught-a schoolhouse that now serves
as a community center for the Opry and other civic events including
Woodbine's famous Crawfish Festival held each April.
There are a great many
reasons to come to the Woodbine Opry. The food. Themusic. The fun. The
camaraderie. But above all, there is the spirit by which everyone is
bound. The spirit of revering a heritage that has woven a rich tapestry
through the lives of thousands of seemingly unconnected people,
bringing them together for a noble cause. You are only a stranger once
atthe Woodbine Opry.
The evening is winding down now, and
reluctantly we make our way to the door. With a gentle tip of his red
Georgia Bulldawg cap, Mayor Clark says,"Come back real soon." And we