Music News & Reviews

Renfro Valley celebrates 75 years of Kentucky music tradition

Renfro Valley radio show cast at the old barn stage in the early 1950s. From left: Ray Sosbyee, Linda Lou Martin, Claude Sweet and Glenn Pennington.
Renfro Valley radio show cast at the old barn stage in the early 1950s. From left: Ray Sosbyee, Linda Lou Martin, Claude Sweet and Glenn Pennington. Herald-Leader

In November 1939, John Lair took a barn in Renfro Valley and turned it into one of the hottest weekly shows in Kentucky for anyone who wanted to hear bluegrass, Southern gospel and classic country music.

In 2014, the barn is still standing, the music's still playing and the people are still coming from far and wide to "Kentucky's country music capital."

To the folks at Renfro Valley Entertainment Center, that's reason to celebrate.

This weekend marks the center's 75th anniversary, and there are several special activities to mark this milestone.

On Saturday, there will be something for the gearheads, with the Cruise in the Valley Car Show from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. That evening, big-name country act Travis Tritt plays a sold-out show at 8 p.m. at the New Barn Theater.

Doris Sanders, CEO of the Renfro Valley Entertainment Center, said officials have put on events throughout the year commemorating its 75th anniversary and wanted to end 2014 on a high note.

"He is our last concert for this year, and we wanted it to be a bigger one," she says. "We're going out with a bang."

The weekend's biggest festivities will be at the old barn that started it all 75 years ago. In addition to the usual Renfro Valley Barn Dance that takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday, there will be the Renfro Valley Alumni Show at noon.

The alumni show will be hosted by Jan Parker and will feature musicians from nearly every era of Renfro Valley's existence on one stage. Parker will give insights into the barn's history, and the band plans a special musical program spanning the decades, from old-time and bluegrass songs from the 1940s to some modern-day country hits.

"People have always said Renfro Valley is a place where time stands still. It is, but it isn't," Sanders says. "The history's still here, but we have progressed, too, and the shows we do today are really up-to-date country music and are really good shows."

Two performers really looking forward to this weekend's alumni show are comedian Pete Stamper and fiddler Ralph Marcum. They have performed at Renfro Valley for 62 years and 57 years, respectively, and they were there with John Lair, helping his musical dream blossom.

"What we look forward to with the alumni show is seeing past performers," Marcum says. "It's a treat for the old-timers. It's just like going to your high school reunion."

Besides being one of Renfro Valley's staple performers, Stamper wrote a book about it in 1999, It All Happened in Renfro Valley. He has seen the way Renfro Valley has grown and changed, but he said it has been and always will be a place where music and good clean fun bring people together.

"I have two families: Mine here at home and my family of entertainers. That's what it's all about. You love your family and you love what you're doing, but you also love the family that helps you do it," Stamper said. "The audience, they keep coming back, and they become part of our family, too. All of it is family-oriented."