Last year, we made the trek to Prestonsburg after being invited to the Mountain Arts Center, or MAC as it is often referred to, to photograph their Christmas show. The MAC was the vision of Bille Jean Osborne. She was a lifelong educator that made it her goal in life to create a venue and a musical program to help foster the talent in and around Eastern Kentucky.
Her vision not only garnered the wonderful venue that is the MAC, but it began when she created the Kentucky Opry, which is now named in her honor. Billie Jean Osborne was a wonderful lady, and as an educator, she made sure she included the kids in most everything she did. That’s also why the Kentucky Jr. Pros exists.
Both of those organizations are given many opportunities to shine throughout the year, but the Christmas shows are definitely a highlight, as the Jr. Pros open the night before the Kentucky Opry showcases some of the many, many talented folks in Eastern Kentucky. Opening weekend for the Billie Jean Osborne Kentucky Opry Christmas was packed with memorable moments. Two, in particular, I will touch on in a bit, because they showcase the love and family aspect of what Billie Jean brought to life.
For now though, as mentioned, the Jr. Pros opened the night. You must be under the age of 16 to participate in the Jr. Opry and that could create some cringe-worthy moments for most folks, but not the Jr. Pros. They may be aged anywhere from six years old to sixteen years old, but they deserve to be on that stage and their show was an absolute joy. I welled up with pride more than once as they performed and so did my wife. Which, by the way, made the trip this year with me after reading my article from last year. She had her doubts that I was being completely honest about just how good the show is, and I am happy to say, that the Jr. Opry exceeded her expectations. Much like Marcie below, you too can get your photo with the one and only Santa Claus! You can also visit a Gingerbread House and much more in the lobby.
Christmas is all about love, family and of course the birth of Jesus Christ. Having a son that is now grown and in college, my heart was about to burst with pride and love from seeing the Jr. Pros do so well. The young folks on that stage are poised and professional well beyond their years.
During the intermission, MAC Executive Director, Clayton Case, asked that the crowd observe a moment of silence for Suzie Lemaster, as she passed away last Monday. She had served the MAC for a very long time. She did everyone’s hair, makeup and sometimes wardrobe. As the moment of silence came to an end, Clayton led us all in a wonderful prayer and eventually dedicated this Opry Season to her memory. It was an emotional moment for many, but it was also beautiful and a fitting tribute to someone that meant so much to so many.
This year’s Opry has some new female cast members as one member retired and another moved to Nashville. In their place are two younger ladies with a world of talent at their disposal. Seventeen-year-old Aliyah Allen brings an impressive range and is extremely versatile. Hearing her sing “Mary Did You Know” was a highlight for us both. The second addition is Sarah McCourt, she is the Great Niece of the one and only Loretta Lynn. Having said that, you know that country and bluegrass runs through her veins and she is right at home at the MAC.
The show itself this year is more of a variety show than I remember, which is definitely not a bad thing. The show is presented in sections. You have traditional Christmas songs, bluegrass style Christmas tunes, a section where the audience is encouraged to join in some old-time caroling and of course some Gospel. There was even a Contemporary track to inspire folks to spread the Word of God. The Opry did a great job performing the Doobie Brothers classic, “Taking It To The Streets.
With many costume and cast changes, the show is pretty fast-paced and it absolutely flies by. That’s what happens when you’re having fun, I reckon!
I do want to take a second and talk about the performance of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. My two favorite fictitious Christmas stories are “A Christmas Story” which follows a young man who dreams of owning his own Red Ryder B.B. Gun and The Grinch. Having said that, I’m also a HUGE fan of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, so when guitarist Mark Stephens took the lead and played an instrumental version of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in the style of TSO, I was as warm and fuzzy as the Grinch himself!
No performance of the Opry is complete without an appearance from local comedy legend, Munroe. This year his persona has taken on a familiar form, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Anyone know who this “Nillie Welson” guy reminds you of? Ha!
The last moment that I want to speak of, won’t be a part of any other show. Ms. Rachel Messer recently made it to Hollywood on the NBC hit show, “The Voice”, but I’m willing to bet that Mr. Connor Dale made Saturday night an even more special one. Connor came onstage and sang a song to Rachel, then as any gentleman would do, bent down to one knee and asked Rachel to marry him. I’m not sure there were very many dry eyes in the house after that. I’ve been watching Rachel blossom since first seeing her at the Kentucky Opry show last year. She was later on a show with Tyler Booth in Campton and it was there that I got know her and Connor a little bit. I was absolutely thrilled that she made it to “The Voice”, but I was way more happy and excited when these two annoyingly adorable young folks made a commitment to each other. It was a beautiful moment that Capture Kentucky will never forget. So congratulations you Love Birds!! I’m so proud of both of you!
Now, I said this last year and I’ll likely say this every year, the quality of show that you receive is on par with shows in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Branson, Missouri. The most expensive seats at the MAC for their Christmas show are a mere $18. If you find another show that matches the quality at the MAC for under $40 a ticket, send me a link, because I need to see it myself. The lights and sound at The MAC are unrivaled in Kentucky, in my opinion. The Louisville Palace may be the most beautiful venue, but I’ll take a show at the MAC over most any other venue around.
So this Christmas, visit Prestonsburg and let Billie Jean Osborne’s Kentucky Opry jumpstart your Holiday cheer. Don’t travel to Pigeon Forge and pay twice as much, support the amazing musicians and programs right here at home.
We were at opening weekend this year, but you only have two more chances to catch a performance this year. I’ll link those below. I hope you enjoy the photos and make the trip to enjoy this wonderful Kentucky tradtion!