Happenings

If you love live country music, here’s spot to head to on Saturdays in Middle Georgia

Randy Kitchens said he fell in love with guitars when he was six.

“My daddy used to play fiddle and seems every Friday a bunch of fellas’ would drop by our living room to play ‘til after midnight,” Kitchens said. “They’d bring fiddles, guitars, banjos and sometimes mandolins and play country, gospel, bluegrass – it was all good music and, boy, I loved those guitars. You made a lot of friends back then that way, people coming over and playing before there were cell phones and things that keep us so preoccupied today.”

Kitchens got a guitar by the time he was 8, first an acoustic then an electric, and started learning to play and sit in with the guys in his daddy’s living room.

Today, he said he has a Fender Telecaster just like Waylon Jennings’ with a fancy design on front made of leather. Jennings was a hero to Kitchens.

For 12 years, Kitchens has run the Wagon House Opry along with his sister Terri Massengale. It’s in Gray out towards Haddock at 699 Altman Road.

Saturday, he’ll be sitting in playing guitar with Small Town Country because their regular guitar player can’t make it. Country, gospel and bluegrass bands play every Saturday at the Wagon House except on the fourth Saturday every month. A group plays at 6 p.m. and another at 7 p.m. This Saturday, Bluetick DeVille, from Reynolds, is on first and Small Town Country, from Jeffersonville, is on second and plays until 9 p.m.

Like always on Saturdays, Kitchens said there’s plenty of free parking, some snacks and cooked-at-home hot dogs and hamburgers to buy until they run out, but no alcohol or smoking. And there is music and friends dropping by to listen for free, though, donations are more than welcome.

“It’s a friendly place with a good family atmosphere,” Kitchens said. “Everybody is welcome and we try to make everybody feel like family. Yeah, I guess it’s a lot like my front living room when I was a kid listening to folks play but it’s also in the tradition of all the little oprys that sprang up here and there for local and traveling bands to play at for friends and neighbors to have a good time. We’re trying to keep that alive. There’s something special about these local performers, but don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of the big names, too.”

Kitchens said Bluetick DeVille plays old ‘70s country along with ‘60s country-rock and folk-rock. That would be like Pure Prairie League, the Eagles, some Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and even some Three Dog Night.

“But Small Town Country just does old country,” Kitchens said. “Merle Haggard, George Jones, Hank Williams, like that.”

Kitchens’ own band is called Down Hill Country, a name his wife came up with because he was always telling her he was going “down the hill” to the building the group practices in back of their house.

“The people who come and the bands make a real family,” Kitchens said. “There are so many good bands here, like Randy Greenway and the Shadow Riders. We’re not open on fourth Saturdays but they play every fifth Saturday there is. I wish more young people would get into it.”

Has Kitchens been watching the Ken Burns film “Country Music” now airing on PBS? Does he feel an affinity for it?

“Oh yeah,” he said. “It’s been real interesting. It’s been very interesting and real good getting to see the roots and the people that started this music. It’s people making music they love and their neighbors love to hear.”

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

Wagon House Opry

Where: 699 Altman Road, Gray, Ga.

When: 6 p.m. Sept. 21

Cost: Free, donations accepted

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