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The Birth of the Sopchoppy Opry


The Sopchoppy Opry's South Bound Band


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Pictured above is South Bound,  the  popular house band of  the Sopchoppy Opry.  Current members, Herman "Mac” McWaters, Judy & Joel Harrison, Buck Jones, Reggie Bradley, Bob Sims, David Langston and Lamar Brock, talented musicians all, attract droves  of music lovers  monthly to historic Sopchoppy School Auditorium for a  live concert of classic country, bluegrass and gospel music. The above photo credit goes to Karla Nelson - Karla Nelson Photography of Sopchoppy.

The Birth of the Sopchoppy Opry

It has been called the “The Little Opry that Can” by the Tallahassee Democrat,  "a re-creation of the original Grand Ole Opry 'experience'" by country music historians and "the Big Bend’s showcase of country" (music) by those who seek to play the Opry.  But to the hundreds of fans who have enjoyed the Opry since its inaugural performance in July 2000, the Sopchoppy Opry is "just the best place to be the last Saturday night of each month" for great country, bluegrass and gospel music!  

The Sopchoppy Opry is a tremendous success story!  The 47 shows produced to date puts it among the longest running regularly scheduled stage performances of live country music in north Florida.  The 15,000 visitors it has brought to Sopchoppy, some from as far away as Australia and Ireland, have given the economy a boost and the opportunity to show off the restoration of historic Sopchoppy High School.  100+ individuals and more than a dozen bands have showcased their musical/vocal talents as guest performers on the Opry stage, and the revenue generated from ticket sales, raffles, concessions and sponsorships has been donated to the restoration efforts.  Hundreds of hours in volunteer time have been given by musicians, school alumni and friends.  These are but a few of the many positive things that have come from the Opry!  Its’ greatest accomplishment might be that it has demonstrated what can be done when unselfish, dedicated and talented individuals work harmoniously together!

To no one's surprise, the reason for the Opry’s enduring success is the music of South Bound, the Opry’s popular house band!  Under the capable leadership of Herman “Mac’ McWaters, South Bound maintains a classic country sound.  “We’re a country band,” says Mac.  “It’s been our goal from the start to be the best band and produce the best country (music) possible.  Even the several changes the band has experienced during the last 4½ years have not influenced our direction.  The ‘woods’ around here are full of pickers with a like passion. They just fall right in when someone moves on and South Bound doesn’t miss a beat.  I feel privileged to be a part of this band.” 

For the first 16 shows, South Bound’s members included Mac McWaters, Judy & Joel Harrison, Bobby & Becky Oaks, Rody Strickland and frequent guest appearances by singer/songwriter Trafton Harvey.  Mac was the bass man; Bobby Oaks played fiddle, mandolin and guitar; Harrison, Strickland and Harvey played guitar and contributed vocally; and Soloist Becky Oaks and Judy Harrison joined in with others for duets and group numbers.  Lead guitarist Ray Rogers joined the band on the 14th show for a short stint. 

When Bobby Oaks’ company moved him to Lakeland and Trafton & Rody sought other venues, Leon & Arlene Roberts came on board.  Leon added steel guitar to the band and since Arlene’s favorite instrument was the electric bass, Mac moved to the rhythm guitar section and contributed fiddle and mandolin solos on occasion.  It was during this time that David Langston, one of the area’s most accomplished fiddle players, made a guest appearance on the Opry and soon Mac made him a full time member of the gang.  Ray left to form his own band and Bob Sims joined in with his superb lead guitar styling.

A year and half later, with 30 shows on the books, Leon and Arlene needed a change in routine.  Loss of the steel guitar sound, much appreciated by the fans, was not about to happen!  So Mac called on his old friend and steel guitarist extraordinaire, Buck Jones, to fill the gap.  Arlene’s departure meant a vacancy in the bass spot as well, one that Reggie Bradley has very ably filled since.

South Bound has had several drummers over the years.  In order of service, they are - Maurice Donnell, Dave Bussey, Don White and Lamar Brock.  Lamar has the longest tenure and continues to accentuate every performance with his percussion prowess.  Mac, Joel & Judy Harrison have participated in all of the band’s 47 shows.         

Like its Nashville model, humor plays an important role in every performance of the Sopchoppy Opry.  Mac makes sure a healthy helping of country humor is programmed into the show, much to the delight of every fan!  A master at storytelling and joke delivery, Mac has a vast arsenal of one-liners and jokes, some with double-barreled punch lines that are legend among Opry regulars.  Penny Merle’s (Katie Miller) news from her hometown of Sink Creek is a special feature of the Opry’s comedy and Willie Don’s (Don Pace) rendition of the ‘chicken reel’ always gets howls from the audience.

Even with the Opry’s success, Mac says he still can’t get used to it.  “When I look into the faces of the Opry fans and see how focused they are on everything we do, how much they enjoy it, I’m amazed.  It does my heart good and it makes me proud to be a part of it all.”  Joel Harrison says it this way, “When I peep through the curtain before the show starts and see all those people coming to hear me play and sing, I feel very humble.”  

The demand for Opry tickets has made it necessary to sell all seats in advance.  For the first time ever, season tickets were sold for 2005.  11 regular shows (January - November) cost  $55 and guarantees the purchaser the same seat for the year.  Season tickets purchased after January 29 will be pro-rated.  Call (850) 962-3400 for season ticket information and leave a message.  An Opry Staff member will respond.  Those without season tickets should call (850) 962-2151 prior to each show, Monday - Friday between the hours of 2 - 4, for reservations. 

 by Jesse Quigg, Sopchoppy Opry Volunteer Publicist

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