Staff Photo: Karen J. Rohr
Bob Thompson, shown here with his dummy Danny, has been known to entertain audiences with his ventriloquist act at the Newborn Opry.
After being closed for a year for extensive structural renovations, it's likely that the roof will be raised at the historic Newborn Schoolhouse for the Newborn Opry's comeback concert.
The Oct. 2 reopening of the facility, located on Ga. Highway 142 in Newborn, will be highlighted by an evening of gospel music from a variety of artists, including the venerable vocal trio Don Elrod & Georgia.
Other performers set for the reopening gospel concert — which begins at 5 p.m. — include Drew Parker, Logan Smith, pianist Mark Fuller and the Vessels of Praise.
"Every artist on the program has performed at the Newborn Opry before," said Bob Thompson, who with his wife Wilma has booked country and bluegrass acts at the schoolhouse for the past decade.
"Georgia is the headliner, and they've had their own TV show and currently have a radio show. One of the younger performers, Logan Smith, has been on the Gaither's Homecoming TV show several times. These aren't national acts, but they're very popular in Georgia and in the region."
Thompson added that the schoolhouse's auditorium can hold about 300 people and he has great hopes that this first concert will attract a standing-room-only crowd.
"I can't tell you how many people have asked me and my wife about the Newborn Opry in the last year," he said.
"Everywhere we go — to a restaurant, to the grocery story and even when we visited a friend in the hospital — someone will stop us and say, ‘When are you starting back?' If everybody who asked me actually showed up, I don't think we could fit all the people in the Atlanta Stadium.
"We've been closed for more than a year, but if enough people know about it, I think we'll have a good attendance."
Don Elrod, who has served as the lead singer for Georgia for the past 11 years, said he and his colleagues — who include tenor (and 36-year charter member) Terry Dale and baritone Reggie Smallwood — have always enjoyed their visits to Newborn.
"It's great," said Elrod, whose group is based out of Gainesville and performs between 80 and 90 dates a year as "weekend warriors." "There's always a very good crowd and they really love gospel music. It's one of our most receptive audiences and it's been one of our favorite places to sing."
Elrod estimated that Georgia has performed in Newborn "six or eight times" and he added he likes the old schoolhouse's ambience.
"It's been a good place for us," he said. "It's a smaller auditorium and you're very close to the crowd, which is always good for audience interaction ... We haven't seen the renovated building, but we are really looking forward to coming back because we know it will be a first-class facility."
As was the case before the building — which is owned by the city of Newborn and maintained by the Newborn Heritage Trust — the Thompsons will present gospel concerts on the first Saturday of the month and country and bluegrass shows on the third Saturday of the month.
Thompson said the first country and bluegrass concert — set for 6 p.m. on Oct. 16 — will feature David Ables and his band, as well as the Newborn Opry staff band and entertainers, of which Thompson is a member.
"I've got the Laugh Out Loud Funny Show and I do clean country comedy, magic and ventriloquism," said Thompson, who lives in Lithonia.
"I've been doing quite a few shows for churches and senior citizen organizations. My dummy Danny and I have been doing a lot of stuff. Danny's become sort of a star on the show at the Newborn Opry. People really like him and he's been known to help emcee the program."
Admission for the Oct. 2 gospel concert is $7 and a love donation will also be accepted. For more information, call 404-815-9973 or visit www.newbornopry.com.