“Everybody has to start somewhere.” The old adage rings true for the starving artist in the music industry where booking gigs is a challenge for music-loving hobbyists and hopeful professionals alike. In Gladewater, a rare venue welcomes performers of all ages and experience levels. The boots (and blue suede shoes) of countless talented locals and music legends have paraded across the Gladewater Opry stage in pursuit of their passion.

The Opry is housed in the Cozy Theater which boasts 81 years of entertainment history. In 1936, the Cozy opened as a movie theater but would become an integral addition to the East Texas live music scene less than twenty years later. In the early fifties, young artists from the Louisiana Hayride and the KSIJ radio station began doing shows in Gladewater. Members of the community recall contests held at the theater which featured up and coming artists like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

These two legends spent a lot of time in the Ark-La-Tex region during the beginnings of their careers. In fact, Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” was written right here in East Texas. Though no one can say for sure, it was most likely written backstage before a show in Gladewater or after a show in Longview. Who knows? Maybe it was written in the dressing room at the Cozy Theater.

In the early eighties, the Cozy Theater officially made the switch from Blockbuster entertainment to live music production. The current owner, Nancy Ivy, bought the theater with her husband Jim in 1996. The Ivys have used the stage as a greenhouse for young artists and an outlet for classic country enthusiasts. Nancy and Jim have been in the music stage production business since 1982.

Before he passed away on August 24, 2017, Jim played every show with the Opry’s house band called Texas Smoke. The Ivys' combined performance and production experience made them an Opry power couple. Today, the Opry continues to offer a family friendly atmosphere for audiences and entertainers of all ages every weekend. According to Nancy, “It has been really hard to even concentrate on the show (since Jim’s passing), but (she) plans on keeping it open as long as (she) can.”

An essential part of the show is The Texas Smoke Band that accompanies the many musicians taking the Opry stage. Members of Texas Smoke include Tony Wilson (piano), Dallas Heart (piano), Tommy Holdeman (guitar), Johnny Gilmore (drums), Eddie Gray (bass), Melissa Evans (backup vocals), and Gina Ivy Mitchell (backup vocals and emcee). Nancy says, “We are very proud of our band. They work very hard on the show, and I couldn't do without them.”

Every Saturday night, the Opry is filled with country music fans as the two hour show begins. A different group of singers perform a new set of songs each week, so the program is always fresh. Throughout the year, the Opry hosts specialty shows including the "50's Show,” the "Legends Show,” the "Hee Haw Show,” and the "Christmas Show.” The Opry also honors its dedicated entertainers in its biggest show of the year, the “Awards Show.”

The musicians who perform at the Opry are not the only ones recognized for their talents. The Gladewater Opry itself holds five consecutive “Opry of the Year” titles from the Country Music Organizations of America (CMOA). Members of the community, including the mayor, also realize the wonderful gift that the Opry is to East Texas. Many patrons of the Opry have sustained standing reserve tickets for upwards of ten years. The longest standing reserve tickets belong to Mr. and Mrs. Clawson of Gladewater who have attended the show for at least twenty years and have witnessed some of the locals become legends.

Local singers and songwriters acknowledge the impact that the Opry has had in their lives by allowing them to exercise and refine their talents. Reagan Starr, who has been singing in the show on and off since 2010, is passionate about sharing classic country music with his peers. He says, “The Gladewater Opry has meant so much to me over the years. It has always been a place where families can come together and celebrate the gift of music. The down home country atmosphere makes the entire experience worth while, and Nancy and the band’s dedication to giving people experience on stage is unparalleled.”

Another frequent Opry performer, Aubrey Burnley Caldwell, adds that the Opry “gives young people a place to learn how to sing with a band and be on stage. (At the Opry,) you feel like a part of this family that lets you be a star for a minute. It gives you the hope and drive to push for (a career in music.)” Aubrey has been singing with Texas Smoke since she was eight years old. Nearly two decades later, she still adores music performing at the Opry and other local venues. She has also entered the world of music production through Aubrey’s Entertainment, her own karaoke DJ business.

It is no surprise that some of the performers have found success in the music industry as the Oprybooks over 500 musicians a year from Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Legendary musicians at the Opry do not just include the lates and greats. New artists, like Kacey Musgraves, have been a part of the show in recent years. Kacey began singing at the Opry at age nine and appeared regularly until she was fifteen. Many young musicians have used this stage to grow as performers and entertainers.

Without the Ivys’ dedication to developing new talent and preserving the history of the Cozy Theater, the East Texas music scene and Gladewater community would be missing this unique show honoring locals and legends.

For more information on Gladewater Opry events or tickets, visit gladewateropry.com.


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