Georgia Magazine - August 2019 - 24
By Pamela A. Keene
A night at the opry
Intimate music venues bring big fun
to small towns
COURTESY WOODBINE OPRY HOUSE
hat do Friday night jam sessions and an abandoned schoolhouse have in common? Together,
they're the lifeblood of South Georgia's Woodbine
Opry House. With shows every Friday and Saturday night for
nearly two decades, the unassuming old schoolhouse is the
main attraction in this small town.
"After I moved back here to my hometown in the late
1990s, a bunch of us started getting together at my house on
Friday nights to pick and play," says Hoydt Drury, 82, who grew
up in nearby White Oak and began playing guitar when he was
a student at Camden County High School. "People started coming around to hear us play, and we outgrew our living room."
Meanwhile, the old Camden County High School was
scheduled for demolition.
"People in the county asked me if I could try and save the
school, so the county gave us a one-year lease [in 2001]," he
says. "I was able to get a grant for $12,000 and get if off the condemned list. Then someone suggested that maybe we should
move our jam sessions there so more people could hear us play.
So we did."
Over the next couple of years, Drury tried to raise additional funds, with moderate success, but when Camden County
added the school to a special local-option sales tax referendum
in 2003, it gave him some breathing room.
"We got enough to get the school refurbished, and all these
years later it's still a work in progress, but we saved the school
building," he says.
In the meantime, Drury and other musicians from North
Florida and South Georgia whom he had met at bluegrass
festivals continued to play on Friday nights at the old school
"You know, we never charge any money for people to
attend, but we do have raffles each week for baked goods, and
that money goes to help with operating expenses," he says. "For
a while we had shows that helped with fundraising, but we're
really more about being a place where people can enjoy some
good music and some old stale jokes and just have a good time."
Friday nights are open mic and acoustic music, typically a
blend of bluegrass and country. On Saturdays there's a house
"It's full electric country music, and people come from all
Visitors at the Woodbine Opry House can get up and
dance during shows.
over to be at the show," Drury says.
In the winter, the audience includes regulars
from all along the East Coast.
"The snowbirds know to stop off here with their
RVs and come to our shows, since we're so close
to [Interstate] 95 and U.S. Highway 17," Drury says.
"And they tell their friends about us, so we have a lot
of good word of mouth."
Life comes full circle
Thom Cavin played guitar in the early 1970s at
Ringgold Depot jam sessions and dreamed of being
a songwriter and musician. Growing up in nearby
Flintstone, he thought those jam sessions at the
depot would be a jumping-off place for a career in
"It didn't happen that way," says Cavin, who
still keeps his hand in performing and songwriting. "Sure, I ended up in Nashville, the songwriting
capital of the world, but I had a career in television,
working with 'Entertainment Tonight' and Travis
Television and traveling around the world with A-list
country music artists."
Today he's back living in Flintstone and using
his music and production experience to help grow
the Ringgold Depot Opry. Rome dentist Ronal
Graham, who started the jam session 25 years ago,
enlisted Cavin last October to handle day-to-day
operations and promotion.
Georgia Magazine - August 2019
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia Magazine - August 2019
Georgia Magazine - August 2019 - Intro
Georgia Magazine - August 2019 - Cover1
Georgia Magazine - August 2019 - Cover2
Georgia Magazine - August 2019 - Contents
Georgia Magazine - August 2019 - 4
Georgia Magazine - August 2019 - 5
Georgia Magazine - August 2019 - 6
Georgia Magazine - August 2019 - 7
Georgia Magazine - August 2019 - 8
Georgia Magazine - August 2019 - 9
Georgia Magazine - August 2019 - 10
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Georgia Magazine - August 2019 - Cover3
Georgia Magazine - August 2019 - Cover4