Every Friday night for more than 40 years, bluegrass and folk musicians of all ages and levels of experience would take the stage at the Walden's Ridge Civic League building on Signal Mountain, the longtime home of the Mountain Opry.
Cody Harvey started going to the Mountain Opry when he was 5, and he and the other members of Mountain Cove Bluegrass Band consider it their home stage. When the Opry board decided to shutter the venue last March, shortly after the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, Harvey and others in the community weren't ready to see it go.
"We wanted to do anything and everything in our power to help save it and to preserve bluegrass and mountain music and live music in general," he says. "So many live music venues are kind of disappearing because of Covid, and we just couldn't let that happen to such an iconic venue as the Mountain Opry."
When Harvey and a group of volunteers headed up by his father decided they wanted to keep the Mountain Opry alive, they initially planned to keep it in the same location. But when they realized how much work the building needed, they decided to partner with the Mountain Arts Community Center — another Signal Mountain institution preserved due to volunteer efforts.
Previously Signal Mountain Elementary, the Mountain Arts Community Center was forced to close several years ago when mold was discovered under the stage in its auditorium. Thanks to a group of volunteers that formed the Signal Mountain Elementary Preservation Fund and put in countless hours of work, the building recently underwent a complete renovation just in time to host the revitalized Mountain Opry. The new venue offers numerous classrooms and an outdoor courtyard where musicians can jam with one another while keeping social distance, and it also boasts new lighting and sound systems, Harvey says.
"The former building was great. We loved it. It was nostalgic. But now the Mountain Arts Community Center provides so many more options for us to have bands come in and any musician who wants to come and get in those jamming rooms and play," he says. Any musician is also welcome to play onstage during the final hour of the Mountain Opry, which is now held monthly, on the last Saturday of the month, rather than weekly.
Another change is to the format, which was previously all open mic. The evening now begins with two scheduled bands playing from 6-8 p.m., followed by an hourlong open mic. Anyone is welcome to sign up starting at 6:30 p.m.
Harvey says word is spreading fast — he's already received calls from bands in Nashville wanting to play the new Mountain Opry.
"The Opry has such a great reputation, even throughout the state, and so we want to continue that, of course," says Harvey, who wants to maintain the opportunities the Mountain Opry provides for young people like himself along with its reputation for being a place where established musicians perform. "This is also a platform for our youth. They come there and they learn how to perform in front of a crowd for the very first time. It's almost like a school of music. We want to continue that."
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