HENRICO, Va. (WRIC) — In the golden age of country music, Richmond was home to a revue that rivaled the Grand Ole Opry. Now it’s back along with an effort to make this area a destination for this kind of entertainment.
“This is a gold record,” Donna Meade Dean-Stevens points out while walking through the halls of her Varina home. It’s like taking a walk down country music memory lane.
An accomplished singer herself, Dean-Stevens is the widow of Jimmy Dean. Separately they built careers, and together they built a relationship around their love for this art with deep regional roots.
“Traditional country music, good wholesome family entertainment that hasn’t been in Richmond for many, many years,” says Dean-Stevens. Until now.
Dean-Stevens set her sights on the Old Dominion Barn Dance, which ran from 1946 to 1957 in 38 states and Canada from right here. Dean-Stevens got the idea after performing at the State Fair of Virginia in 2013 to huge crowds.
“They remembered, they came from years ago, our fans, they showed up with their children and grandchildren,” Dean-Stevens remembers. “These fans got me thinking…what if the Barn Dance came back. Maybe they’d show up.”
Those fans did show up in February. The first go at the Barn Dance was a sellout. At the show’s new home at Henrico Theatre, Dean-Stevens wants to give young local performers a place to branch out and work with big national acts.
“No longer will people need to get in their cars and drive six hours to Myrtle Beach to see the country music shows there or drive clear across the country to Branson, Missouri to see a good country music show,” Dean-Stevens says.
She adds that she and Jimmy could have lived anywhere. They chose to settle where their heart was. The people, the place, the history and music tradition of Central Virginia are now all helping to give new life to the Old Dominion Barn Dance.
“It hasn’t been here in a very long time, and it’s exciting for me to see it being supported the way it is,” Dean-Stevens says with a smile.
The second Old Dominion Barn Dance is May 16 at 2pm and 7:30pm at Henrico Theatre in Highland Springs, with shows in the works for August and November too. There are also already plans underway for the Jimmy Dean Music Festival in October.