Just mention the Grand Ole Opry, and lovers of Country Music will nod their heads wisely and tell you this is the Mecca, the place of legends. Rock, blues, country, jazz, it’s all been there. Hundreds of fledgling stars have trodden the boards and strutted their stuff. Some destined to become the icons we know and love today, and others doomed for early obscurity. Famous and not so famous, they’ve all had their moment of glory at the Grand Ole Opry.

Situated in Nashville, Tennessee, the Grand Ole Opry has been around for more years than we can remember, and at least since the 1940’s, starting as a radio programme. Those amongst us lucky enough to have physically visited the revered theatre will vouch for the aura and the charisma of this remarkable old building steeped in musical history.

But hark, hanker not for Nashville, for surely we too have our very own Opry right here in Dairy Flat, Albany! From the outside, our Opry does not make much of a statement we concede this. It’s just a little old hall sitting out in what we Kiwis fondly call the wop–wops, (although civilization is fast catching up), It is an unassuming building, more often than not embellished with graffiti, and has what seems to be a bit of an underground stream coursing out from beneath the foundations and across the road, but step inside and WOW, the inside is almost as unimpressive as the outside, (you thought I was going to say something different didn’t you). No, I cannot tell a lie, on face value, our Opry is quite shabby! The walls have cracks, some of the windows do not fit too well, it can be cold and draughty, other times too hot. There is dust, cobwebs, and ants, the odd mouse, and dare I mention it, an occasional cockroach. The kitchen ovens are temperamental, as is the plumbing, and at times when the piles under the hall groan and shudder, the floor develops a bit of a dip. So we cuss and complain, but most times, manage to get things sorted.

“Why?” the uninitiated may ask. “Why don’t you move elsewhere and leave this white elephant of a place to settle and die?” Why indeed! The answer lies in one word. Our Opry does have something, and that is ATMOSPHERE! Like the real Ole Opry, our little hall has stood the test of time, and gathered irreplaceable memories along the way. I don’t know how many years ago it was built in Postmans Rd, but I imagine in the early days it could have been the hub of the farming community. Over the years many clubs and organisations have utilized it, but these days, it is home mainly to the Stetson Club and the local scout group, with an occasional wedding or shindig being held there. Sadly, the latter usually results in another hole being punched in the wall somewhere.

On entering the portals you are struck by the fact that the interior is somewhat dim and gloomy, but if you believe in magic, it really can happen! Once we adorn our Madame Opry in all her finery and festoon her with balloons, streamers, coloured lights, candles and trinkets, it is as though she is reborn. She shakes herself out, takes on an inner radiance, forgets how old she is, preens herself, and positively sparkles with good will – glowing a welcome to all who enjoy her hospitality. Rather like Cinderella, our Opry is the belle of the ball until the band stops playing, and the clock strikes midnight, for then she must shed her baubles and retreat to the shadows.

Our humble Opry luxuriates in images of friendship, laughter, clapping hands, the cosy ambiance of candlelight, music, clinking of glasses, cheerful bartenders, the smell of delicious food and loaded supper tables, the stomping of line dancers, swirling skirts and the distinctive Stetson hats worn by our members. We are thankful the floors are wood and therefore so much better to dance on.

All these things define our Club within the ageing walls of our Opry.

Just like the Grand Ole Opry, we too, have hosted the most amazing musicians and entertainers – marvellously talented, creative people, who perhaps absorbing something of the magic of the moment, give their best performances on the well worn stage with its faded carpet and lacklustre backdrop, bringing to life the music we all love so much. Why else would patrons travel from far and wide so regularly to enjoy our bands and special guests.

In it’s 20 year, nostalgic history, our Stetson Club has survived many changes, and it will again, but in the meantime let us be glad for the past and the present, and drink a toast to our very own Opry – so many fabulous times enjoyed in our little ole hall in the country. Not Nashville, Tennessee, but Dairy Flat, Albany! Long may she prosper under the proud banner of the Stetson Social Club, the heartbeat of Country Music.

Update on Albany’s Grand Ole Opry – THE DAIRY FLAT COMMUNITY HALL

History is on the move, Albany’s very own Madame Opry can no longer rest on her laurels, she has been awakened, and revitalized. Gone are the days when she could rely on the dusk of the evening to soften her wrinkles and blemishes, or slumber fitfully, dreaming fading memories of past glory – for call it what you will, a re-invention, or a re-birth, Madame Opry has opened the curtains, put up the sign, and is ready for action.

The acknowledged mastermind and driving force behind this miraculous restoration is none other than Henk Landweer and his band of dedicated volunteers. The Hall is old, and over the years had become run down and shabby with the dismal prospect of being closed altogether if it could not be upgraded. Henk was quick to realize that someone with vision needed to take action if the hall was to survive and he made a commitment to do this. The Hall committee was resurrected with Henk at the helm, and over the past five to six years a huge amount has been achieved, with much of the hands-on work being done by Henk himself and volunteers from the Hall committee, and the Stetson Club, plus many ring-ins, without whose help this great project may never have succeeded.

Henk’s tall figure is a familiar sight around the hall, getting stuff done, with expertise and steady determination. To date, the hall has a brand new floor which is a dream to dance on, (replacing the old one which was dangerously rotten), the stage has been lowered in line with modern halls, new lighting installed, there is a brand new and much more workable kitchen, including white ware and microwaves, the building has been painted inside and out, Dairy Flat Hall signage erected, extra tables/chairs obtained, and a huge deck built on the paddock adjacent to the hall, French doors are now installed at the back of the hall, adding to the indoor/outdoor flow, a concrete driveway laid, garden landscaping commenced, and a much needed car park catering for approx. 50 cars, created beside the hall.

In addition to the cosmetic enhancements, a lot of very necessary nitty-gritty work has been completed to repair damaged walls, replace old plumbing, install a new fuse board, and alarm the hall. Plans are always ongoing, but the refurbishment has reached a point where The Dairy Flat Hall is well and truly on the entertainment trail and recognized as an idealistic venue for weddings, birthdays, group meetings, and many other private functions. The Dairy Flat Live Music Club (www.DairyFlatLive.com) was born in 2010 and the Hall is acknowledged as “the place to be” most Fridays of the month to enjoy blues/jazz/cultural music and dancing. Our very own Stetson Social Club, home of country music, has long been established as a fixture at the hall on the second and fourth Friday, so grab your Stetson hats and join the crowd for fantastic bands, top entertainers, line dancing, country rock, awesome suppers, and the friendliest patrons north or south of the bridge. Share a joke at the bar with the guy with the twinkle in his eye – our Sheriff.

Music Festivals have now become an integral addition to “fun events at the Hall” with the Stetson Club hosting a 12 hour Music Fest in March each year, and Dairy Flat Live putting on similar summer and winter events.

Music, dancing on the deck, BBQ's, classic cars, camper vans – it’s all part of the scene at the Dairy Flat Hall, with a bright and prosperous future assured. Fresh ideas and suggestions are always most welcome.

The Dairy Flat Hall has come of age, so figuratively speaking, forget shabby and chardonnay, think chandeliers and champagne – Madame Opry is a charming hostess.

From: Susan Brennan-Hodgson
September 2014.