Wednesday, July 20, 2011

All good things

We all know the rest of that saying: ". . . come to an end." At least in this world. My husband and I are trying to understand that the country music show we drove to every couple of months is gone.

That might not seem like such a tragedy. The Kansas City area has other opries on Saturday night, here and there. They probably all strive for a down-home feel and play good music. But there will never be another Annie's, not for us. Each time we went, it was as much to settle our spirits as to hear great country.

The theater was doing well, and some nights, depending on the guest performer, were sell-outs. Sometimes a surprise guest delighted the crowd--the owner herself dressed up in an outrageous costume that included a huge red wig and 18-inch cigarette holder, parading provocatively as the siren Ruby. (One night she came into the audience and zeroed in on my husband, even trying to sit in his lap. I lost no time defending what was mine.)

With a brisk business and big ideas, Annie and her husband decided to expand. They got the loan, and the hammers and saws went to work, adding a whole new lounge area for snacking and visiting, redoing the stage and back rooms, making the restrooms bigger.

Then the crash came. The audience thinned out. Many nights the band played to half a house. But the same spirit animated them every Saturday, and Michael and I settled into the old red seats and felt at home, as Annie sang the usual opener, "So come on in and sit right down and make yourself at ho-ome!"

It wasn't just the outstanding singing and musicianship, the moving renditions of "Shenandoah" and prize-winning picking that drew us back over and over. Annie's made you feel like, no matter what troubles you brought in with you, everything was going to be all right. An American flag hung above the stage, and no show ended without a Gospel song or two. People shook your hand and asked how you were. They were not in a hurry.

As the crowds got smaller, Annie's marketed themselves more, but it just didn't bring in the sales. Maybe the drive became too far with gas prices too high, or the older crowd could no longer squeeze tickets out of their monthly checks. Finally the lights were shut off for the last time, and the bank took the theater.

We probably won't see again the folks we knew there: Nellie, whom we sat with during intermission eating ice cream drumsticks, who never tired of asking if I knew how old she was (88), and reminding me that she recently painted the entire fence around her yard by herself. Or Reuben, her former husband, who came with her every Saturday night and swept up the snack area as the second half of the show got started. Or the lead singer's mother, who always tore our tickets as we entered and treated us like celebrities, kindly calling us "kids," I guess because we're under 70.

We won't hear Jim the emcee cry, somewhere during the show, "Right here in beautiful, tropical, downtown--" and the crowd respond in a roar, "--Tonganoxie, Kansas!" We will miss Annie's sorely, and all the people who made it a special refuge. All of us need a place like that, where the world goes away for just a little while and no one asks you any hard questions. I don't know that we'll find another one. But we will hold close the memory of that very special place.
Photo by Michael Doyle.

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