Tuscola Country/Western Show celebrates 30 yearsMilestone show to run Thursday though Sunday
So many things that started in the 1980s are long gone, from leg warmers to flattops to “The Golden Girls.” But not the Tuscola High School Country/Western Show. As it heads into its third decade this week, Chorale Director Fritzie Wise sounds pleased about the show’s longevity, but not surprised. When she started at Tuscola a dozen years ago, she knew that saying goodbye to the cowboy-themed song-and-dance revue was never a question. People love it too much.
“There are not very many traditions left, and this is one that has lasted for 30 years,” she said, impressed.
This year’s show, which will feature the usual mix of solos and group tunes, is dubbed “30 Years in the Making,” and it should draw crowds. It always does.
People come back to see these performances year after year, and Wise thinks it’s not just because many have a child, sibling or grandkid onstage. She believes the show has continued on and on partly because there’s something special about country music. It has the ability to speak to people, no matter what they’re going through. Wise explained that one of the beautiful things about the genre is that there are country songs to fit almost any mood or situation one can imagine. It is infinitely relatable.
“I think it talks about life,” she said. “It doesn’t talk just about the good parts of life. It talks about the tough parts of life.”
This mixture of the sweet and the sour has also been a hallmark of Country/Western Shows over the years. Though plenty of students go for upbeat solos, it’s not usual to hear a melancholy tune in there somewhere. Last year, one student even did a solo version of the slightly tortured country-rock staple “Free Bird” — to wild applause. Another brought both her mother and fiancé onstage as she sang about the complicated feelings that accompany leaving home and starting her own life.
In these instances and countless others, the show has meant more to its participating cowboys and cowgirls than just a little song and dance.
To quote Savannah Morris, the Country/Western Show is “a pretty big deal, not just at Tuscola, but throughout the community.”
For Morris, who will be singing Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Coming Home,” being in this production, her second, means being part of something much bigger than herself. As she goes to school in her cowboy duds all this week and gets ready to take the stage multiple times in front of friends and family, she likes knowing she has a place in local history.
“I feel honored to be part of the 30th anniversary, because it’s been a tradition at Tuscola,” she said.
Country/Western first-timer Summer Jones feels the same tug on the heartstrings. Also a senior, Jones looks excited to be in this milestone show (in which she’ll be singing Miranda Lambert’s “More Like Her”), and promised that everyone in the audience will have a good time. She’s sure she will, too. While some of that fun will be in those adrenaline-filled hours on stage, a lot of it will take place after the final curtain call. A chorus member for four years, she knows there’s nothing quite like having an audience tell you you’ve done well.
“It makes you feel like you actually accomplished something,” she said.
Buddies Ethan Howell and Stephen Plemmons know the feeling completely. This will be the fourth Country/Western Show they’ve been through together, and the boys sound ready for the challenge — if just a bit nervous.
“I’ve never jumped out of a plane, but I’m pretty sure it’s about the same experience,” said Plemmons, who will be doing “Drive” by Alan Jackson.
Howell, who will be performing “The Impossible” by Joe Nichols, nodded and added that the show can make you do “crazy things,” though they agreed it’s worth it. Howell said it’s “pretty cool” to be part of the 30th anniversary because his brother was in the 25th. He lightheartedly concluded that the show’s traditionally packed houses must mean that people like to hear Tuscola students sing.
“Or maybe it’s because we’ve got so many relatives around here, that they have to come to the shows,” he joked.
On a more serious note, both he and Plemmons admitted they were sad to see their time in the show finally come to an end. When asked if they were going to miss it, Howell responded with a quick “Oh yeah.”
“It’s probably one of the biggest things we’re going to miss about high school,” he said. “Maybe the only thing.”
At least they and scores of other County/Western Show veterans can rest assured that this local tradition will keep going. Wise is one of many who will make sure of it. With all the bad going on in the world, she sees this show as an optimistic, upbeat refuge. She can’t imagine that will ever go out of style.
“Everything around us seems to change, but this seems to stay right on,” she said. “I’m good with that.”
The Tuscola Country/Western Show, which will include students from both Summit and Chamber choirs, will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 8-10, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 11. In addition to the songs and dances, expect a bounty of raffles and drawings, all raising funds for the music department. Tickets are available at the door or by calling 456-2408.
30 years and counting
All Country/Western Shows are tinged with a bit of nostalgia, but this year’s milestone should bring on the waterworks more than normal. Several past County/Western alumni from all different years will be on-hand to announce each song (Paula Nichols, Ethan Smith, Luke Howell, Tyler Howell, Emily Christopher, Steve Finney, and Scarlett Heatherly and her son, Shane). The band will also be comprised of alumni (Josh Fields, Robbie Moore and Shannon Clark). A song from Wise’s past assistant, Mary Ann Cooper, will also be featured. She penned “Thank God for Country,” an original tune that opens the show. Like every year, there will also be countless parents, grandparents and chorus supporters in general in the background helping the show go on. From organizing fundraisers to helping with costumes and beyond, these people keep the music program going, Wise said. And she hopes they know how much they are appreciated.