Bill Anderson – Newberry Opera House (Newberry, SC)
This evening was a homecoming of sorts for “Whisperin'” Bill Anderson, who grew up in nearby Columbia, South Carolina. A regular on the Grand Ole Opry since his debut in 1961, Anderson brought the Opry to the Opera on this particular evening.
The Newberry Opera House is a historic structure, built in 1882 and fully restored just this year. Part of the restoration effort is preserved on the backs of the folding wooden seats, in the form of brass plaques commemorating donors who paid $1,000 each for a chair. It is a magnificent building steeped in local history, rising unexpectedly out of an otherwise unremarkable yet charming rural Southern town, and a wonderful place to see a legend like Anderson.
In front of a capacity crowd of just over 400 with an average age over the half-century mark, Anderson and his band — the same one he uses on the Opry every night — put on a spirited show that was enjoyable despite obviously choreographed stage banter and jokes. For just over an hour, Anderson transported the audience to the Grand Ole Opry via song and shtick, even pulling out a square white WSM mike stand cover.
All the obvious highlights were there, from the opening “Wild Weekend” to “Bright Lights And Country Music”, “I Love You Drops”, “Po’ Folks”, and the tear-jerker story “Deck Of Cards”. Between songs, Anderson spun memories of the Opry, including the time at the Ryman when a bug from an open window in the non-air-conditioned building flew down his throat in the middle of a song, “Which is how I became Whisperin’ Bill Anderson,” he cracked. On the classic “I Wonder If God Likes Country Music”, bassist James Freeze capably covered the duet part originated by the late Roy Acuff.
The hits aside, Anderson and his guitarist of 17 years, Les Singer, settled down together at the front of the stage to perform a few acoustic songs, including a couple from his new Warner/Reprise album Fine Wine, the first all-new recording he has released in 15 years. One particularly interesting song, “Too Country”, was a condemnation of current country music, with Anderson remarking in song, “Is the message too real, is honest and true just not in demand?”
Anderson may never again have a hit song as a singer, but judging from the crowd of adoring fans who stayed two hours after the show to get autographs, handshakes, and a smile from him, that won’t matter to him, or them. As long as there are bright lights and real country music, there will be a need for an artist like Bill Anderson.