The Alvin OpryTri-County Opry House, Alvin, Texas, January 22

The Alvin Opry

The Alvin Opry

Tri-County Opry House, Alvin, Texas, January 22

Even as its surroundings morphed from marshes and cane fields to the near Austin-sized developments of Clear Lake City and Sugar Land, Alvin -- home of flamethrowing Texas legend Nolan Ryan -- clings to its small-town morés like meat on a bone. For 10 years, Gene and Sue Hofford have staged weekend jamborees in a converted Jehovah's Witness house of worship, somehow escaping the attention of Garrison Keillor and CBS Sunday Morning. Inside, signs advertise sponsors DeWitt Furniture, Whittington Bee Farm, and B & H Music Co. Inc. ("Brazoria County's Local Full Line Music Store"), while names of Opry alumni ring the Sunday-school-sized room. The Christmasy stage features a yellow-keyed upright piano, red tinsel curtains, and an Andrew Wyeth knockoff Alpine snowscape the size of a picture window. It's a long, long way from Austin's Continental Club, but who's complaining when the six-piece band kicks off with "Orange Blossom Special"? Then Gene Hofford, resident Porter Wagoner in full Gunsmoke regalia, emerged with "(Is Anybody Going to) San Antone," proving Doug Sahm really is immortal (even if Wofford credited Charley Pride). And the capacity audience of 200 or so, at least 90% from what Tom Brokaw calls the "Greatest Generation," didn't mind at all his forgetting the song's second verse. From there ensued a rapid-fire, generation-spanning revue of new country and old. Doe-eyed twentysomething Lori Gale warbled a pair of melting Brenda Lee-type ballads, and backup vocalist Robin Booth ventured further into pop territory with a brisk "Misty." Piano man Jim Black plinked out nimble versions of Ernie Ashworth's "Tremblin' Lips" and Ricky Van Shelton's gentle waltz "Life Made Her That Way." After a surreal interlude from entertainer Susie Q -- imagine a blend of Minnie Pearl, Pee-wee Herman, and Holly Hobby, if you can -- young Erica Wyman crooned a pair of Dixie Chicks songs, her ripe, sturdy alto belying her stock-still stage posture. Bassist Larry Booth's molasses-thick baritone took center stage for "Six Days on the Road," followed by frisky solo turns from backup singers Rhonda Walters and Kim Lanier on "Satin Sheets" and "Lonely Weekends." Then it was teen time as strapping Seth Johnson applied his buttery Backstreet tenor to "Your Cheatin' Heart," "I Swear," and a wholly charming "All My Exes Live in Texas," and elfin Kaytie Austin strutted like Shania on Lorrie Morgan's "Go Away" and a Rimesian "Sweet Dreams." The evening's final two acts were actual adults, thirtyish brunette C.J. Goodwin coyly flirting with several nonplussed seniors during "Unchained Melody" and Hondo's Ronnie Mason closing out with Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, and a good-time gospel clapalong on "Daddy Sang Bass." (C.J. sang tenor.) It was about as rousing a time as possible in a place that greets patrons with the sign "The Tri-County Opry is a family establishment ... obscene language and drunkenness will not be tolerated." A slice of Nashville circa 1954 with a dash of Star Search, the Alvin Opry may be out of time, but it's still well worth visiting -- right up there with the Nolan Ryan Museum at the local community college.

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