The Dec. 5 SMCPA open house was a way to thank those who have patronized the center and was also the launch pad for the 2014 performance schedule, which includes the likes of Don Williams, Travis Tritt and Loretta Lynn.
Greeting people at the entrance, Franklin Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Linda Harbuck is all smiles when seeing the positive impact the center has had on her community and the region as a whole.
“This facility is one of our biggest, most important assets we have in Franklin now,” she said. “The impact of it has been tremendous for our community with the quality of entertainment available to our region. It is a centerpiece of the community, and we’re thrilled at the success of the events held here.”
Since opening in 2009, the 1,500-seat state-of-the-art building has played host to a wide range of international stars, performances and productions. With names like Merle Haggard, Rhonda Vincent, Air Supply and Dr. Ralph Stanley, and shows ranging from ballet to magicians to comedy troupes, the performance space has become a beacon of artistic and cultural light in the area.
“This place has become a necessity, I think, in Macon County,” said Lisa Kline, a proud attendee and usher at SMCPA. “Everyone here has worked so hard to make it so special. The last couple shows I worked, a good portion of the crowd was from out of town or here for the first time.”
And it’s that sentiment of getting people to stay in Franklin, rather than drive through it, that has been at the heart of SMCPA, a business started by Phil Drake. Drake owns an accounting software firm and a handful of other businesses in and around Franklin.
“Phil took the time to build this, and he set a standard of excellence by having no foul talk or suggestive clothing here,” said usher Mary Ackerson. “His whole idea was to get people to not drive through Franklin, but stop here, go to a show, stay at a hotel and go to a restaurant.”
Robbinsville-based country/rock group My Highway showcased its talents onstage in front of a joyous crowd in celebration of the open house. Following the band’s first set, Garner took the microphone and announced the 2014 schedule to applause and cheers. When Loretta Lynn was named one of the year’s performers, Ackerson had a look of shock on her face, and immediately grabbed her cell phone.
“I just called my husband and told him ‘Loretta is coming here,’” she said. “It just blows your mind. She’s a legend, a true blue legend. I can’t believe it.”
Following the announcements, the crowd quickly lined up at the box office to purchase special “pre-sale” tickets for any of the shows listed. Standing eagerly in line, Franklin resident David Kellam is excited for the upcoming performances.
“I used to have season tickets to the Fox Theatre in Atlanta,” he said. “Here, I can get home and into bed after show, where I’d still just be getting out of the parking lot at the Fox.”
A few feet down from Kellam, Charlotte resident and Franklin second homeowner Tom Brown is appreciative of the unique hospitality provided by the SMCPA.
“When I’m in Charlotte and a show down there is cancelled, I have to fight for my money back,” he said. “Here, they call you and ask where to send the money to.”
That hospitality is something Garner is all about.
“I come from a hospitality background, and I always try to bring that into everything I do,” he said. “We’re excited about all of the shows coming here. We’re just really trying to hone in our market and stick to that.”
Greeting patrons out in the lobby are dancers from nearby Betsy’s School of Dance. The adolescent dancers from schools around the county and north Georgia are in the final preparations for their rendition of The Nutcracker Ballet, which will be performed Dec. 20-21.
“We used to do our performances in the small high school auditorium,” said dancer Raya Lannon. “Now, we have this huge backstage area at the center, a professional setup where you characterize yourself better and project yourself in a large room. It’s amazing.”
“This building is helping the community grow and learn,” said ballet teacher Kelly Duff. “Our students are taking classes and lessons from professional performers who come in here. It’s a great opportunity for them to perform and learn from others.”
Seeing a stream of satisfied patrons head for the parking lot following the open house, Garner is ready for 2014. For him, it’s about enjoying where you live and what you do.
“My staff and I, we love what we do,” he said. “We work hard and chip away at it. When you love what you do, there are no bad days.”
Editor’s Note: For more information and a complete list of the 2014 event schedule at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts, click on www.greatmountainmusic.com.