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VOL. 41 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 31, 2017

CabaRay will be ‘one-stop entertainment venue’

By Tom Wood

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What is it? A 27,000-square-foot “Las Vegas-style” dinner theater

Address: 5724 River Road, just off Charlotte Pike in Bellevue

Opens: Late summer (likely August); exact date to be announced

Features:

  • A 720-seat showroom for live performances, including 213 seats in the balcony
  • Full-service kitchen with a choice of four catered meals available for guests on the floor and lower level
  • A state-of-the-art recording studio
  • Video production studio
  • Bose sound system
  • Full bar
  • Gift and memorabilia shop
  • Lobby area that includes artwork by entertainer Bobby Goldsboro
  • Ticket office
  • Offices and headquarters for Stevens’ various business operations
  • Parking for both cars and tour buses
  • Schedule: Ray Stevens will perform Thursday-Saturday evenings; a gospel matinee is likely for Sunday performances; it will be available to other artists Monday-Wednesday nights

Ticket prices: To be announced; lower level seating will include full dinner service; balcony seating will be for the show only, with refreshments available for purchase.

Information: Go to www.raystevens.com and Ray Stevens CabaRay on Facebook; no telephone number yet

There’s no easy way to pigeonhole the new Ray Stevens CabaRay Showroom and define exactly what it is and what it will mean to Music City’s tourism and entertainment industry.

At its heart, the 700-plus seat facility will be an old-school dinner club with live performances planned nightly.

Stevens’ concept for the Showroom was inspired by his last-century performances at the Desert Inn’s Celebrity Room in Las Vegas. Closer to home, think of some tourist venues in Pigeon Forge, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Branson, Missouri, and you’ll have an idea of what the country music/comedy legend is bringing to Bellevue in late summer.

“His vision is to make this thing a one-stop entertainment venue. He had that run in Branson (in the 1990s),” says WSM Radio personality Bill Cody, who is the announcer for his CabaRay Nashville television show and may fill a similar role at the CabaRay Showroom. “Ray knows what works and what needs to be done different.

“He is a true entertainer, one of those artists who takes charge of an audience seconds after taking the stage. He has people grinning ear-to-ear immediately and having a good time once it’s lights, camera and action. His performances have a true show business feel. The great ones seem to have that vision.”

Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation, couldn’t agree more. He has been touting the CabaRay Showroom at various tourism conventions and says interest is soaring among industry insiders.

“People love it. They are absolutely engaged by it. We have great daytime attractions (in Nashville) for the tour market, but we don’t have a lot of evening entertainment offerings,” Spyridon points out.

“Once you get past the Opry, there’s not a lot of regular things year in and year out, day in and day out, so it fills that void. We’re on everybody’s radar.”

And shows won’t just feature the namesake host. Stevens, 78, plans to perform probably only three nights a week. There will likely be gospel shows, other country music artists who like an intimate setting and other acts the rest of the week.

Buddy Kalb, Stevens’ longtime collaborator and friend, says all entertainment projects are being, well, entertained. Plays? Sure. He and Ray have written a few that might make the stage. Comedians? Absolutely. Holiday shows? Ring-a-ling, hear them sing! The more the merrier.

“Ray is going to be here at least three nights a week – Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights – and we think there will be other entertainers who will want to perform here in a more intimate setting in a supper club rather than (with fans) sitting in theater seats,” Kalb adds.

“Carol Burnett’s here (mid-March at Ryman Auditorium), and she might prefer something like this. We’re not in competition with any other performance venue, but we think he’s providing something that’s different.”

One person who is enthusiastic about such an opportunity to use the CabaRay facility is Larry Black, host of Larry’s Country Diner and Country’s Family Reunion talk/entertainment shows on RFD-TV. His plans to open a real-life diner have fallen by the wayside, but he has discussed hosting some type of show at CabaRay Showroom.

“He wants to perform Thursday, Friday and Saturday – which leaves Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as venue spots. And we’ve talked about going there and doing some Larry’s Country Diner shows or some Country’s Family Reunion shows. It’s the same basic audience that’s coming to town,” Black explains.

Kalb says one idea is to remove chairs and tables from the area right around the stage so folks can dance to an orchestra. Bring on the big band and party like it’s 1949.

“How many people have ever gone out dining and dancing in our era? This can have many functions, be a dinner club or do stage plays as a dinner theater. Ray and I have written small plays. … So, something like that might go. All kinds of opportunities.”

Of course, if you’re going to have a dinner club, you have to have dinner. And Stevens has mapped out the menu, which will be a catered affair.

Dinner will be included in the ticket price for seats on the lower level, which will seat just over 500. The balcony will have more than 200 seats for fans who want to attend the show only and not pay for dinner. Admission prices, Stevens notes, have not been determined.

“When you buy your ticket, you pick your dinner – steak or chicken or salmon or a vegetarian dish,” he adds. “Then there will be salads, breads, drinks such as tea, cola or water, and vegetables like broccoli, rice … I’m a big fan of the baked potato, so you know we will definitely have baked potatoes.”

Of course, bringing tourists by the busloads means first bringing more jobs to Bellevue.

Stevens already has seven employees, and another 40 are expected to be hired for jobs such as bartenders, kitchen help, food prep, servers, ticket and gift shop sellers and greeters, sound and production musicians, lighting, background singers, maintenance and janitorial and 24-hour security.

The facility will be used as a television studio with the capability for live streaming. Stevens will start taping his CabaRay Nashville TV show, which airs on PBS stations across the country, in the new facility.

“He’s building in all the cameras, the lights and everything to shoot here. And to stream from here. There can be on-demand, pay-per-view performances here. We’re setting up to do that, to tape and transfer from here,” Kalb says. “This is a dinner club performance venue that can be used for taping.”

Stevens explains the concept in a little more detail. It should provide invaluable cross-promotion opportunities for both the Showroom and the CabaRay Nashville TV show. Tune into the show first and you’ll see a spot about the Showroom and an invitation from Ray to visit him in Nashville. Attend the Showroom first, and he’ll remind you to tune into the show on a PBS station near you.

“We’re going to have the capability for television production. In the production room, we’re going to have six fixed cameras that are high definition that not only zoom but pan left to right and up and down,” Stevens explains.

“They’ll be controlled in that booth up there. We’ll have more room out there (to tape CabaRay Nashville than at his current Music Row studio). Then we can add other cameras that are hand-held or are on a tripod or whatever to move around the room and shoot the show out there.”

The facility will also serve as a recording studio where musicians will gather, and Stevens can make the albums, tapes and CDs he will sell in the on-site gift shop. Memorabilia and Nashville items will be available as well.

“It’ll be some of my stuff, but country music and Nashville memorabilia, because let’s face it, it is Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville, which is the TV show on PBS and hopefully is where people will get their first idea to come to the CabaRay Showroom in Nashville anyway.”

Tom Wood, author of the fictional true-crime thriller Vendetta Stone and Western short stories, is a regular contributor to The Ledger. Reach him at tomwoodauthor.com

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