Lee County Neighbors
It’s another Friday night, and Gennie Dodd has taken his usual center spot on stage in the Brewer community. Dodd and five accompanying musicians launch into a trio of songs recorded by country music legend George Jones, beginning “I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair.” When the first notes are played, six couples arise from their seats and hit the dance floor, moving to the song’s uptempo beat.
“That George Jones, he’s hard to stop once he gets started,” Dodd said following the song’s finish.
More people – a majority of whom would be regarded as senior citizens – joined in to dance on the next song, “Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through)” until 12 couples were on the floor slow dancing to Jones’ signature hit, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
As the Starlighters band rolled on through songs by other artists, 73-year-old Ray Herron of Tupelo would find a female dance partner to keep on dancing.
“If you’re like me, you don’t get a lot of exercise,” Herron said. “That’s about as good an excercise you can get, besides swimming.”
Dodd and others keep the music going every Friday night at the Brewer Opry, which has turned the Brewer community center – formerly a school house in the Lee County community southeast of Tupelo – into a music hall. Dodd and his wife, Faye, have been hosting the weekly get-together for two years.
“That’s what we like about it,” Gennie Dodd said, “seeing people get out, especially these elderly people.
The Brewer Opry is open from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m. at the Brewer Community Center, located on County Road 805. The south half of the building is devoted to the opry while members of Brewer United Methodist Church, located across the road from the center, use the dining area on the north end to sell food to opry patrons.
The opry is a family-oriented establishment. Smoking and alcohol aren’t allowed inside. Gennie Dodd said a majority of their visitors are 50 and older.
“When you get their age, there aren’t too many places they can go,” he said. “Sometimes we’ll have young people in here, people in their 20s. Sometimes they bring their children with them.”
Country music, especially the classic songs of the 1950s and ’60s, is performed at the Opry.
The Dodds hosted an opry house for five years in the Monroe County town of Wren before closing it down. Faye Dodd, who serves up soft drinks and coffee at the opry bar, recalled the disappointment their regular customers felt at the time.
“Everybody kept calling us asking us to do something,” she said. “They said we had no place to go on Friday nights.”
With the help of Faye’s friend, Crye-Leike Realtor Jeannie Leach, the Dodds were shown the Brewer building. Faye said it reminded her of the schoolhouse she attended as a child. After talking to community representatives overseeing the building, the Dodds were allowed to lease the building and make improvements inside.
There was a lot of work to do. The south half of the building, where the Opry is housed, was once an auditorium. Old chairback seats were removed and walls torn down to open up space for the dance floor and seating areas. Band members, friends and patrons from the Wren music hall pitched in with the work.
“My husband and I came down here, we washed windows, washed chairs,” said Leach, who is a regular Opry patron. “He cleaned up the yard and we planted some shrubs. It was a lot of work.”
Faye Dodd laughed when she recalled the sweat equity that went into renovating the building. “We worked our butts off,” she said. “One day, I asked my husband, have we lost our minds. Sweat was running off us and we were on our hands and knees. It was hard work, but it was worth it.”
In two months, the Opry was open for business. “We still got some work to do,” Gennie Dodd said. “We’re going to paint the outside. Hopefully we’re going to redo this ceiling, but that’s in the future. We’re still adding on every week.”
Music plays on
Gennie is usually front and center on the Opry stage with the Starlighters for most of the evening, but he steps away for one set to allow others to sing. Like the tradition of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, many people are given the opportunity to showcase their musical talents.
On one recent night, Joe Rickman of Corinth opened the set with his Johnny Cash act complete with all-black clothing and saying the iconic “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” opening line. Others also take the mic to sing for the audience while Gennie joins Faye at the bar.
From their view, the Dodds enjoy seeing people dancing and spending time with friends. Many of the patrons and band members have been regulars even back to the Wren music house days, and they come from all over Northeast Mississippi to spend their Friday nights in Brewer.
“We like country music,” Gennie said. “They like the fast music. When they get out there on the dance floor, just turn loose and cut up.”
Faye added, “We don’t make a lot of money, but we have fun.”
After dancing with 72-year-old Dorothy Dobbs of Baldwyn, Herron said the Brewer Opry is a perfect place to spend a Friday night dancing and listening to music.
“I usually come here unless I’m out of town,” Herron said. “Real nice people here. It’s family oriented. No alcohol, no smoking inside, you can bring your children if you like to. The Brewer church sells food over on the other end. It’s a nice, friendly place to come.”
Faye said the community center building has been an ideal home for the Opry and Brewer.
“It’s good for this building to be used for something like this in the community,” she said. “We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think it was.”