published Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Benefit to aid Etowah’s Gem

The marquee at Etowah's Gem Theater shows the theater still hosts a full schedule since its 1927 opening.
The marquee at Etowah's Gem Theater shows the theater still hosts a full schedule since its 1927 opening. Photo by Randall Higgins.

IF YOU GO


What: Benefit concert for Gem Theater restoration

When: Saturday, 7-9 p.m.

Tickets: $10, available at Etowah Chamber of Commerce, businesses in Etowah and Athens and at the door.

Organizers are asking concertgoers to bring non-perishable items to help storm victims.

ETOWAH, Tenn.—For years they played music behind some of the best-known country singers.

For years, the Gem Theater has been Etowah’s gathering place for live performances — music, drama, vaudeville and occasionally movies.

Next weekend, the talent and the venue come together for a benefit concert for the Gem.

Each member of Pete Miller and The Country Classic Band has 30 to 40 years experience backing up the likes of Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., Reba McEntire, Sawyer Brown and the Oak Ridge Boys.

“We never wanted to go on the road again or play a bar again in our lives,” Miller said.

Instead the band, from their homes in various places across Tennessee, come together at Miller’s Fall Creek Falls home and studio to rehearse. They also formed a nonprofit benefit company to play concerts to raise money for worthy causes.

“Theaters are ideal for us,” Miller said during a recent conversation with Etowah business and cultural leaders and the media.

On Saturday, the band will hold a benefit concert to help restore the theater. Concertgoers will see firsthand how some restoration work is being done by volunteers. And they can expect a mix of country classics from the 1970s onward.

The current Gem Theater was a 1927 consolidation of two older theater buildings, said Brian Silber, Etowah parks and recreation director.

The city of Etowah acquired the theater in 1990. In 2000, a firewall was all that saved the building from a massive downtown blaze. The theater is home to the Gem Players and to musical events year-round.

“It’s truly a community theater in the truest sense of the word,” Silber said.

But the Gem has been showing its age, said Maxine Jones, president of the Etowah Downtown Merchants and Friends Association. A restoration fund was started several years ago.

“The goal is to come as close to the 1927 appearance as possible,” she said.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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