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Like a Homecoming: Heritage Hall blazes back to life

The Kody Norris Show performing Saturday evening at Heritage Hall in Mountain City. Heritage Hall kicked-off it’s 2021 season Saturday night after taking a year-and-a-half hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Dan Cullinane
Freelance Writer

After a year and a half, Heritage Hall threw open its doors to a full capacity crowd, and live music made a huge comeback in Mountain City. As evening settled in, the sign at the corner of College and Church, flashed “Heritage Hall is Back. The Kody Norris Show. Tonight, 7:00 p.m. SOLD OUT,” and in the parking lot, a line of people stretched around the building while inside the all-volunteer staff prepared to open the doors. 

A labor of love and herculean struggle, it’s never been an easy road for Johnson County’s performing arts venue, but the shutdowns shortly after a massive investment in sound equipment were devastating. Upstairs, Heritage Hall President Chase McGlamery made adjustments to the light and sound equipment, while in the lobby, Vice President Linda Moon chatted with Mary Rachel Nalley-Norris about merchandise sales for tonight’s headliner, The Kody Norris Show. Program Director Judy McGuire donned an usher’s vest in the empty auditorium and expressed an enormous relief that this moment had finally arrived.

“We made it through,” McGuire said. “I’m full of feelings. Relief. Satisfaction. I’ve seen many shows, and sometimes they bring me to tears, but not because of what’s happening on the stage. It’s that we’re able to offer it, and people are enjoying it.”

McGuire takes up her position by the door to scan tickets while McGlamery descends from the light booth to the lobby. “I came in about three-o-clock to turn on the air conditioning and lights,” he said. “And you could feel the life coming back into the place. It was a really cool feeling.”

Charlie Lowman and Josiah Tyree from The Kody Norris Show joined Mary Rachel at the merchandise table, and together with McGlamery, they observed the huge crowd outside.

“I’ve never seen a show where the line is wrapped around the building,” McGlamery said. “People are excited. It’s really good to see the community still supports this place.”

Then he opened the door, and it was bedlam. Inside the rapidly filling auditorium, Brian Eller, Kody Norris’s second cousin, who has never seen him perform live, is seated next to Dalton Smith and Jacob Norther, two musicians who drove down from West Virginia for the show. “We’ve been watching Kody for a few years, and he’s one of the best in the business,” Norther told Eller.

McGuire, scanning tickets, felt the excitement building.

“It’s like a homecoming,” she said. “It’s the music, plus seeing friends, you might not have seen since the last show.”

The lights go down, and after McGlamery’s short welcome, The Kody Norris Show hits the stage with a roof rattling Farmin’ Man, and the audience erupts. Live music is back in a big way, and by the time hometown boy Norris grabs a mandolin and rips into a fire-breathing New River Train, you could power a small town on the electricity in the room.

Afterward, as hundreds of people head to their cars, the sign on the corner is reflected in the rain-washed pavement. “Heritage Hall is Back.” That might be the understatement of the night.