Tuesday, July 16, 2019
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20190116 Showcase IMG 7635Kody Norris was fascinated – he used the word “mesmerized” – with the performers he saw on the Grand Ole Opry when he was a child. Not only was he drawn in by the music, but also by the bright, bold colors that the performers wore; and the bling – the shiny rhinestones that peppered so many of the outfits, from Glen Campbell to Dolly Parton.
The influence was quite clear as the Kody Norris Band was one of about 35 bands, groups and individuals to perform at the Entertainers Showcase last week at Park Place Estates in Harlingen, organized and run by Robert and Billie Ferguson.

While bull riders are given just seven seconds to impress the judges, showcase entertainers are given nine minutes – with similar pressure attached – to show park activity directors what they can do in hopes of getting booked for shows the following year.

“I had no idea what to expect,” said Norris, whose group was recommended to come to the Valley by Goldwing Express' Steven Baldridge. “I was like a cat on a hot tin roof and everybody was running around. But the organizers run this with such precision that they do a great job catering to the entertainers. Coming back this year we were 100 percent more at ease.”

That comfort showed as the boldly dressed group electrified the crowd with their high-flying, fast paced bluegrass music, Norris all in a red outfit while the remainder of the group was decked out in all blue – they would've made the Grand Ole Opry proud.

20190116 Showcase IMG 7233Apparently, those in the crowd were excited as well.

“The bookings went great,” Norris said afterwards. “We're up about 30 percent from last year and that's a step in the right direction. We even had some talks going into 2020. We had a lot of compliments on our dress code – we heard a lot about that, and we put a lot of effort into that. Always keep it classy, but also keep it captivating. We want to be professional in all we do.”

Many of the performers early in the day were well-known regulars to the Valley and Winter Texan entertainment scene, such as three-time Valley Star Awards Entertainer of the Year Bill Chrastil, Lindley Creek, and Tavie Spivey with Shake, Rattle and Roll. Many of these groups could get bookings just on their popularity, but each year there seems to be more options and more talent coming from Las Vegas, Nashville, Branson and elsewhere. The competition is getting tougher.

“When you first come down, you don't know anything about what goes on and how it works – so you just need to wing it,” said Spivey, who has her solo show as well as the Shake, Rattle and Roll show. The group performed portions of hits such as “Twist Again,” “Respect,” and “All Shook Up.”

The recipe for success to getting bookings is a combination of a great stage presence, songs to engage the audience, audience participation – and a little bit of comedy doesn't hurt either.

Shake, Rattle and Roll not only booked 38 shows for February 2020 (many including two shows in a day) but also booked 11 shows for 2021.

“That just seems so far away,” Spivey said. “You have nine minutes to give it all you've got, and they need to see your best stuff.”

Last year, Rusty Rierson came all the way from Wichita, Kansas when the temperature was zero degrees at home – and his car's heater broke down on the way. The Nashville recording artist said it was a much longer drive than it should've been since he had to stop to “thaw out” a couple of times. It was a quick in and out trip for him and he even booked shows before the showcase.

20190116 Showcase IMG 6924This year, with one showcase under his belt, he was clearly at ease while performing his country music. His amazing vocals, and quick funny barbs, clearly appealed to the “bookies” in attendance.

“I was a little better prepared this year for the showcase, knowing what to expect,” Rierson said. “That's a day when you need everything to go right and produce synergy – where one plus one equals three. With the amount of entertainers, talent bookers, press and the event itself, that's possible.”

Rierson already has a busy schedule for the remainder of the year but added a few shows while booking shows in 2020 and 2021, including a few Christmas shows at the end of this year.

Tracy Wagner waited in the booking room and received a text from her helper, who was critiquing the performers. It didn't take long before Wagner received her first message - “book the Kody Norris Show.”

“You have to hustle to book the top shows,” said Wagner, activity director at Tropic Winds RV Park. “It gets pretty hectic.”

Activity directors need to know what is appealing to their residents and need to fill out the entertainment schedule with variety; it's like putting a puzzle together.

Maude Agnew is an active volunteer at Casa del Valle and can be seen at almost anything that has to do with music and entertainment, a valuable asset at her park. She has been to several showcases, will likely be at the next one, and is passionate about music.

“The showcase was amazing, and I can't wait for [the next one],” she said, confirming her appearance. “Last year when I heard 4 His Glory, it just blew me away and I haven't forgotten that. Every year I'm just in awe.”

Agnew said there's nothing like the showcase back home in Ontario, Canada. “I wish I could take what they do with me when I go home,” she said. “This is me and my husband's life. We love all the bluegrass and variety shows and the family groups like Lindley Creek or Williamson Branch. People just don't realize all that is here. It's amazing.”

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