Bringing a touch of Nashville to Columbia County, area musicians and music lovers converge each month on a former country store in Appling for a big helping of bluegrass and gospel.
After nearly a year, the Appling Opry continues to draw enthusiastic crowds to the former J.D. Howell store.
The concerts are held on the second Saturday of each month, said Bill Tankersley, who plays banjo and guitar.
"It was just the perfect place to try to get something started there," he said.
In the winter of 2008, the men's ministry at Kiokee Baptist Church, located just down Ray Owens Road, took on the task of refurbishing the old store, which was constructed in 1924.
Since renovations started, the building has received minor cosmetic changes, electrical upgrades, the addition of a full kitchen and, most recently, air conditioning.
The Appling Opry started in June 2008, and has been going strong ever since.
Musicians jam with one another and individually for many hours during each session. From September through May, area musicians and guests gather at 6 p.m., but when the summer heat rises during the months of June through August, they meet at 7 p.m.
"You give musicians a place to play, and they show up," said Hal Rowland, a member of Kiokee Baptist's ministry.
At one past session, nearly 100 people attended. Guests such as Little Roy Lewis and former Augusta Mayor Bob Young and his wife have attended gatherings, said Tankersley, also a member of Kiokee Baptist.
Ray and Barbara Cheak, of C.D. Morris and Southern Blue Grass, played with other musicians at the Appling Opry performance Saturday and had members of the crowd clapping along.
Barbara sings alongside her husband, who also plays the guitar. They've performed at the Appling building since it opened.
"They (guests) enjoy the music, and we enjoy playing," said Ray Cheak. "There are a lot of good people out here."
The Cheaks, who have been married for 47 years, were accompanied by other artists playing the fiddle, banjo and bass.
Musicians from ages 7 to 80 have performed during the past year, Tankersley said.
The Kelley Bluegrass Band, a family group, also performed Saturday, drawing loud cheers from the crowd. Tim and Donna Kelley's five children, whose ages range from 3 to 19, play a variety of instruments, including the piano, violin, mandolin and guitar.
The family band plays at area churches, restaurants and events throughout the community. The Kelley children always seem to enjoy playing at the Appling Opry, said mother Donna Kelley.
"They look forward to it," she said. "They have a blast."
The outing also provides those in the community with an additional outlet to socialize.
"It's a great family atmosphere," Tankersley said. "It's just a nice place to come and spend a Saturday evening."
Listen to audio clips from the Appling Opry:
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