Lee Mace

Lee Mace’s Ozark Opry

by Joshua Heston

Far too many people — talented, able, amazing people — walk through life asking, What if?

What if I had taken the chance?

What if I had gone out on a limb, doing what I loved?

Now, just think...what would have happened?

What would the Ozarks look like?

What if Lee Mace — tall, charismatic Lee with quick fists and a quicker smile — had used his talent for showbusiness?

What if the show — dubbed the Ozark Opry — had secured a location in Osage Beach, taking advantage of vacationers traveling to appreciate the sprawling Lake of the Ozarks?

Well, it just might have changed the face of entertainment.

Mace, most likely, would have drawn from regional musicians, giving talented performers like Lonnie Hoppers a place to start.

The show would have probably been styled on the older Roy Acuff performances — a country variety show of sorts, heavy on comedy and personality, all backed by good musicians. Man, it would have been quite the show.

And maybe, just maybe, folks from farther down in these old hills would have traveled up to the lake, just to see what all the ruckus was about.

And those folks?

Families filled with talent and that strange, burning desire that makes a person stand on stage and pour out their heart and soul every night?

Those folks just might have headed back to White River Country and started country music shows of their own.

And vacationers — bass fisherman, mostly, and their families — would have gone to clap their hands and stomp their feet.

Hillbillies and country music. It would have come to be celebrated here in the hills.

Of course, then there would have been more people... and more people... and then, well, who knows?

It’s just hard to tell what these old Ozarks would have all looked like if Lee Mace had followed his dream.

Goodness sakes! Things sure would have been different.

January 15, 2010

The Ozark Opry, 1984:

“Lee Mace's Ozark Opry from Osage Beach, Missouri, opened its doors in 1953, making it the first nighttime entertainment at central Missouri's beautiful Lake of the Ozarks region.

And through the years [the] Ozark Opry has provided Lake area visitors with music, comedy and unequalled showmanship.

“How many came to have a good time?” This often-asked question by emcee Lee Mace [pictured at right] at the beginning of each Ozark Opry performance is continually met with an enthusiastic response. And the audience is just as enthusiastic when the show is over, knowing they got what they came for.

The original Ozark Opry began with a two-fold idea conceived by owners Lee and Joyce Mace. They wanted to preserve the real flavor of the Ozarks and also give young people in nearby towns a chance to be seen and heard.

Many of the Ozark Opry tunes had been played and sung by hill folks at their musicals, baptizings and small country churches ever since the first settlers came to the Ozark Mountains from Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia.

Lee Mace serves as emcee for the show and plays the bass fiddle, which has become his trademark. From the beginning theme to the closing, Lee aims at making his audiences feel at home and to entertain them with music and lots of Ozark Opry-style comedy. An equally outstanding trademark of the Ozark Opry is the genuine Ozark hospitality extended to each member of the audience.

Today’s edition of the Ozark Opry is alive with talent, versatility, music, comedy and top-notch showmanship. Stashed between the hysteria created by the show's comedians are a variety of vocals, instrumentals and even some dance routines.

The Ozark Opry performs in their own auditorium in Osage Beach, Missouri from mid-April to November, with shows nightly (except Sunday) from May 1 through October. Ozark Opry has the distinction of being the oldest show of its type in the United States.

— 1984 liner notes from the album “Lee Mace’s Ozark Opry Sings Country” pictured above right.

plate 1. Bashful Bob Penny (comedian), Lonnie Hoppers on banjo, Don Russell on fiddle, Lee Mace on bass, Dillard Stamper on guitar, and “High-Pockets” Bob McCoy (comedian), c. 1958. Photo courtesy of Lonnie Hoppers.

Ozark Opry

plate 2.

Ozark Opry

plate 3. Lonnie Hoppers on stage, 1957.

“Dillard Stamper is nearly directly behind me. Bob McCoy is behind me a little to my right. I believe Bob is playing his D-18 Martin there. Dillard had a Gibson flat top. Though I don't remember the model, it was like a J-45 but with the big block inlays like some of their electric guitars. Dillard would play close chord slap rhythm sometimes. Bob would play open chords most all the time. They did a lot of duets with Dillard singin’ tenor.” — Lonnie Hoppers

From Lonnie Hoppers:

We were the only country music show with the exception of the Ozark Jubilee in Springfield. We were less regimented than the Jubilee, and had no bandstand routine. We were loose and people liked that. Sometimes you can play over people's head. But when you get on their level? Johnny Cash is a prime example. Most people could sing nearly as well, if not better. But he wrote and sang songs that people understood. A lot of people never pick up on that.

About Lonnie Hoppers:

Hoppers, of the decidedly rural Ozarks community of Urbana, Missouri, is an integral part of the musical history of Missouri, of the Ozarks, and of Bluegrass. A member of Lee Mace’s Ozark Opry in Osage Beach; a member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys; a regular at Silver Dollar City; part of the Plummer Family Show in Branson, Hoppers is also a greatly respected banjo teacher. It is with great appreciation that State of the Ozarks welcomes Lonnie’s photo archives and rich memories to the publication. Lonnie, thank you for your contributions in preserving our heritage.

by Joshua Heston, editor

Ozark Opry

plate 4. Ozark Opry, late summer 1958

Ozark Opry

plate 5.

Photo plate credits: Plates 1, 2, & 4, courtesy of Lonnie Hoppers; Plates 3 & 5, courtesy of Randy Plummer

Lee Mace’s Eulogy by Wayne Glenn:

“Lee Mace, the founder and owner of the Ozark Opry at Osage Beach, died in 1985 in a place crash. An Ozarks native, Lee Mace and his wife Joyce Mace (from Linn Creek, Missouri) were square dance partners first!

After his tragic death, Joyce kept the first permanent Ozarks music show going. It was the first six-night-a-week country music theater in the United States.

And in 2005, the Ozarks Opry is in its 53rd season. It was Lee Mace who showed future Ozarks theaters how to ‘do it’”

— page 510, Glenn, Wayne, Down The Road From Nixa, Litho Printers, Cassville, Missouri, 2007.

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Missouri Boatride

(Branson West, MO) “It’s a story that has been told quite a few times,” says Larry Sifford, band founder and bass player of the now-13-year old group Missouri Boatride. “We’ve been together a long time now.”

More than one band has begun simply with a friendly jam session and Boatride is no exception. “It was 2001,” says Sifford, “and it all started with a bunch of friends getting together Tuesday nights and jamming at my house. We started playing, just messing around, but tried to keep the instruments separate. We didn’t want to end up with eight guitars and nothing else.”

“One night we got to talking and I said, ‘You know, we ought to call Dean Webb [former mandolin player with The Dillards and well-known for his appearances on The Andy Griffith Show].’ Justin [Larry’s son and the group’s guitar player] goes ‘Dad, Dean wouldn’t want to play with us! He has played all over the world. He opened for Elton John. He worked with The Byrds!’ And I said, ‘Son, we’re just a bunch of hillbilly pickers and he started out with a bunch of hillbilly pickers.’”

Dean joined the group, which at that time included Dave Nolan (banjo player and great Merle Haggard style vocalist with the Horse Creek Band). The fledgling Branson West group would meet many fans on the American Star, a Table Rock Lake cruise. “We played every night, five nights a week that first year. The next year Justin was able to join us full-time. We played that gig for three years every night, on the lake, even in storms.”

“Dean can’t swim and a few of those storms got a little bit exciting. I remember he leaned over to me at one point and said, ‘If this thing goes down, I get the bass.’ ‘So you’re leaving me with the mandolin?’ I asked. ‘No!’ he said. ‘I gotta have a paddle!’”

In spring of 2006, Dave Nolan would pass away suddenly of a heart attack. Bob Gideon was brought in to play banjo. The group also began the Kimberling City Concert series that year, a seemingly impromptu event in which the Boatride plays from the back of a vintage pickup truck in the Kimberling City Shopping Plaza parking lot. Each concert is sponsored by local businesses and these days draws a regular crowd of 300 to 400 people. Fiddle player Dennis Pritchard joined the group in 2010.

Missouri Boatride plays a number of festivals and for several notable area companies, including Dogwood Canyon and Big Cedar Lodge. They played Bean Blossom, Indiana several years ago for the very first John Hartford Memorial Festival and are regulars at Silver Dollar City’s Bluegrass & BBQ.

“D.A. Callaway gave us a great compliment awhile back,” shares Larry. “He said, ‘There’s a lot of bands out here that can maybe out-pick Missouri Boatride, but there’s dang few that can out entertain them!’ I think that is one reason we have the following we do.”

For contact information, be sure to check out our State of the Ozarks Links Page!

For a full listing news articles, click on our State of the Ozarks News Directory!

April 15, 2014

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