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John Lair (Part 2)
The Renfro Valley Barn Dance was first heard on WLW from the Cincinnati Music Hall on October 9, 1937. Later they would move the show to Dayton Ohio, at the Memorial Auditorium.
In 1939 the Renfro Valley Barndance opened its doors in Renfro Valley, Kentucky. Offering live entertainment from those who truly lived in the hills of Kentucky. Such acts as Red Foley, Homer and Jethro, Coon Creek Girls, Slim Miller, Old Joe Clark and many others started their careers on the old barn stage.
On the grounds he put in cabins, restaurant with southern home-style meals, souvenir shop, candy kitchen and country store. Many skeptical locals said the barn would have tobacco hanging from its rafters within a month.
The barn could comfortably hold about 800 people. Some weekends thousands would flock to the small valley. The two scheduled shows on a Saturday night could not accommodate all who came. John Lair was not the type of man to turn folks away; sometimes the shows went all night. That was amazing when you consider there were no interstates, and very few hotels. People came from all over. It was not unusual to see more cars from Michigan than from Kentucky.
John Lair did not just want people coming to the valley; he also wanted to bring the valley to the people. Radio always played an important part. In the early days of Renfro, John Lair had his shows broadcast on national radio every day of the week. The programs were the only shows to come directly from a real community and presented mostly by actual residents of that community. There was no regular broadcasting studios. All shows were performed at the barn, old log schoolhouse and the Lodge (restaurant). On special occasions they would even broadcast from deep inside the Saltpeter Cave located a few miles outside of the valley.
In the mid-fifties, Pillsbury Flour sponsored a television show on CBS, "John Lair's Renfro Valley Folks." That was followed in the sixties by the movie, "John Lair's Renfro Valley Barndance." Today, over two hundred radio stations broadcast the Renfro Valley Gatherin', recorded in the valley.
Even though his life centered on entertainment for over fifty years, John Lair was also an historian, writer and collector. It is said that he may very well have had the largest collection of old time country and pioneer music in the world. He wrote some five hundred songs such as, "Take Me Back To Renfro Valley", (his signature song), "Freight Train Blues" and "Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Offa Me", just to name a few.
John Lair also wrote four books on rural Kentucky life and its history; as well as a book titled, "Songs Lincoln Loved", which was well received upon its release.
I believe we can put into film his extraordinary life in a very entertaining way. The John Lair story is a story that should be told, for it is a true look at a person who started off with nothing but a dream. He turned his dream into a reality and lived a happy and fulfilled life. Married fifty plus years and always a devoted husband and father, he is someone who can easily be looked up to. His love for rural life was second to only God and his country. He honestly wanted to preserve country music. Some may find that corny, but after witnessing his life and the way he lived it, most will find it refreshing.
This biography was provided by Matthew Teater, Lair's grandson. Thanks, Matthew.
Article Submitted by Andy Niekamp
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