Mary and I had a wonderful experience last weekend, along with a sorrowful regret. We didn’t know Southern Iowa had it’s own “better than Branson” country music theater, but when we obtained front row seats, we jumped at the chance to attend. It turns out that Willis and Faye Dickerson have been running this establishment for 40 years, and this was to be their last performance. Wouldn’t you know it. Willis is 80 (they both look 65), and Faye is two years behind him. They met in high school, in Unionville, Mo. The teacher made Willis sit beside Faye for talking. They’ve been married and talking for 60 years now. It’s time for them to retire. They are putting their 300-seat theater, which they built on eight acres, one mile north of the Rathbun Lake Dam, up for sale, and staying put on their 800 acre farm at Unionville. Oh, they will help out anyone who comes along. The Rathbun Country Music Theater has been performing to sell-out crowds of loyal followers for 40 years, and the Dickerson’s would like to see that tradition continue.
You see, it’s all one big happy family, with the musicians and their families, and the huge Dickerson family. As the Lovin Spoonful puts it, “All their friends play music, and they ain’t uptight, if one of the kids will.”
Mary and I were absolutely blown away by the talent, enthusiasm and quality of musicians at the Rathbun Country Music Theater. I was stunned when Willis, on lead guitar, and his dozen-or-so-musicians, opened with my favorite country-western ballad of all time, “Highway 40 Blues.” Until the closing piece, “Happy Trails to You,” Willis’ troop kept us, and the packed theater mesmerized with one tear jerker or foot stomper after another. Not only were there theater goers openly weeping, but also the musicians. This was to be their last performance together. All of the musicians and all of their families were brought up on stage for one last farewell.