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For 33 years senior citizens from far and near have found three and a half-hours of musical entertainment every Saturday night at LaRue County’s Senior Center located on Walters Avenue in Hodgenville.
Part of the reason for that enjoyment, according to co-managers Charles and Viola Riggs, is that the performers as well as the audience feed off of each other’s enthusiasm.
“I love to watch the reactions of the singers as the people in the audience clap along or dance to their music,” Charles Riggs said. “It’s like a big family atmosphere here.”
The Riggs have managed the weekly event since 2009 but have attended and participated for 14 years. Charles plays guitar and Viola, bass.
“We’ll average 60-85 people here every week except for the winter months,” Charles said. “Once in a while, we’ll have some people in their 40s, but most are older, with the oldest being 92 or 93.”
Age, however, is only a number to those attending according to Riggs as almost everyone there either performs or dances during the show that begins at 6:30.
“The rules have stayed the same,” he said. “Each group gets 30 minutes, followed by singles getting three songs each, and they rotate during the night.”
Though slow dances are popular, so are the rock and roll classics with upbeat tempos.
“You wouldn’t think about older people requesting us to play, ‘The Twist’ and ‘Johnny Be Good,’ but there are many fast songs like that which they like to dance to,” he said. “A few might have breathing problems and don’t go at it as hard as others, but everyone one of them has a good time, plus it’s good exercise.”
Those performing provide a variety of other genres including country, blues, gospel and bluegrass.
“I don’t think there’s any one type of music that’s most popular there,” said Riggs. “They enjoy it all.”
According to the Riggs, the gathering is an outgrowth of impromptu jam sessions on the front porch of a vacant house south of Linwood in the late 1970s. In 1980, the group of musicians and singers assembled each Saturday night at Center’s Grocery in Linwood and formed the Linwood Opry.
Playing instruments that ranged from electric guitars to spoons, some of the early musicians included Allen Pottinger, Arnold McCubbins, Ned Bradshaw, Rupert and Laverne Carby, Steve and Slim Shelton, Jim and Becky Harkness, Wayne, Lillian, and Gary Reynolds, William and Daryl Pullin, Wilson Mabe, O.L. Thompson, Clarence Gardner, Donahue, Hulon, Curtis and Cecil Kidd, and Mike Branstetter.
“People would sing and the rest would back them with their instruments,” said Riggs. “Later on, they began to form their own groups or bands and would take turns performing.”
In 1982, the group moved into the former Senior Citizens Center on the square in Hodgenville where Lincoln National Bank’s operations center is located.
“By this time the show had gotten pretty popular and several bands were coming to play,” said Riggs. “Dancing had also become a big part of the audience participation.
Bobby Morrison was in charge of the building and collecting rent. Hulon Kidd served as emcee. Hattie Chaney operated a concession stand.
Local groups,including The Lonesome Valley Boys (Wayne Reynolds, Karl Highbaugh, J.C. Ragland, Milton Emberton, and Gordon Poteet) and The Gold Rush Boys (Daryl and William Pullin) joined the Reynolds family, the Carbys, Hulon Kidd’s group and bands from Louisville, Elizabethtown, Munfordville, Leitchfield and Indiana.
Other regulars included Bill Hatfield, Jim Miller, Jenny Gilpin, Mac McBain, Ray Hudgins, Wayne Mabe, Joe Larson, James Carroll, Billy Spears, David and Jonnie Jones, Billy Kerr, Max Highbaugh, Radford London, Mary Francis Poteet, Garnet Shuffett, Terry Strange, Jim Humphrey, Earl and Alta Florence and Sue Poteet.
The program moved to its current location in November 1993 with Morrison in charge of the building. Shuffett later became the overseer of the operation with his wife Audrey in charge of concessions. In 2001 Earl and Alta Florence took over the operation.
Riggs counted more than 300 musicians and singers who have performed at the center.
“There’s no charge for attending and we welcome anyone interested in singing or playing music to come by Saturdays at 6:30 and sign in,” Riggs said. “It’s good, clean entertainment where a person can relax, perform or just talk to a friend.”