For a quarter century, he played pedal steel guitar for straight-up, classic country music fans to whom the word crossover meant only going to the other side of the street. Now, he aims to do it again — on a smaller scale, certainly, but with a big, 10-gallon-hat enthusiasm just the same.
“The goal of all this is to put classic country music back into a nice family atmosphere,” Garry Pugh said.
The 64-year-old Columbus musician and his bassist-wife, Nancy Pugh, have launched “Little Hope Opry of WILLow LeaVes,” a live, three-hour monthly show mimicking the long-running Friday shows he played with the house band, the Little Nashville Express, at the former Little Nashville Opry in Brown County until 2007.
In a move meant to offer more twang for your buck, tickets for each show are $10.
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“We wanted the price to be low enough so that we can slowly build on this,” Garry Pugh said.
The next performance is 7 p.m. Saturday at WILLow LeaVes of Hope, 326 Jackson St. in Hope with guest artists Denise Kocur of Columbus and Jeff Stevenson of Indianapolis.
The Pughs figured the idea would work after they played in the band for the concert-style musical, “Always … Patsy Cline” in March and April at WILLow LeaVes. The presentation sold out seven shows before a total of 700 people. Crazy, you might say.
But in a current musical climate where pop goes the country, the couple mentioned that fans of artists such as Merle Haggard, George Jones, George Strait and Patty Loveless have few places to turn for honky tonks and heartbreak.
“Remember that during most of the 1980s and 1990s, the Little Nashville Opry was sold out most of the time when the big-name stars played on Saturday nights,” Garry Pugh said.
Not to mention solid crowds on most Fridays in the 2,000-seat venue when he became the Man of Steel, if you will.
And while WILLow LeaVes’ 100-seat space cannot compete with the Opry’s spacious hall, the Hope venue offers homemade food, including bratwurst, pulled pork, potato salad and other choices for purchase during shows.
Plus a small dance area to let your cowboy boots scoot and boogie.
“We’ve had a good initial response, including from some people who have told us they really miss the Little Nashville Opry,” Nancy Pugh said.
Granted, the crowd at the first show in June was small, but that kickoff unfolded with virtually no publicity. This time, they’re spreading the word from Hope to Nashville, Shelbyville and beyond. Besides, even in that modest, first-time crowd were fans from as far away as Greensburg to see the four-person band of the Pughs and Collin Banks on guitar and Reva Brummett on lead guitar.
“And those people said they would bring more people next time,” Nancy Pugh said.
What: Little Hope Opry of WILLow LeaVes, a first Saturday of each month classic country concert with a four-member band and an area guest artist or two.
When: Next show with guest artists Denise Kocur of Columbus and Jeff Stevenson is from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday.
Other scheduled shows: Aug. 6 and Sept. 3.
Where: WILLow LeaVes of Hope, 326 Jackson St. in Hope.
Tickets: $10, available at the door or by calling 812-546-0640.