Text and Photos By Becky Jane Newbold. Originally posted August 2012.
Yodels filled the hall and big comfy chairs swallowed youngsters but giggles, smiles and tapping feet proved fun was in the air. Ranger Doug of the singing cowboys quartet, “Riders in the Sky,” crooned cowboy favorites, doing his part to honor the first anniversary of the re-opening of the 1937 historic theater in downtown Franklin.
Engaging youngsters to help name animals for his tune, the traditionally, colorfully costumed cowboy sang ditty’s pre-approved by his granddaughters, ages one and two, in the audience.
A western-themed day was only part of the fun as kids accompanied by their favorite adults bragged about western-styled “tattoos” and had the opportunity for face painting before trooping into thetheater, popcorn and free root beer in hand. First up, a showing of the Don Bluth animated classic “Fievel Goes West.” Every Saturday at the Franklin Theater, movies for kids make show-going with the family a easy weekend tradition.
Later in the day, the original 1969 “True Grit” starring John Wayne was shown with entertainment continuing into the evening with a late-night screening of Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” for patrons age 21 and up.
From his days as a young boy, “Ranger Doug” was inundated with western cowboy music. “I love the old singing cowboy movies,” he told Validity during an interview Saturday, June 23, 2012. “As a kid, I couldn’t wish for a better life than riding around singing songs with your buddies,” he said.
And that is just what he does. On tour almost every week out of the year, Riders in the Sky have been played in every state in the union and were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. And with no hit records. “It is a great honor to be part of that; they took a chance that we were entertaining with a form of country music not represented on the Opry. We have been so fortunate. I count my blessings everyday.”
Yodeling and playing music were always part of his heritage. Two uncles, Arvid and Hank, would pick out tunes on the family’s Montgomery Ward guitar whenever the family gathered. Doug, along with his mother, would join in and Doug discovered he could yodel. “Arvid would always yodel. Later when I heard Elton Britt’s music, I thought, ‘Oh man, I gotta learn that!’ That blew my hat off!” he said. “I’m still trying to be as good as he was,” he added.
From a tattered case, he plucked his 1937 Martin D28 and easily strummed making it clear to see the “Idol of America’s Youth” leads another generation of wanna-be singing cowboys, riding into the sunset.
“It’s great to be thought of as the people keeping the music alive. Cowboy music is a wonderful and important part of the American mosiac,” Ranger Doug said.
The Franklin Theater closed in 2007 when rising rents rendered the Main Street movie business less-than-lucrative. The nonprofit preservationist Heritage Foundation spearheaded a fundraising effort to “Save the Franklin Theater.” Over $8.5 million was raised–entirely through private donations–for the purchase and complete renovation of the building.
“In the first year since the culmination of its donor-funded $8.5 million restoration, the nonprofit 300-seat Franklin Theater has helped raised over half a million dollars for other causes in the local community,” Communications Manager Leah Dennison said.
“The Franklin Theater hosted over 600 distinct events in its first year including award winning music, highly acclaimed live theater, a variety of community and corporate events and, of course, great movies,” said Franklin Theater Director Dan Hays.
“One of our most significant accomplishments is that the theater has become a catalyst for fundraising for other charitable causes in our community. While we were once, and still are, the beneficiary of generous community support ourselves, we are delighted to have helped further the gifts to others serving worthwhile community causes. We have a capacity to multiply generosity as well as be a catalyst for creativity,” Hays added.
Contributions to this story by Leah Dennison.