October 21, 2021

Volunteers bring Country Music Park to life

They’ve gone Country

Elvis impersonator Tom Gilbo

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Elvis impersonator Tom Gilbo performs at the Cortland Country Music Park’s Christmas in Graceland Dinner.

Bill “Doc” Weismore says playing at the Cortland Country Music Park is a dream come true.

“I have always loved country music,” the Whitney Point man said. “But I would never, for years, I would never think of getting up there and singing.”

Weismore somehow found the nerve.

He’s “new” to performing as a country music singer — the past 20 years — in the Doc Weismore with Real Country band.

“That’s what I like to do, so it’s fun for me.”

Weismore is not the only one who loves country music — about 200 people are paid members — $15 a year or lifetime members for free for those in the hall of fame — of the Cortland Country Music Park.

The park on Route 13 in Cortlandville is run by volunteers. The non-profit’s mission is to foster a love of country music. Its performance barn has a stage, dance floor, dining area and kitchen and concession stand, where it hosts weekend shows and Monday night line dancing.

It has an outdoor stage, a summer RV campground and is home to the New York State Country Music Hall of Fame, with memorabilia from local and national country musicians.

Weismore was among a team of some 25 volunteers Dec. 5 staging a Christmas in Graceland dinner show, featuring Tom Gilbo, an Elvis impersonator. People were cooking food, pouring coffee and water and helping people get seated.

Five tour buses brought in part of the crowd, more than 250 people. A special turkey with all the trimmings fed people from Rochester, Oneonta and Elmira, as well as greater Cortland area people.

“No one gets paid for anything,” said Ed Kowalski of Cortland, president of the Country Music Park board of directors.

“Well,wait a minute,”said Betsy Matts,bus trip coordinator and co-managing director of the park with Esther Kentch of Dryden. Park officials did give a small stipend to the groundskeeper for cleaning the bathrooms and washing dishes.

“We used to have a volunteer do dishes, but can you see this?” Matts said, pointing to a packed dining room.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

A packed house at the Cortland Country Music Park dining hall for the Christmas in Graceland Dinner Show at the Cortlandville park.

Weismore said the park does five or six such big productions during the year. It will stage a New Year’s Eve dish to pass, from 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. with the park providing the meat, at $20 a person and featuring Weismore’s band.

Weismore said the park pays its bills.

The eight-director board elected Matts and Kentch as managing directors this month, after the former director moved to Florida.

“The key to success is having a good relationship with the bus companies, putting on a good show and a good meal,” Weismore said. “If the show is good and the meal is good, that encourages these bus lines to come back.”

On Dec. 5, Wade Jacobson, a Cortland musician in the Dean Goble Band, spent the evening before cooking 11 12-pound turkeys and slicing them. On show day, he was up to his ears in vats of corn and stuffing.

Sherry Wyant of Dryden, a volunteer at the park “forever,” was washing up pots and pans, “cause I’m asked.”

“This is the first time I have done a dinner,” Jacobson said. It’s not a job he does a lot because it is taxing on his body. “They asked me to help out with this.”

Volunteers were in and out of the kitchen, filling water pitchers, carafes of coffee and setting up bowls of salad.

At the door, Matts and Weismore staffed the admission desk.

“You know what song I heard on the radio coming over here?” a volunteer, Earl Palmer, said to Weismore. The two men’s eyes lit up as they saw each other and gave a hearty handshake. “I overlooked an orchid, looking for a rose,” Palmer said. “That was a song popular in the ‘50s,” Weismore said. “That guy always wants to hear George Jones songs,” Weismore said of Palmer. “He will come up to the staff and say, ‘You think George Jones will be here today?’”

“A lot of music here is country classics, ‘50s to ‘70s for a lot of it. … We have an older clientele,” Weismore said.

Lorraine Parker of Cortland has been volunteering at the park for about eight years. She was filling carafes of coffee.

“I love it,”she said of the park. “And I don’t want this place to close. I’m a big country music fan.”

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Earl Palmer, left, talks country music with Doc Weismore on Dec. 5 at the Cortland Country Music Park.

She usually runs the counters during weekend shows, selling burgers, dogs and chicken wings and takes tickets at the door, “whatever they want.”

“I have been messing with this since 1970, off and on,” said Harry Jebbett of Cortland, a volunteer. “We bowl three times a week, dance on the weekends and I run two antique shops in Groton. I was a drywall contractor,” he said.

Pat Jones of Lyons comes to the park once a year for a dinner show. “I am amazed how organized this is,” she said. “I would love to come more. But I only do one bus trip … The shows are always good. And I wish I came years ago.”

Matts networks with the bus lines.

“We have a list of bus companies that are from all over New York state,” she said.

Once the park has an entertainment and dinner schedule, she sends it out to the companies.

“They will call and say, I want to reserve a bus for 50. Three weeks out they will give me a final count,” she said.

Matts has been affiliated with the park for more than 20 years now.

“I love country music,” she said. “And our mission is to preserve and promote country music.”

Her husband, Merle, a musician who plays at the park, is director of the Hall of Fame.

“Next year we’re going to have four shows,” Betsy Matts said of the special a airs.

One will include David Church on June 11, a Hank Williams impersonator.

People who know country music will know Church, she said. “He’s appeared on RFD-TV.”