When Barry Waldrep left his home town of Wedowee and set out to become a professional musician he swore he’d never be back.
But after 30 years on the road the pull of home was too strong to resist. And now that he’s been back for several years, he’s really starting to make an impact on the local Wedowee community.
It started when he purchased Banjo.com and moved the business from Atlanta to a Wedowee building that once housed his father-in-law’s barber shop.
It continued with his efforts and contributions to starting the town’s annual Frog Level Festival, which will take place for the third time this spring.
Now, his latest project will bring something to Randolph County that – to anyone’s knowledge – has never really existed here before.
“There’s never been a listening room in Randolph County,” Waldrep said. “I didn’t think it would probably ever happen. First of all I didn’t think I’d ever move back. You know, I said I would never be back when I left. The older you get the more you want to be back where you came from. Your roots and seeing people that you know and you’ve known all your life – just having those relationships means a lot. I’m happy to be back in Wedowee.”
Waldrep has bought the building that most recently was home to the West Broad Street Church of Christ. The papers will be signed today. And once that’s done work commence almost immediately on a renovation that will create an intimate venue for musical concert performances.
It’s not going to be a bar. It’s not going to be a place to just hang out. It’s going to be a place to go and watch and listen to musical acts from around the corner or around the country.
The name kind of says it all – 48 West Music Theater.
“It’s a listening room. It’s not a place to hang out. That’s one thing that I didn’t want,” Waldrep said. “We want people who come to come because they want to hear the people perform. It’s not background music. I kind of relate it to a movie theater – no phones, no talking, or talking to a minimum. People who come to hear music, they don’t want distractions. We may have some story telling. We may have drama classes do something with it. I think it’s going to be something that the community really, really latches onto.”
If you could designate a single soul to carry out this project, Waldrep would be it. He is proud of his Wedowee roots and has a vision for how to see the town grow while maintaining its local charm. He also has connections throughout the music industry from his 30 years working and playing as a professional musician. He recently released an album that features the likes of Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris, among many others. He’s played with Randy Travis and the Zac Brown Band and members of the Allman Brothers.
And through all of those experiences he said what he is trying to create with his new Wedowee music venue is the kind of place he most enjoyed playing.
“I’ve played arenas. I’ve played bars that didn’t even have a stage,” he said. “But the 150 to 200-seat listening rooms is what I prefer. You’re playing to people who are coming to hear the music, and it just creates the energy from the audience.”
Waldrep has already received interest from several acts looking to perform at the venue once it is ready to open this spring. Waldrep will handle booking the acts initially to help get 48 West Music Theater established. His hope is to have three or four shows every week, with Friday and Saturday night performances and a Sunday afternoon show.
Established acts will be a key part of the roster of performers, but Waldrep has no intention of limiting his local theater to those types of artists.
“We’re going to do all kinds of different types of music and hopefully give a stage to some younger people to have some stage time to get started in music if they want to,” Waldrep said. “Local, national, regional acts that come through. Blues, bluegrass, country, gospel, just many, many different things.”
Waldrep will be no stranger to his own stage, saying he will gladly play with artists if they ask. He said he will also do a handful of shows himself. But his goal is to bring a variety of artists to Wedowee from both far and near.
“There’s a lot of local talent here that’s great, that might be used to playing a bar type scene, that if they’re playing here they’ll attract a whole different audience,” he said. “I’m very open minded to things, as long as it’s good.”
The hope is that theater will be ready to go by May, with a regular schedule of shows in place by the end of the year. Waldrep has promotional ideas as well, as he is working on getting Alabama Public Television to carry some of the shows and help publicize the venue.
There may be skeptics who think that something like this could never take off in Randolph County, Alabama. But Waldrep is obviously not one of them.
“I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised from everyone that I’ve talked to,” he said.