What do you give the star who has everything under the stage lights on his 25th anniversary? Just allowing him to continue singing and strumming his guitar on his own stage week after week, year after year, is more than enough.
"There's nothing like having your own stage," says Calvin Gilmore, founder of Myrtle Beach's Carolina Opry and Gilmore Entertainment. "Very few people in the world outside of Las Vegas have their own stage and do what they love to do."
And very few people can take credit for putting a whole new twist on tourism - in a town that was fed foremost off its sandy beaches and green golf courses - with the debut of The Carolina Opry in Myrtle Beach in 1986. Since then, the Opry has enjoyed an ovation of successes for its nearly 7,000 performances - longer than any other show in Broadway history - and awards: the state's "Most Outstanding Attraction" by Governor Carroll Campbell in 1987; "South Carolina's Country Music Ambassador" by Governor Campbell in 1992; The Governor's Cup in 1993; plus pages and TV programs of national and regional media attention; and a designated "The Carolina Opry Day" on May 31 by Governor Mark Sanford after the Opry's 6,000th show in 2006.
The southern Missouri-born country-gospel musician/producer/entrepreneur, who always had a song in his heart and a keen determination in his mind, knew his theater dream was possible to develop, but he had no way of knowing the great heights it would reach. "I think you have to think you will be successful to get to this place," says Gilmore. "I always had great expectations of the things I wanted to accomplish, but maybe not to this scale. ... I had been a musician all my life, and always planned to be a major recording artist, but during that process, I had to get other jobs to support that dream."
He built some capital in the real estate business while in Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., but wanted to return to music and remain a family man at the same time for his wife and two children. So the nationwide hunt for a home for his new musical variety show concept began.
Myrtle Beach had made an "overnight" impression on him when he visited during college. "I had sold Bible reference books door-to-door in Myrtle Beach as a college student, and had loved the area and how it seemed like a good fit," says Gilmore. "Strangely enough, when I was here in college, we didn't have a hotel reservation and everything was booked, so we had to sleep on a green of one of the golf courses, which was Dunes Golf & Beach Club - right down the road from where my theater would later be."
Today, Gilmore's theater and variety show houses some of the best entertainers in the South, who perform a little bit of country, a little bit of rock 'n' roll, plus a blast to the past in the Opry's "Good Vibrations" show. Gilmore, who still makes an appearance on stage one or two nights a week, is constantly updating the look and lineup of the show, including a new "LIGHT" laser show, and he possibly has a new matinee show up his sleeve that could premiere this year.
Gilmore has the success of his show and the help of his family all under one roof. Daughter Jordan Gilmore Watkins takes care of the marketing and Jeffrey Gilmore wears the producer/director hat. "At first, my wife Janice did all the marketing, but now we have clones," says Gilmore. "Both are great at what they do. It's an incredible blessing."So what's next on Gilmore's timeline of success to open the theater curtain on another 25 years in showbiz? He says his "Blue Ridge Thunder" musical, in the "workshop" stages, features the Opry's All That Cloggers in a story about how clogging came to the United States from its start in an Irish pub.
And the reality show Gilmore was working on about his family "on both sides of the curtain" in 2009 has since morphed into something else, he says. "We're now working on it with a partner already established in television and should be making pitches in the next few weeks."
At press time in December 2010, Gilmore reported that he was in the early stages of getting material together for a new Christmas album that will most likely be released in time for Christmas 2011.