The show must go on, and that’s exactly what’s happening at the Reidsville Showcase at the Rockingham Theater, thanks to the efforts of Dewey and Leslie Brown.
The Browns bought the historic theater in July 2021 and are preparing for another season of country and bluegrass music in Rockingham County.
First built in 1929, the historic venue has been through many changes in the past century. It was one of the first theaters in the country that was equipped for “talkies,” or movies with sound. Over the past 93 years, it’s seen more than its fair share of entertainment before going dormant in 2019. Now, the venue has been given new life by Dewey and Leslie Brown, a husband-and-wife team of musicians who want to bring Rockingham County the same gift of music that brought them together.
“Dewey and I met through music,” Leslie Brown said. Dewey played the fiddle in bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley’s band for 13 years, and the pair’s shared love of bluegrass led to a lasting connection.
Leslie, who is originally from the mountain town of Grundy, Virginia, met Dewey at an event in tiny Saltville, Virginia, before they married and moved to North Carolina.
One day, the two were driving past the Liberty Showcase Theater in Liberty, North Carolina, when Dewey revealed a plan for a career after his days playing in Stanley’s band were over.
“He said ‘I used to play there, and I’m gonna own that theater one day,’” Leslie said. “I really just kind of followed his lead on that, and he had a vision. He loves old theaters, and I do, too.”
The Browns bought the Liberty Showcase in 2014, and—you guessed it – Ralph Stanley was the first act to perform.
Leslie, who used to work as a nurse, quit her day job to run the theater. She can clog dance, and now plays a stand-up bass, sings, and writes songs with her husband.
“We love music, and it’s kind of the perfect career for us,” Leslie said.
With one successful theater already in the works, the Browns heard that the Reidsville Theater might become available, and they quickly expressed interest.
“It seemed like the perfect addition and the right time to add a second theater,” Leslie said. The couple officially bought the theater in July 2021.
Though work needed to be done, some things in the newly christened Reidsville Showcase at the Rockingham Theater were ready to go.
“It needed some work. I wouldn’t say major renovations, but medium renovations,” Leslie said. It needed roof work, and some seats needed to be replaced. “The stage was intact. We like to keep everything as original as possible,” she said. “We still have some renovations we want to do in the back dressing rooms for the artists.”
The original lighting fixtures, signs, and stained-glass windows have remained, with some maintenance on schedule to keep them looking pristine. “Things like that really give it a lot of character,” Leslie said.
The pair also bought the mural building next door to the Reidsville Showcase. The plan is to eventually tie the two in together. “There will be a bigger area for autograph signings, maybe a gift shop. We’ve tossed around several ideas,” Leslie said.
Shows began in September, and the Browns plotted a course similar to the Liberty theater.
“We planned to mirror the Liberty Showcase with live, intimate shows,” Leslie Brown said.
Though bringing the same artists to both venues would be ideal, space doesn’t allow for that. The Liberty Showcase seats 454 patrons. Reidsville can hold 325. So, while there could be some duplication of acts, “we’re just kind of feeling things out for now,” she added.
One of the first big success stories of the Reidsville Showcase was Terry Clark, who drew a near-sellout crowd. The roots music the Browns love thrives in Rockingham County. “Our bluegrass is doing well,” Leslie said. “Better than it does in Liberty.”
As a local musician herself, Leslie said they initially looked for more local artists to fill a playbill, but “we quickly found out we really needed to look at the more established names, and it took a very long time to get to the place we are with relationship-building with talent agencies and artists,” she said.
“It’s not easy to book Terry Clark or the Oak Ridge Boys or Vince Gill. Thank goodness for Dewey’s connections. It allowed us to get our foot in the door,” Leslie added. However, the Browns try to book a local artist as an opening act.
As for going outside their comfort zone of country and bluegrass, it’s a possibility, but for now, the Browns are sticking to the proven formula.
“We are talking about branching out into other types of music, eventually. But we’re stepping out in faith because we know bluegrass really well.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be more diversity down the road, however. “I think there’s a market for beach music, and Motown and other types of music,” Leslie said.
Regardless of the genre being played, Leslie believes the entire experience of the Reidsville Showcase is what sets it apart from other local theaters.
“How we do things nostalgically… ushers with vests and bow ties,” she said. “Things like that really give people the entire experience.”
“Another thing we try to do is give them an intimate experience with the artists, where a musician may come out and meet the audience after a show for autographs and pictures. It’s very different from going to a coliseum and seeing an artist,” she added. “A lot of artists are very good about coming out and meeting people, and they take pictures and shake everybody’s hands.”
Though the Browns are early in their tenure of running the Reidsville Showcase, Leslie said the experience has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We were really blown away by the level of support from the community,” Leslie said. “We’re still building the crowds,” but she added that the Rockingham County Chamber of Commerce and other local officials “have been hugely supportive. I cannot say enough about the amount of support we’ve received from the community.”
No matter what type of music you like, it’s fair to say the Reidsville Theater is in excellent hands, and much more excellent entertainment is on the bill.
“We just want to bring good music to good folks. Especially with the terrible times we’ve endured, it’s a breath of fresh air to get out and enjoy these things,” Leslie said.