Clay Cooper brings classic music to new theater

6 Jun

A few weeks ago I managed to catch Clay Cooper’s new show in his new theatre. Here’s the story that followed from Enjoy.

Clay Cooper is proud of his country music variety show.

The 39-year-old has entertained Branson audiences for more than 24 years, but this season is special. This season, the Branson veteran’s name isn’t only on the marquee — it’s on the theater. “It was pretty expensive and we ain’t done yet,” Cooper said of the makeover of his theater at 3216 W. Highway 76. “It’s totally exciting. I’ve been in Branson a long time and have a reputation, a following and I’ve got a big production.  Now, I have a first class venue to back up the product. People will drive by and say, ‘Look at that beautiful theater.’ We expect big things there.”

The New Clay Cooper Theatre sets across the highway from Branson’s Titanic Museum Attraction and is home to five shows. Cooper headlines the theater’s lineup with his show, Country Music Express. Banjo picker Buck Trent, percussion duo Buckets and Boards and Swinging Doors Classic Country round out the theater’s regular lineup of shows.

Building the relationship

About 10 minutes before his show begins, Cooper takes the stage to meet the audience. He asks the crowd questions and pokes a little good-natured fun at a few of them. “It’s my own little preshow,” Cooper said. “I started doing it about three years ago. It established a relationship before the show even starts. I’m just a good ol’ boy and we are going to have a down-home good time. I think that’s what they see.” After the “howdys” are out of the way, it’s time to get serious about the music. Cooper’s show pays tribute to country music’s legends. The songs of Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Jr., Ronnie Milsap, Conway Twitty, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings keep the audience tapping their toes and clapping their hands.

“I love the low baritone, outlaw, rowdy, good ol’ country stuff,” Cooper said. “I can remember the first time I ever heard a Merle Haggard song. I still believe he’s the greatest country singer ever.” Cooper comes by his appreciation of country classics honestly, he said. His father used to play opry shows in Texas, and he was a fan of Ronnie Milsap. Cooper said he was impressed by Milsap’s talent and courage. “Every time he’d come to town I’d go watch him in concert. He’s amazing,” Cooper said. “He’s a blind man and he would climb up on his piano and walk across the top of it and get up close to the edge É man, he’s a heck of an entertainer.”

The best showman

Neal McCoy, another veteran country singer that Cooper admires, will perform 50 dates this season on the newly renovated stage. Cooper said he was wowed when he saw McCoy perform last year in Branson, and was impressed with the way he worked his audiences. “We’re honored and thrilled to have him,” Cooper said. “He’s the best showman and entertainer I’ve seen live in concert. The guy is incredible.” McCoy’s credits include three platinum albums, one gold album, and five No. 1 singles.

Not as well known, Matt Levingston and Gareth Sever,  also known as the musical percussion duo Buckets and Boards,  fill out the theater’s show schedule. “Both of these guys had good jobs in Branson and then my wife saw them down on the Landing,” Cooper said. “They were like street performers. She told me I should see these guys. Then, they came and did a benefit show for us and I thought, ‘Golly, these guys are good.’” Levingston and Sever played some shows for Cooper and then were asked to join his new theater’s lineup. “I think they are unique,” Cooper said. “There nothing like it in town.”

Family act

Cooper shares the stage with a cast of more than 20 professional dancers, singers and musicians. A few of the performers, however, hold a special place in his heart. His wife sings in the show. Their 15-year-old daughter performs during the summer and their 6-year-old son, Colton, chimes in on several numbers. At just six months, another son, Baden, may someday end up on stage, too.

“Colton started on stage with me when he could barely walk,” Cooper said. “The audience loves him. From the time he was a really little guy he would go on stage and grab a fiddle and start moving and shaking and bowing that fiddle. Then he decided he wanted to sing. Now, he wants to be comedian. I think comedy’s going to be his niche, for sure.” Cooper said he’s blessed to play music for a living and work with his family. “I absolutely love what I do,” he said. “There is nothing I’d rather be doing.  I’m a regular guy who gets to play music and it’s fun to watch my kid go out and do his thing. It’s pretty cool.”


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