May 05--Downtown Culpeper hummed with anticipatory excitement Saturday for opening night of the historic State Theatre on Main Street. Grammy Award winning Virginia native Bruce Hornsby headlined the sold out event in the 75-year-old art deco theater gloriously restored to its former beauty -- and then some.
The first show in the 560-seat venue in two decades felt intimate and welcoming with folks from all walks of life, sporting all make and manner of wardrobe, in attendance. From modern metallic gowns and glimmery jewels to blue jeans and button-down shirts, the opening night audience scrubbed up well.
Hornsby, of Williamsburg, dressed in jeans and black boots, bounced his feet from the beginning, seated behind a Steinway grand piano for a solo show that started at 8 p.m. with a tribute to the Old Dominion.
"Culpeper's new jewel," he said of the renovated theater, remarking how he's "deep in the heart of Virginia."
Hornsby started the 8 p.m. performance with his "The Road Not Taken," set in Southwest Virginia about falling in love with an Appalachian girl.
"It's kind of a local gig for me," he said of playing the Culpeper venue. "I thought I'd do a night of Virgina songs for you. I got a lot of them."
Hornsby played "Preacher in the Ring" next, a bluesy number against his deep, raspy voice. The musician interacted freely with the Culpeper audience and they with him, calling out requests.
"You are welcome to holler and scream," Hornsby said. "I'm not mad at you -- I played with the Grateful Dead."
He played keyboards for more than 100 shows with the Dead, and the iconic band's distinctive extended musical jams were in full affect Saturday night with Hornsby going it alone.
Spotlights lit up Main Street for the anticipated opening, and pedestrian traffic was heavy, downtown parking lots well used and the temperatures mild following a pristine spring day. Smiling faces were everywhere and the enthusiasm high.
"I still even to this day am so overwhelmed," said former State Theatre Foundation Director Raven Yates, who got the nine-year restoration project off the ground. "What has happened here -- I can't believe it."
What happened was her brother, fellow Culpeper native Greg Yates, saw something in the old rundown theater, and decided to lead an effort to fix it up, expand it and offer live acts and cinema on Main Street.
"It's wonderful," said Greg Yates Saturday night in the theater. "A long time coming."
He said he "absolutely" believed it would happen.
State Theatre Foundation Director Ed Bednarcyzk beamed with excitement -- and maybe a bit of nervousness -- as theater goers streamed in the auditorium as the lights blinked, signaling the start of the performance.
"The curtain is ready to rise on incredible entertainment, engaging education and inspiration to last for generations," he said.
STF Board President Tad Loving took the stage prior to Hornsby with his fellow board members that made the project happen.
"Welcome to your State Theatre," he said, to a standing ovation. "We are so glad to see a full house for the first night this theater is back open to the public."
The town of Culpeper declared May 4 State Theatre Day, Loving said.
"It's not a national holiday, but it feels like one," he said.
He thanked Greg Yates and his wife, Liz, for their generosity and vision in seeing what the State Theatre could become. Loving also thanked his board.
"These guys have been at it for nine years," he said. "We didn't always think it would happen, but we stuck with it and it did. This is your theater."
The Hornsby performance was the start of a 10-day celebration of diverse acts in the State Theater, continuing today with a 2 p.m. screening of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "The Making of Beasts of the Southern Wild," a documentary about the Academy Award-nominated film done by Culpeper's own Cameron Yates, Greg's son.
"It is such a great day," said State Theatre volunteer George Willeman, doling out candy from behind the concessions counter.
His wife, Felecia, is the house manager, and just one of the many local people who came together in support of bringing back the State Theatre.
(c)2013 the Culpeper Star-Exponent (Culpeper, Va.)
Visit the Culpeper Star-Exponent (Culpeper, Va.) at www2.starexponent.com
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