The Coombs Country Opera hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years.
It remains a place for artists to gather monthly and play country, bluegrass and other old-time music in front of a crowd. Admission is still cheap and artists aren’t paid.
“It was an original idea that was hard to beat,” said Sharon Klassen, who was heavily involved with the Opera during the mid-1990s. “The vision for this has stayed true.”
“(It’s the) same old format,” added Jim Brown, a former emcee for the event and a long-time volunteer with the Coombs Hilliers Recreation and Community Organization (CHRCO). “The opera was never a money maker; nor was it intended to be.”
According to a news clipping from the late 1970s that CHRCO has kept on record, the event got its start in 1976 after Gerry Patch went to the Errington Coffee House to play his banjo. Patch found his bluegrass music didn’t fit the setting, so he turned to Worris Keyes to help him create an event in Coombs where country musicians could play.
The event also ended up filling a need for regular family entertainment in the area, Brown and Klassen said.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say hundreds of musicians, local and not, have crossed the Opera’s stage. Even a brief sojourn to the Errington Hall between 1995 and 2000, at which point the event was known as the Country Opera, and then back to the new Coombs Hall didn’t faze the artists.
Today, Brown said there is still often over a dozen musicians coming out to play each month and Klassen said there are people playing all sorts of traditional music, including country, bluegrass, folk, string band and even Celtic.
“You’ll never have a problem finding musicians,” she said.
The issue these days, however, is finding people to watch the artists.
“There is a whole other generation that needs to know this is still here,” said Klassen. “The welcome mat is always out.”
Brown also said that the Opera is always looking for people to volunteer their time to help keep the event running.
“We’re slowly getting the torch passed,” he said.
But despite the ups and downs, both Brown and Klassen are certain the tried-and-true concept of simply getting together to play and listen to old-time music will keep the Opera going.
“This was started with a long-time vision,” said Klassen. “I can’t see it dying off.”
The Coombs Country Opera invites everyone — musicians and supporters — to help celebrate its 40th anniversary on the third Friday of this month, April 17. The event runs from 7-10 p.m. at the Coombs Hall, which is located at the Coombs Rodeo Grounds. Admission is $5 and the 4H club is always on hand selling goodies during the show.