Twenty years ago when Calvin Gilmore opened the doors of his Carolina Opry, he could not have known that it would lead him to this moment in time.
Two nights ago, the Honorable Governor Mark Sanford took the stage at The Carolina Opry to congratulate Gilmore on the occasion of the landmark show’s twentieth anniversary.
Mr. Sanford arrived at the theater early, and watched the show from the wings until he was introduced. Light bulbs flashed as he strode out to join Gilmore onstage before the sold-out audience of more than two thousand.
With his own brand of casual and friendly dialogue, the Governor began his remarks by saying, “…the Opry as a whole and Calvin in particular have made a difference in Myrtle Beach, and frankly the State as a whole.”
He pointed out that twenty years ago, they rolled up the sidewalks at an early hour on the Grand Strand, and went on to add, “Twenty years, 5,800 shows, and 6 million visitors over the years, and a whole lot of folk’s lives impacted in the process.” He continued, “I’d ask you to give him a round of applause and this greater team a round of applause for the difference that they’ve made in people’s lives,” triggering a standing ovation. The Governor noted that Gilmore set an example as an entertainer and entrepreneur by giving priority to his family and family entertainment.
The Carolina Opry opened on May 2, 1986 in a small theater in Surfside Beach. The little show that no one thought could possibly work quickly began to draw crowds, and before long it was playing to sold out audiences nightly. In December of that year, they performed the first of their annual Christmas Specials – an event that has grown to mega proportions in the ensuing years, and has become a family tradition for thousands of residents throughout the Southeast.
In 1992, Gilmore moved The Carolina Opry to its present 2,200-seat show palace in the heart of Myrtle Beach. Late the following year, he sold a large portion of the company to the Family Channel Television Network, which was subsequently sold to Rupert Murdock’s Fox network; in 1998 Gilmore acted on a rare opportunity to buy the company back. Gilmore brought the first nationally televised show to the Grand Strand in 1994, when they filmed “Country Music Spotlight” at The Carolina Opry theater; the series featured, among others, Martina McBride, Kris Kristofferson, Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard, and Three Dog Night. The well-known theater has been featured in national media such as NBC Nightly News, USA Today, New York Times, Hollywood Variety, and Southern Living Magazine. For the past three years, Gilmore has performed regularly on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.
Gilmore is known not only as a performer, but also for the technically advanced and creatively tight shows that he produces. The Carolina Opry continues the tradition of music, comedy, dance, and variety that has made it the favorite of audiences for twenty years. In addition, the phenomenally talented cast performs a second show three nights each week. Good Vibrations! is a celebration of the glory days of popular music and culture, the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s; it features everything from the Righteous Brothers to the Beatles to Kiss, and is enhanced by an impressive multi-media display.
Gilmore says, “Twenty years can go by in a moment – and it has. My dreams twenty years ago were probably completely unrealistic – but they have been met and exceeded in a most improbable way. Myrtle Beach has been really good to me, and I am thankful for that every day.”
Governor Sanford completed his remarks on Wednesday evening by saying, “… as sure as Tom Cruise has a mission in Mission Impossible, every one of us here on earth has a God-given mission that we’re due to fulfill. A lot of folks get tripped up, though. They never follow their dream, either because they forget about the dream or they won’t act on it. And he’s done both and in the process made a remarkable difference in people’s lives. I just wanted to come by long enough to say thank you for that difference in people’s lives.”
The governor’s appearance was followed by a short champagne reception and toast at intermission, attended by longtime friends of the Opry and local dignitaries.
The Carolina Opry is the first and longest running year-round live show in the Southeast, and is the only live show and theater to have won the coveted Governor’s Cup, the state’s highest tourism award, and to be voted South Carolina’s Most Outstanding Attraction.