Loss of venue points makes clear what's missing in Augusta

Let us now bow our heads in reverence as Augusta lost one of its finest musical and theatrical venues when Fort Discovery closed its doors Dec. 31.

It goes without saying (but I will anyway) that the educational aspects of the science and technology center were a major educational tool for kids old and young alike. It's just a shame that it's gone the way of Port Royal.

But Fort Discovery's Paul Simon Theater also was an absolute perfect middle-sized venue for musicians and theatrical groups. The graduated seating of the 300-seat theater and its superb acoustics has now unfortunately been replaced by the real "sounds of silence."

Number 9, the Beatles tribute band that I performed with before our breakup last year, played at the Simon eight times. We will miss it dearly as it had everything a small performance hall should have The nice and comfy dressing rooms even had showers.

In 2010, other successful shows featuring Tara Scheyer and the Mud Puppy Band, Leon Redbone, and a big-band concert featuring Sinatra tunes did stellar business as well at the theater.

This closing has left the downtown Augusta area without anything close to the size and quality of the Simon. The 869-seat Imperial Theatre is a bit too large for many artists and Le Chat Noir (100 seats max) too small for many productions.

So, it's rather embarrassing that folks a short 60 miles away in Newberry, S.C. have their act together while we in Augusta don't.

The Newberry Opera House is a 130-year-old building constructed in a lovely Victorian Gothic style. It seats 426 people and is owned by the city.

For 13 years, the folks in Newberry have hosted a very successful concert series of world-known entertainers that have brought big-band,country, bluegrass, rock, folk, and even chamber music to the venue.

This weekend, three musical legends will entertain in Newberry on consecutive nights: Nanci Griffith, Ray Price and Doc Watson. All three should be playing in Augusta and the fact they are performing in a much smaller market should make all of us envious.

Nanci Griffith, the 57-year-old Texas singer-songwriter, visits tonight with her Blue Moon Orchestra in tow. She's best known for her Grammy-award winning 1993 disc of covers Other Voices, Other Rooms . Her latest disc is The Loving Kind .

Ray Price, another multiple Grammy winner, is set for Friday. His many hits include Crazy Arms, Release Me and the Kris Kristofferson-penned standard For the Good Times . At a spry 84 years of age, Price sings mostly gospel tunes these days but he will trot his numerous hits in Newberry.

Doc Watson's flatpicking and fingerpicking prowess will be on full display Saturday. Over the years, the multi-instrumentalist has visited Newberry several times, and tunes like Tennessee Stud, Black Mountain Rag and Shady Grove never fail to get the place hopping.

If I wore a hat, I would certainly take it off to the Global Spectrum folks who are restoring Augusta's reputation in the music biz with the top-tier entertainment they have brought to Bell Auditorium and James Brown Arena. The Imperial is top-notch as well, and Le Chat Noir is a treasure for all of us.

But to allow a city the size of Newberry to attract the staggering number of top-notch musicians who should be playing in Augusta instead is just not acceptable. At the very least, can't something be done to make the Simon Theatre at Fort Discovery available to folks in our town?

LAST WEEK'S CONTEST winner is Frank Troutman, who gets free lunch (with drink, bread, and margarine patty) for a week at S.H. Kress on Broad Street.

TURNER'S QUICK NOTES: According to national appraisal companies, the top-forged signatures from musicians in 2010 were Elvis, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix ... Gotta love the title of the new book from former Black Sabbath frontman out now: The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzy Osbourne ... Edwin McCain teams up with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Feb. 10 at Symphony Hall ... You ultra-romantic types might want to consider what just might be the 'feel-good" Valentine's Day gift of the year. Yes, Widespread Panic visits the Fox on Feb. 14!

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