Optimist Club presents country music tribute

The Optimist Club of Belleville is hoping some of the people who attended its annual rodeo also like traditional country music.

The club is producing a concert to raise money for scholarships and other youth programs.

“When we gave up the rodeo, we lost several thousand dollars a year,” said David Donley, fundraising committee member. “And of course, that all goes to the kids.”

The Tribute to Country Music Legends will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the Catholic Knights and Ladies of Illinois Country Club Country in Swansea. It will feature performances by Norville Dollar and singers paying tribute to Ray Price, Connie Smith, Patsy Cline, George Jones and Hank Williams Sr.

The Optimists bought the show, which was produced last year by the Traditional Country Music Foundation.

“People loved it,” said Margaret Penn, 73, of Caseyville, the foundation’s founder and president. “We sold out at the VFW in Collinsville in August of last year. It was standing room only.”

Margaret still is involved in the show. She booked the singers and back-up band.

Jerry Stevenson, 73, of Clarence, Mo., is a retired heavy equipment operator who will pay tribute to George Jones.

“I started playing music when I was 15 years old in public,” he said by telephone. “So I’ve been doing it for a long, long time.”

Stevenson has covered all the male traditional country music greats, but people in his audiences always seem to request Jones songs, such as “She Thinks I Still Care” and “The Race is On.”

In 1982, Stevenson won a singing contest that started in a Desloge, Mo., restaurant and ended in Nashville, Tenn. He beat about 300 other contestants.

“They took me to a back room, and they said, ‘How would you like to sing at the White House?’” Stevenson recalls. “And I said, ‘In Washington, D.C.?’ And they said, ‘Yes.’”

Stevenson ended up singing at the White House twice, first on Fourth of July and again during the lighting of the national Christmas tree in December.

The other tribute artists who will perform Saturday night include Don Brewer, of Perryville, Mo., as Ray Price; Sandy Macke, of Evansville, as Connie Smith; and husband and wife Dude and Diane Brown, of Park Hills, Mo., as Hank Williams Sr. and Patsy Cline. Norville Dollar, of Festus, Mo., will play his own songs.

“I don’t like the term ‘impersonator,’” Penn said. “An impersonator is an actor. They stand up there and act like the celebrity. I don’t like that. You are not Patsy Cline, and you never will be. What you’re doing it paying tribute to her.”

The Optimists Club produced a rodeo for 21 years, but it got to be too much work for members. Two new sponsors took over last year and changed the name to Mascoutah Rodeo.

The Optimists Club also produces an Elvis-led Night with the Stars and other fundraisers. Proceeds go toward scholarships, camp fees for young cancer patients and other youth programs.

Saturday night’s show will bring back memories for Donley, 79, of Belleville.

“I grew up about 40 miles from Wheeling, West Virginia, where they had the big Wheeling Jamboree,” he said. “And we listened to the Grand Ole Opry every week.”

The Tribute to Country Music Legends also will feature a silent auction and 50/50 drawing. Food and beverages will be available for purchase.

Penn formed the Traditional Country Music Foundation in 2004 to keep alive that style of music.

“So many people think traditional country music is dead,” she said this week. “But it’s only dead if you bury it, and I’m not going to allow that to happen. People love it.”