Don Gibson Theater Plans For Fall Opening / Four-time Grammy Winner Named Opening Act

This appeared in The Shelby Star - September 26, 2009

A waitress serves up coffee — only “high octane” will suffice for David Jenkins.

The native of Boston’s love of music bleeds through his professionalism. Jenkins brings up The Beatles over breakfast at Shelby Café, “his office.”

Jenkins, executive director of Destination Cleveland County’s Don Gibson Theatre, has three decades of experience in the biz — he's managed start-ups in Ft. Pierce, Florida, Salina, Kansas, Savannah, Georgia, and Concord, New Hampshire. He was the founding president of the Kansas Historic Theatres Association and has served on the national board of the League of Historic American Theatres.

“I’m only 29,” he said, jokingly. “Look what this business did to me.”

Over eggs and cordial conversation, Jenkins reveals the day many in Cleveland County have been waiting for.

“Saturday, November 21,” he says. That’s the date DCC’s first dream becomes reality.

Though there will be a “soft” opening a week before for charitable purposes, Jenkins said, The Don Gibson Theatre will go live November 21 with Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives.

Stuart, a four-time Grammy Award winner, was carefully chosen to open the Gibson Theatre.

“There’s no country act out there that can both knock the audience out and live up to the standards that Don Gibson set with as much heart as Marty can,” Jenkins said, “and Marty truly knows and appreciates what Don’s music meant to the business and to the history of contemporary music.”

Tickets to the grand opening will be $48 and will go on sale to the general public on Oct. 15.

Everything so far is on schedule, Jenkins said, and just a little under budget.

The only questions that remain for Jenkins are outside the theater’s walls, stretching far beyond the renovated building on Washington Street.

“In the economy,” he continued.

A major focus now is keeping ticket prices down for the average consumer — and that’s “really, really tough,” Jenkins said.

“The average ticket price in this country has doubled in the last 11 years. It’s madness. It’s insanity.”

Theater’s role

Don’t confuse the Gibson Theatre with an arts project. Its primary responsibility is positive economic impact as a concert hall, Jenkins said.

“That’s what draws people into your town,” he said. “It’s about bringing people to this uptown. It’s about creating jobs, increasing tax revenues, getting people to move here, getting people to come off that highway and spend money in this town. That’s what it’s all about.”

But what will draw motorists far and wide to Shelby, a city of under 30,000? Big names.

“The people on our stage will be people whose names are recognized, who are on magazine covers, have won awards and have gold albums,” Jenkins said.

For example, Jenkins teased, expect an artist in the spring who’s sold more than 10 million records.

Not everyone will recognize every act, Jenkins added, only because there will be a wide variety of genres on display for at least the first year. Artists from blues, jazz, country, rock — they’ll all get a shot.

And Jenkins would love to see some magic at the Don Gibson Theatre, both figuratively and literally.

“Everything but mud wrestling and tractor pulls,” he joked. “What the theater eventually focuses on will be determined by the ticket-buying public.”

Local bands might land an opening performance slot occasionally, but Jenkins stressed the venue will be mostly for national acts.

There’s no way to peg down exactly how much tickets will cost, Jenkins said. But he’s trying to keep them between $38 and $45.

“Very thin profit margin in these shows,” he said. “(There will be) occasions where I bring in really well known national acts that, even if it sells out, won’t make any money.”

Those shows, however, will bring exposure. Once patrons arrive to town, Jenkins said, there’s a “secret weapon” in store.

“That carousel (at Shelby City Park) is breathtakingly beautiful,” he said. “And there are plenty of people that would jump in their cars just to see that carousel.”

“The entire thrust of what we’re going to do is make those people with discretionary income in their pockets, come to Shelby and drop their money here,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins plans to target an audience “from Charlotte west” — but not too far toward the mountains.

“The Orange Peel (in Asheville) is our primary competition in that town,” he said, “and frankly we can’t compete with them now. Five years from now, maybe we can.”

Advantages and challenges

Picture an acoustic performance of a nationally known act in the Gibson’s 400-seat venue.

It’s an opportunity for intimacy that’s certainly an advantage over the competition.

But size is a factor. Is the Don Gibson Theatre truly large enough?


Jenkins likened the theater’s transformation into a concert hall to building a ship in a bottle.

“The size of the stage had to be greatly expanded; backstage is tight,” he said. “In its former life, it wasn’t a concert hall — just like most historic theaters it wasn’t designed to have live acts.”

In Jenkins’ 36 years of theater experience, “This is by far the biggest challenge, production-wise, I’ve ever seen. This is tough. But it’s just a beautiful, intimate listening room and I’ll tell you, touring artists are going to fall in love with it.

“This is the fifth theater I’ve been totally in charge of,” he said, “and I’ve been a paid consultant to 34 others.”

Theaters are like snowflakes, Jenkins said. Every one is different, each with great advantages and disadvantages. They also come with “what the heck” moments.

In five years, Jenkins said The Gibson Theatre might have to expand “up” and improve its backstage. With a tight surrounding area, there’s no way to expand “out.”

“Needs to be some fly space,” he said. “We’ll double the size of the dressing rooms and backstage area. The more backstage and dressing space, the greater variety of acts you can book.”

Help from community

So with all the goings-on, how can residents help?

“Well, it all comes down to buying tickets,” Jenkins said. “It isn’t just about volunteering, stuffing envelopes. It isn’t about typical community involvement. It’s buying tickets. That is the single most important way people (can) express their support.”

There are naysayers in every town, Jenkins said, “those who love to see things fail.” That’s a sad way to live, he added. But Jenkins hasn’t heard any backlash from local government — in fact, officials in Shelby and Cleveland County have been more supportive than any he’s seen before.

“No one tells me the theater shouldn’t happen,” he said.

Jenkins commended City Manager Rick Howell and department heads for their hospitality and support.

“Plus I’ve got the police department right outside my door.”

The theater’s preliminary Web site,, features a recent video performance of Marty Stuart. Information on ticket sales will be posted there on Oct. 12. The opening will be Saturday, November 21 at 8 p.m.

By David Allen

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