CLIFTON FORGE—Appalfolks of America Association (AAA) has launched its 2023 Giving Tree Fund Drive that will end on Dec. 31.
The Giving Tree Fund Drive has helped finance AAA’s programs for more than two decades, and donors from as far away as Hawaii and Australia have donated to AAA in support of its programs.
1. Ray Allen, founder and president of AAA, said, “Any donation made to Appalfolks is tax-deductible to the full extent of what the law allows, and after founding AAA in Clifton Forge in 1985, the nonprofit organization has been fortunate to build a donor base that extends from Virginia to 15 other states.”
Allen founded AAA to promote the literary and performing arts in Southern Appalachia via programs that advocate for drug-free creativity. Current programs include The Virginia Opry (est. 1992), the Commonwealth of Virginia’s official Opry as of 2020; Special Theatrical Artists Revue and Showcase (STARS), which was established in 1996; Mountain Empire Publications, a publishing company received as a charitable donation in 2006; and Appalfolks of America Association Cloggers (est. 2023).
After receiving the Historic Stonewall Theatre in 1991, as a charitable donation, AAA spent 12 years restoring the theatre before donating the facility to the Town of Clifton Forge in 2003. Renamed The Historic Masonic Theatre by the Town of Clifton Forge, the theatre is owned by the Town that leases the theatre to the Masonic Theatre Preservation Foundation that spearheaded the $6.9 million restoration from 2009 till reopening it in 2016.
Students from 11 Virginia counties have participated in programs AAA has held in Clifton Forge, and college students and high school students from six counties in Kentucky were provided scholarships to attend AAA’s writers’ workshops held in conjunction with the Kentucky Highlands Folk Festival at Jenny Wiley State Park in Prestonsburg.
Students as far away as Harrisonburg were bused in to attend drama presentations presented by AAA at the Historic Stonewall Theatre where Bob Campbell and the Coachmen set an attendance record in 1994, when 510 country music fans purchased tickets for the “Coachmen’s Reunion Show.”
On October 28, less than a month ago, The Virginia Opry’s Gentlemen South house band opened for The Kentucky Headhunters at The Virginia Opry. The show set a box office record at The Historic Masonic Theatre.
A “STARS” documentary film produced by AAA won a Bronze Telly in 2006, and it can be viewed by visiting the Clifton Forge Public Library. It was the same year that Allen was featured in Encyclopedia of Appalachia (a publication by the University of Tennessee Press) as an Appalachian activist and post-World War II poet who has accomplished good work with Appalachia’s youth via the Stonewall Theatre.
The Virginia Opry has flourished by expanding to 71 members and 12 bands from its original 10 members and one band that debuted on Oct. 17, 1992.
The Virginia Opry will perform its third show of 2023, on Dec. 2, at 7:00 p.m., “Patsy Meets Elvis at The Virginia Opry’s Blue Christmas Show,” on stage at Natural Bridge Historic Hotel and Conference Center and its fourth show of the year by staging “It’s Christmas Time Again,” on stage at The Historic Masonic Theatre on Dec. 7, a show featuring nationally prominent recording artist Charles Billingsley with Nashville recording artists Bruce Allen and Jason Burke opening.
STARS, a troupe of performers who face intellectual challenges and/or physical disabilities, has grown from its original 10 members, who debuted by producing a variety show at the Stonewall Theatre in 1996, to 30 members. STARS will perform its third variety show of the year at Good News Church on Main in Covington on Sun., Dec. 10, at 3:00 p.m. when the troupe presents “Peace on Earth.”
The Town of Clifton Forge honored AAA in 2021, by bestowing a “Hometown Hero” award on the nonprofit organization that is governed by a board of directors consisting of 12 members.
AAA was honored by the Alleghany County Board of Directors along with TAP (Total Action Against Poverty) prior to AAA receiving the theatre as a charitable donation when both organizations were officially named as the literacy agents for the Alleghany Highlands. AAA went on to establish a base in the theatre for teaching adults to read and helped raise funds for TAP’s GED program, including assisting TAP in being rewarded a $29,000 grant.
While spending more than $200,000 in restoring the theatre, AAA established a tradition of raising funds for worthwhile causes, mainly by organizing and holding musical benefits. Many individuals who were in need or suffering from life-threatening illnesses or diseases have benefitted from such musical benefits along with the following nonprofit organizations: Wounded Warriors, Tunnel-2-Towers, Alleghany Highlands Free Clinic, Clifton Forge Little League, Clifton Forge Public Library, and TAP.
The most recent musical benefit was held by The Virginia Opry on May 21, 2022, at the River Rock Amphitheatre at the Jackson River Sports Complex in Covington where two of the Opry’s bands, the Brian Buchanan Band and Gentlemen South, performed “A Tribute to George Strait.” AAA then presented a check to the widow of fallen Covington police officer, Caleb Ogilvie, for $3,500.
The Virginia Opry set a new attendance record in 2022, when more than 2,000 country music fans attended its “Heroes and the Brave” show at Lime Kiln Arts in Lexington where Jana Allen served as emcee and Keith Bryant performed with James Tamelcoff, lead guitarist and vocalist for Cash Unchained.
Gentlemen South then performed leading up to Ashley Cooke and Lily Rose taking turns on stage along with their bands by opening for Chris Lane and his band. All three bands are based in Nashville.
Donations may be made to AAA by making out a check payable to Appalfolks of America and mailing it to P.O. Box 613, Clifton Forge, VA 24422.
Allen concluded, “AAA’s programs have benefited young and old alike in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia, and The Virginia Opry has become only the fourth entertainment entity in the history of Virginia to be recognized as an official entertainment program, the other three being Barter Theatre, the Richmond Ballet and the Virginia Opera in Norfolk.”
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