The only thing that would have made the already over-the-top Ole Red Gatlinburg launch entirely out of this world is if the nearby Santa Family Reunion crashed the party. They were already dressed in red for the occasion. Around the corner from the grand opening of Blake Shelton’s new restaurant and venue, were hundreds of vacationing Santas in red shirts and khaki shorts enjoying spring break off together.
On Wednesday’s (March 13) grand opening day, the streets of Gatlinburg were crowded with visitors and locals itchin’ to have a little fun. In the mild spring weather, a few convertibles cruised passed the location on 209 Parkway blaring Shelton hits over their stereo systems as fans wearing his latest merchandise peeked through Ole Red’s windows to catch a glimpse of the 6-foot-5-inch singer.
Inside representatives from the city of Gatlinburg and the local tourism board assembled for a Q&A with Shelton, Ryman Hospitality Properties CEO Colin Reed and moderator Bill Cody from WSM’s Coffee, Country and Cody.
Throughout the press conference, Shelton expressed appreciation for the city’s warm welcome. The last time he was in town was on a New Year’s trip with Gwen Stefani and her three sons to check on the progress of his latest Ole Red and visit Dollywood. At one point when Cody opened the floor for questions from the local media, Shelton noted the difference between Hollywood press events and Ole Red’s more laidback East Tennessee launch.
“This is the quietest group of media people I’ve ever seen in my life,” he noted. “I’m used to it in Hollywood where they’re like [shouting], ‘Blake!’ I love it. This is way better.”
Shelton and Reed shared plans to open more Ole Reds with the latest location set for Orlando, Fla. The common goal for all of the venues is to give regional rising acts opportunities to showcase their talents. Shelton mentioned how much his first professional gigs meant to him, and that he would have done anything to play a stage as nice as Ole Red Gatlinburg’s when he was starting out in music.
“From an artist’s standpoint,” Shelton said, “this is my favorite stage of the three because of the setup. You can see out here in front of you with the two levels, and you can actually see back here in a little ways … It’s literally shaped like a megaphone speaker, and it’s perfect.”
So, what would it mean to him if an Ole Red led to the launch of the next Dolly Parton or Blake Shelton of tomorrow?
“To be able to have something like that happen would be incredible,” Shelton said. “We’re still trying to have that on The Voice. We’re still looking for that huge star that’s going to explode out of that television show, and so, I know how hard that is, and it gets tougher every day. I know it’s going to happen, and I know it’s going to happen here, too … We’re going to make it happen.”
Wednesday’s press conference included a $54,214 donation to Gatlinburg-Pittman High School’s music programs. The total represents proceeds raised through auctioning tickets for Shelton’s grand opening concert and a matching donation from the Ryman Hospitality Properties Foundation.
“Spring Blake” events continue at Ole Red Gatlinburg through March 17 with free performances by Lauren Duski, Prior Baird, Red Marlow and Emily Ann Roberts.
CMT Hot 20 Countdown sat down with Shelton for an exclusive interview airing on an upcoming episode. The season continues Saturdays and Sundays at 9 a.m. ET.