10th-annual Chocolate Affair set for April

By Matt Masters


The 10th-annual Chocolate Affair will take place April 6 at the Capitol Theatre in Lebanon to raise money for the 15th Judicial District Child Advocacy Center.

Entertainment will be provided by Audience of One Productions, which will perform “One Enchanted Evening.” Two Fat Men Catering will provide the food.

Silent and live auctions will take place, along with a variety of chocolate desserts at the chocolate buffet, including a chocolate fountain. The festivities will be from 6:30-9:30 p.m.

Individual tickets are $50 with tables that seat eight for $500. Tickets must be bought by March 30. Tickets may be bought at cac15.org or call 615-449-7975.

Sponsors include Systems Integrations, Vance Law, Bank of Tennessee, Signature Behaviors, Vanderbilt University and Wilson Bank & Trust.

The 15th Judicial District Child Advocacy Center is an organization that aims to reduce the trauma of child abuse and help with the healing process. The Child Advocacy Center’s work and interviews are often used by law enforcement in criminal cases against abusers.

The Child Advocacy Center serves Wilson, Smith, Macon, Jackson and Trousdale counties. Funds raised will help the Child Advocacy Center with its expanding operations and staff.

For more information about the Child Advocacy Center, visit cac15.org.

Mt. Juliet native, ‘The Good Doctor’ writer visits Cumberland

By Matt Masters


Lloyd Gilyard Jr., a writer on ABC’s “The Good Doctor,” addressed a crowd of about 70 people Thursday evening in Cumberland University’s Heydel Fine Arts Center.

Gilyard, a 2000 Mt. Juliet High School graduate who currently lives and works in Los Angeles, spoke about his journey through the entertainment business.

“It’s always nice to help grow the next crop of writers to at least give them hope that this is something that you can actually do and is actually attainable,” Gilyard said. And it’s a lot of fun.

Gilyard said one of the lessons he’s learned in the first decade of his career is patience and work ethic are key.

“It just takes time. That was the key. When you’re young, you want everything to happen now, now, now, and then you realize that everything that you have done, and I’ve had a decent career in entertainment that’s coming up on 13 years. You realize that things take longer than you would have liked them to when you were younger, but you’ll get there as long as you keep doing it. You have to keep going after it,” Gilyard said.

Cumberland University English instructor Summer Vertrees led the discussion, which was made possible by a Bell Family Grant. Gilyard touched on the need for writers to give characters agency through the script and the need to be able to collaborate throughout the process of pre-production and production.

“Everyone has ideas that are different from yours,” Gilyard told the crowd. “And people have ways of like expounding those ideas. They see the story in a different way, but you’re all working together for a common good. And what happened in this scene is I had written it to just so you know, a normal scene, but the director caught me off guard in that moment when Bobby hears the news and he does something super subtle. It’s called a push in on the camera, and that little camera move adds so much depth to the emotion that the character within that moment. And that is something that, as a new writer, that was something that kind of blew my mind. The fact that you can have someone else there who understands your vision but will add something new to it and make it even greater.”

Gilyard worked earlier in the day with screenwriting students, something associate professor of English and creative writing Michael Rex said helped open their eyes to the realities and possibilities of a career in screenwriting.

“It was very good for them, because there are six of them, and they are all primarily fiction writers, so this was really the first time that they’ve actually had to write screenplays or stage plays. And what’s different about this aspect of creative writing versus writing poetry or fiction is exactly what he said about collaboration – you have to give it to someone else. It’s one thing to hear that from me. It’s a totally different thing to hear it from somebody who was just like them, who graduated from the same areas as they are and has gone out and is doing this for a living,” Rex said.

Wilson Central Wildcat Theatre to present ‘Mamma Mia’

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Wilson Central High School Wildcat Theatre will present “Mamma Mia,” March 28-31 in the school auditorium.

The classic show based on hits from the 1970s supergroup Abba will feature a large cast and crew in the show.

Actors Caylin Maguire who plays Tanya; Isabelle Leonard who plays Rosie; Alanna Diserens who is Sophia’s understudy; Sarah Beth Barlow who plays Donna, Azel Eddings who plays Sky; Addison Owens who plays Bill; Tristan Lockamy who plays Harry; and Johan Smith who plays Sam recently talked about the show.

“I just love everybody in it,” said Owens. “I feel connected to the cast. This is my senior show.”

Lockamy said, “Abba is a great band and they have great music. It’s fun to sing their songs on stage with everyone else.”

Leonard said she grew up listening to Abba with her mom.

“I’ve also done musical theatre since my freshman year, so this is kind of natural,” she said.

Maguire said she heard about the band and music through the musical first.

“Then my mom said, ‘Did you know that these are all from a band?” she said. “I was raised by a drama major.”

Lockamy said he’s always been interested in “the old music like Abba and the Beatles. I like [the music in the show] a lot.”

The show takes place within a two-day period.

“Forty-eight hours, and that’s it,” said Maguire. “It’s jam-packed. You’ll smile. You’ll cry.”

Maguire continued Leonard’s thoughts.

“You’ll laugh,” she said. “You’ll dance in your seat.”

Diserens said, “It’s a such an energetic and lively show to put on with everyone, because it has this spirit of this big-story adventure, and it’s like, what’s going to happen next?”

Barlow said she believes the audience members will “be more grateful for their family. It makes them have that love for their friendships. It’s a feel-good kind of show.”

Just because the storyline takes place in Greece, Maguire said, “It’s a show that can take place anywhere.

Maguire said the stage musical is not the same as the movie.

“There are songs in there that were in the movie,” she said. “Some of the stuff is in a different order. It’s not the movie on stage. It’s still the same overall story, but it’s not identical. So, don’t come expecting Meryl Streep.”

Diserens said the stage show, “kind of allows you to see a different side of the characters. Because it’s a play, there’s more insight into the characters, rather than the whole production value. You can really look into these lives.”

Shows March 28-29 will start 7 p.m., and there will be two shows March 30 at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. The matinee will be a sing-along show. The March 31 show will begin at 2:30 p.m. Adult tickets are $15, and student tickets are $10.

Mt. Juliet Christian Academy to present ‘Guys and Dolls’

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Mt. Juliet Christian Academy theatre will present the Broadway classic musical, “Guys and Dolls,” on April 12-14 at the school at 735 N. Mt. Juliet Road in Mt. Juliet.

The Broadway musical premiered in 1950. It ran for 1,200 performances and won a Tony Award for best musical. There were numerous revivals, and the musical was made into a film in 1955. The film starred Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine.

Kimberly Overstreet, theatre teacher and show director, said, “I picked ‘Guys and Dolls’ because it is an American musical theater classic. It’s a theater favorite for audience members and students.”

She said the play is called the “perfect theater musical, because it works as well today with today’s audiences as it did in 1950 when it premiered on Broadway. [The audience will relate to] the basic theme and the characters. The characters are extremely relatable and it’s good, clean, classic fun.”

Her job as director is to “trust the material and present it faithfully, with the innocence, romanticism and the whole largess that transcends realism,” she said. “Audiences can expect to laugh at the hilarious dialogue, be carried away by the romance, transported by the glorious [Frank] Loesser score and excited by the choreography that is dynamic and character driven.”

There are differences between the musical and the movie, she said, especially with some of the main characters.

Abigail Wilson, who plays Miss Adelaide, said the role “is different than any other role I’ve played. She’s very wild in a sense and likes to have a good time. The characters that I usually play are more refined and laid back.”

Abe Gibson plays Sky Masterson.

“Sky Masterson is a very complex character,” he said, “in the sense that he’s trying to be manipulative and gets what he wants, but at the same time, he finds himself falling in love with Sarah Brown. He has all these complex physical and emotional strains together just eating on him throughout the show.”

He said Masterson has some “amazing solo and ensemble songs” such as “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” and “My Time of Day.”

Anna Wise plays Sister Sarah Brown and said she wanted the role because, “Sarah reminds me of myself. She’s very reserved and has something set in her mind that she doesn’t want to change. I thought it would be cool to dig in deeper to that.”

Christian Link plays Nathan Detroit.

“Nathan and I are eerily similar,” Link said. “He cares a lot for everybody around him. He’s still a little big selfish. He wants to do something that he’s passionate about, but he still loves somebody.”

“Guys and Dolls will run April 12-13 at 7 p.m. and April 14 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for students and will be available at the door.

Mardi Gras at the Capitol tops $100K for Sherry’s Run

Staff Reports

Supporters from across Wilson County showed up in a big way Feb. 1 for Mardi Gras at the Capitol to benefit the Sherry’s Run organization.

“Thanks to so many generous people and businesses across Wilson County, Mardi Gras at the Capitol was a huge success to support the Sherry’s Run organization,” said Julie Miller-Wilson, Mardi Gras at the Capitol event chair. “There was so much community support, the venue sold out days before the event. The fourth-annual event raised a record-setting more than $100,000 to assist cancer patients in Wilson County and surrounding communities.

“From the table sponsors to individual ticket purchasers, silent and live auction donors and the winners of the auction items, so many people helped make Mardi Gras at the Capitol an amazing event. The event sponsors went above and beyond to make the evening spectacular. Bob and Pam Black allowed us the use of the beautiful Capitol Theatre. Party Providers set the tables for our fabulous meal provided by Ed Riley with Mo’Cara Southern Dining and Two Fat Men Catering. Additionally, the success of the evening was made possible with support from Cheers Wine & Liquor. Scott and Kirsten Harris provided the festive photo booth, and S.S. Graham Floral, Interiors and Events provided beautiful centerpieces. Hawk Specialty Services provided sound and arranged for the band, Four on the Floor. The generosity and support shown for Sherry’s Run commitment to assisting those in Wilson County and surrounding communities who are battling cancer was beyond extraordinary.”

Sherry’s Run, Wilson County’s largest grassroots cancer fundraising effort, is a nonprofit, Christian organization that has helped hundreds of people and their families during some of the hardest times of their lives. With community support and involvement, Sherry’s Run helps members of the community year round through support groups; assistance with utilities, housing, prescriptions, medical bills, gas and groceries; and colonoscopy assistance.

“The Sherry’s Run executive board and staff are so grateful for the support of our community and the leadership of our Mardi Gras at the Capitol chairs Glenn and Julie Miller-Wilson,” said Pat Lawson, executive director of Sherry’s Run. “Glenn and Julie worked tirelessly to make this a premier event to benefit the Sherry’s Run organization. We greatly appreciate their leadership and everyone who contributed to make Mardi Gras at the Capitol so successful.”

To learn more about the Sherry’s Run organization, call 615-925-2592. To refer someone for assistance, call 615-925-9932 or visit sherrysrun.org. To make a donation to Sherry’s Run, visit sherrysrun.org or mail donations to Sherry’s Run, P.O. Box 8, Lebanon, TN 37088-0008.

Lifeway gives gift of music to Cumberland

Cumberland University officials announced one of the most generous gifts ever received by the university is now in place in historic Baird Chapel.

The gift is a magnificent pipe organ donated by Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, formerly the Baptist Sunday School Board.

 For more than 50 years the custom-built 23-rank Wicks two-manual pipe organ with more than 1,200 pipes, provided music in the Van Ness auditorium of the Lifeway Christian Resource Center in downtown Nashville. When Lifeway made the decision to raze their building and move their center to a new location, leadership decided to gift the organ to the university.

The agreement to give the organ was signed in summer 2017. The instrument was removed from its previous location, and Milnar Organ Co. in Eagleville completely refurbished, modernized and updated it. An important part of the process involved “revoicing” the organ appropriately for its new home in Baird Chapel. The installation began in early October and was completed mid-December.

To the delight of almost 600 attendees, the organ was played for the first time in its new home as part of the Bert Coble Singers’ annual Christmas Dinner Show on Dec. 13-15. Bert Coble was a longtime faculty member at Cumberland who began the tradition of the Bert Coble Singers and its annual Christmas show. Because of his significant contributions to the Cumberland music program and the countless lives of students he influenced during his career, the university named the organ the Bert Coble Memorial Organ.

University president Paul C. Stumb expressed his gratitude to Lifeway during the Bert Coble Singers’ annual Christmas Dinner Show.

“We are so thrilled and appreciative to receive this remarkable gift from Lifeway Christian Resources,” said Stumb. “The organ will add immeasurably to the historic nature of Baird Chapel and will keep music alive for future generations of Cumberland students and thousands of guests who attend events in the chapel each year.”

A public concert to formally dedicate the new organ is planned for early 2019.

For more than 177 years, Cumberland University has advanced its long tradition of excellence to rise, endure, prosper and illuminate the world. Recognized as one of the fastest-growing liberal arts universities in Tennessee, Cumberland continues to evolve to meet the needs of a diverse and expanding community while it provides a transformational higher education experience through more than 100 fully accredited academic programs of study in three distinct schools.

Encore Theatre to close out season with ‘A Nice Family Christmas’

Staff Reports

The comedy, “A Nice Family Christmas,” by Phil Olsen will close out the 2018 season at Encore Theatre Co.

Directed by James Bealor, the show will be Dec. 14-15 at 7:30 p.m. with a sold-out matinee Sunday and another Dec. 16 at 2:30 p.m. The house will open 30 minutes before show time.

It’s Christmas Eve, and a young newspaper reporter on the brink of getting fired is assigned a last-chance story about a typical family Christmas – his family’s Christmas. He goes home to his recently widowed mother, his crazy uncle, his eccentric grandmother and his battling siblings and their neurotic spouses, who provide no shortage of material. One by one, the audience learns each family member’s secrets, problems and dysfunctions, and when they learn he’s writing an article with some personal family information, the fruitcake hits the fan. The question is, will the magic of Christmas bring this family back together?

Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors 60 and older. For tickets, visit encore-theatre-company.org, ticketsnashville.com or call 615-598-8950 for reservations.

Encore Theatre is at 6978 Lebanon Road, just west of State Route 109, in Holmes Crossing.

Currently in its 12th year, Encore Theatre Co. is a nonprofit community theater that serves Wilson County and surrounding areas.

AT&T viewers receive Wilson County Television

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Viewers can currently find Wilson County Television’s education and government channel on AT&T channel 99.

“We will also be streaming live on the county’s website [by the end of the week],” said Wilson County Television manager Tressa Bush. “Our main focus is for our folks in Wilson County to know as much as possible about what’s going on.

The channel will broadcast live county commission meetings and will play recorded education committee and budget committee meetings.

“Later on, down the road, we hope to work with the city of Mt. Juliet, which already broadcasts their meetings live, and the city of Lebanon, which broadcasts their meetings live, to get to play them live or recorded,” Bush said. “We also hope to work with the Wilson County Board of Education and possibly the Lebanon Special School District Board of Education and get recordings of their meetings.”

She said the “main thing is to get the meetings and let the public know what’s going on, because a lot of folks can’t come to those meetings because of their schedule, they’re immobile or whatever the case might be.”

In addition to meetings, the channel plans to produce local programs, including one called “Talking with Tatum,” with Judge Barry Tatum. It will be a sit-down talk show with a variety of guests, Bush said.

“We’re also going to be working with our tourism director, Amy Nichols,” Bush said. “She’s doing a web series that we’re going to put on the channel called ‘WilCo on the Go.’ It recently won an award from the Greater Nashville Regional Council for tourism initiatives.”

Bush said she also plans to air a program called, “’Walking through Wilson,’ where we will have a variety of hosts to talk about interesting places that you can see here in Wilson County. [Also,] Valerie’s Kitchen, a lady named Valerie Edwards has a kitchen at her home, so we’re going to do some cooking and canning shows with her.”

When original programming isn’t shown, other public education and government programming that people have uploaded across the U.S. will be included on the channel, Bush said.

“I think our viewers will enjoy some of that,” she said. “There will videos about boating, fishing, cooking travel and things like that. We’re also going to be working with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. They are going to be giving us some of their programming. We want it to be educational, as well as informational, because that is our main focus, to keep folks informed of what’s going on in Wilson County.”

Wilson County Television will also show short videos that feature former Wilson County resident Chuck Denney, who currently works with the University of Tennessee Agricultural Institute in Knoxville. Viewers will recognize him from Saturday morning programming on WTVF, NewsChannel 5, in Nashville.

As part of his job, he works with the University of Tennessee agricultural Extension agents across the state. Bush said he was excited when she asked him to be a part of Wilson County Television.

“He’s going to be a guest on ‘Talking with Tatum’ very soon,” she said.

Bush said not everyone across the county will get Wilson County Television at this time. Since the county offices are in Lebanon, the cable companies in Lebanon will service it. There are two, she said, AT&T and Charter.

They do not have a signed contract to broadcast on Charter, but Bush said she’s in talks about the issue. Those with AT&T across the county will get Wilson County Television on channel 99.

“We’re going to do it like an on-demand channel,” she said. “When you go to channel 99, you’re going to see a screen come up, and you’ll get to pick which public education and government channel you want, so we know we’ll get a good amount of people [who want to view the programs].”

She said with Charter, “we are hoping to take over the city of Lebanon’s Charter channel 198. There are still some papers that have to be worked out, but they have agreed in principal, as have we, to make that transfer. They will still do theirs live. It will be live with us. Nothing will change, except we’ll have more programming.”

She said Lebanon hasn’t been able to fill its channel with programming, because it doesn’t have the dedicated personnel to do it.

High school students also work with Bush to film the various meetings. Bush said she met Wilson Central High School student Kyle Pulley while they were both in a play in Wilson County. They started to talk about videos, and he invited her to see the TV production work the students at Wilson Central were doing. She currently has nine paid student interns. Six are from Wilson Central, and three are from Mt. Juliet High School.

“We will also welcome and look for more as we go, because the seniors will graduate,” she said. “They’ve been a very integral part of this channel, and they will always be.”

Wilson County Television is only available on cable, not satellite companies such as DirecTV and Dish.

“Unfortunately [satellite viewers] will not be able to get the channel,” she said “However, we’re going to take care of those people, because it will be available streaming live on the wilsoncountytn.gov website. So, they will be able to see it that way.”

Wilson Central assistant principal appears on ‘Ellen’

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Fresh off her appearance with the Wilson Central High School dance team on Ellen DeGeneres’ television show, “Ellen,” Wilson Central assistant principal Ranesa Shipman was once again on the show, but this time, it was in person.

During her first appearance, DeGeneres invited Shipman to be an audience member during a taping of the popular talk show.

At Monday’s show, DeGeneres called Shipman down from the audience. Shipman called the experience, “unreal, phenomenal, outstanding. It knocked the breath out of me.”

With tissues in hand, Shipman told DeGeneres that DeGeneres was wonderful.

“I was mesmerized to be in the studio, to see people and her,” Shipman said. “What you see on TV, magnify that by 10 million. She is so pleasant, caring, loving and has a heart of gold. She has such generosity and care for people. I’m just grateful. It was a wonderful time, and I’m excited that my family and I had the opportunity. To think enough of us, to include us in the event, I’m humbled and grateful. It was a remarkable time.”

During the show, DeGeneres talked about Shutterfly’s previous gift of $15,000 to the dance team and another $15,000 to Shipman herself. At the show Monday, DeGeneres gave Shipman another $20,000 from Shutterfly to help pay off Shipman’s “secret” credit card bill.

“I’ve had it since I began teaching,” Shipman said. “There are a lot of other educators who do the same thing, especially when it comes to things needed in the classroom. We don’t want to be a burden to the parent, and the educators just get it. I don’t want to draw any attention to me. I’m not doing anything extra. I’m just doing what any other human would do to help out their brothers and sisters. I don’t want to be recognized. I just want to help people and be remembered as a loving person, who was upbeat, happy and energetic.”

She said with the $20,000, she hopes to create a nonprofit that will give back to others who need things for the school.

“I think a lot of the $20,000 will go for legal fees, but I want to start the process for creating a nonprofit,” she said. “I don’t want people to think I’m taking the money for myself. I’m giving back to the community.”

Shipman and her family were in Los Angeles for two days.

“It was a very short trip,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve slept in the past 72 hours. I had to come back, because there are people who depend on me.”

Corn maze to open at fairgrounds

By Matt Masters

Mark Bellew • All Hands Fire Photos
A corn maze will open Saturday at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in honor of News Channel 5’s longtime meteorologist Lelan Statom.

Mark Bellew • All Hands Fire Photos
The Farmers’ Corn Maze will open Saturday and remain open weekends through Nov. 5 at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in Lebanon.


A corn maze will open Saturday at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in honor of News Channel 5’s longtime meteorologist Lelan Statom.

Sunshine and Justin Gregory with Farmer’s Produce in Castilian Springs planted the maze with the help of the James E. Ward Agricultural Center and Wilson County Expo Center staff.

Sunshine Gregory said they have transitioned from growing tobacco into produce and agri-tourism and saw the Wilson County Fairgrounds and the James E. Ward Agricultural Center as the perfect place to have the attraction.

“The maze is actually not corn. It’s sorghum sudangrass. We did that because corn wouldn’t grow tall enough in the ground, and it’s about 4 acres,” Sunshine Gregory said. “We are celebrating 25 years of Lelan Statom this year, and we will have pumpkin painting, face painting, pumpkin bowling, duck races and other activities. Everyone knows about the Wilson County Fairgrounds, so we couldn’t think of a better place to have this celebration.” 

The maze spells out “Celebrate 25 years with Lelan” with the likeness of Statom cut into the maze. 

Charity Toombs, director of marketing and events for the Wilson County Expo Center, said that the maze is just one way the fairgrounds and Expo Center plans to offer new attractions to the people of Wilson County.

“When the county purchased this land, it was solely for the fact of promoting and having a place for agriculture, and so we’ve continued to take that mission and improve upon it. So with the new director, Quinton Smith, and myself and our staff, it has been our mission that the ag grounds become a place where people can literally be a part of agriculture and to get their hands dirty. And so it’s our passion to have these events where they can experience agriculture directly,” Toombs said.

The maze will be open  weekends from Saturday through Nov. 3 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Admission is $8 per person, and children 3 years old and younger will get in free. 

Auditions for character party business taking place

By Angie Mayes

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Ella Rollins interacts with Kamryn Boyd as Beauty, one of many characters that will be a part of By Royal Invitation, a new character party company in Wilson County.

Special to Mt. Juliet News

A new business in Wilson County is expected to be popular among young children thanks to the stars of the show – princesses currently and superheroes in the future.

The company, By Royal Invitation, is owned by Middle Tennessee actress, director and vocal coach Katharine Boettcher.

“I have been wanting to create something like this for the past three years,” Boettcher said. “I played Ursula a few years ago in a production of the Little Mermaid and had an amazing time. Seeing the kids react to the characters on stage just made me smile. I know how giddy I get when I visit characters in the Orlando parks, I can only imagine the excitement is 100 times more in a little one.”

She said as a child, she “hand sewed all of my Halloween costumes and had a blast creating some of my favorite Broadway characters come to life.”

The characters in By Royal Invitation are “based on classic fairy tales and villains. As the company grows, there will be superheroes and heroines and who knows where else our imagination will take us.”

There’s no limit to the number of characters that will be available for shows, parties and the like.

“We will have a small roster to begin with, but as we grow, we will continually expand and bring in new characters,” she said.  Among them will be “the Snow Queen, the Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Mother Goethel, Cruella De Ville and more.”

Not affiliated with Disney, the use of the names is allowed due to the characters taken from Grimm’s Fairy Tales and stories from Hans Christian Anderson. 

“It is not our intent to infringe on copyright,” Boettcher said. “Our fairy tale characters are based on the Grimm Brothers and other historic fairy tale characters. Our costuming is of the highest quality. They are designed by [me], and many are built from scratch by a costumer in Nashville. Our characters have unique names and personalities.”

She said the company will offer “some Jedi knights, and we are hoping to cast a couple of superheroes during the audition process.”

The audition process is currently taking place.

“We currently have a casting call out for face actors and are taking submissions for all characters,” Boettcher said. “Once submissions are gathered, I will pull and have one-on-one auditions.”

Anyone interested in submitting materials must be 16 years old, have reliable transportation, send in a resume with height clearly marked, headshot and full-body shot. The information must be emailed to byroyalinvitation@gmail.com. At the time of hire, eligible talent will have passed a background check and be eligible to work in the United States before a contract will be offered. 

“There is no weight or ethnic requirement,” she said. “I am looking for diversity. Something that will distinguish By Royal Invitation is the fact that a character is not limited by their ethnicity or weight.  I do want to keep true to some height requirements as there are expectations of how tall characters are when they are meeting guests. 

The actors’ auditions, resume and personality will have a lot to do with the hiring process, she said.

“I am looking for people who are fast on their feet,” Boettcher said. “Children can ask a variety of questions, and our characters need to be able to stay in character and answer as the characters.  Our characters are going to be entertaining so they must be able to sing and act, as well as interact with our guests to make their day an extra-special occasion.”

All actors must sing and be able to tell their characters story as if it is their own, she said.  

“We have several options for what our characters will perform-do at a variety of occasions,” Boettcher said. “[That includes] photo opportunities and, of course, corporate and community events. I’m hoping to hold a couple of character nights at some of Wilson County’s local restaurants that have kids’ nights. 

All face characters are paid per event, she said. Each character is accompanied by a paid attendant to assist with children and the character’s needs during the event. All characters are also attendants when not in character.  

“We are hoping to have several special events for kick offs, as well as for charity events,” she said. “My heart is with Make-a-Wish Foundation, and I hope to build a relationship with them. And I am hoping to have a Halloween bash with some fun villains and bad guys, too.”

For more information, contact Boettcher through the company’s Facebook page, By Royal Invitation, or via email byroyalinvitation@gmail.com. Boettcher will launch a website when the full cast of characters is finalized.   

Boettcher said her company is “the first of our kind in Wilson County, and [we] are very proud that we have some amazing Wilson County talent already on our roster of characters. Character parties are huge. So many folks love to have this one-on-one experience with these iconic characters. And if you can’t get to the magic down in Florida, we hope to bring a little fairy tale magic to Middle Tennessee.”  

Longtime George Strait drummer killed in I-40 wreck

By Jared Felkins


The longtime drummer for George Strait’s Ace in the Hole Band died in a wreck Friday afternoon on Interstate 40 in Wilson County.

According to a Tennessee Highway Patrol report, the three-vehicle wreck happened just before 4 p.m. near mile marker 238 westbound in Lebanon.

Strait’s drummer Michael A. Kennedy, 59, of Baxter, was driving a 1999 GMC westbound in the inside lane and merged into the outside lane when he collided with a 2013 Freightliner tractor-trailer driven by Joe L. Williams III, 44, of Antioch. The tractor-trailer then collided with a 2016 Chevrolet driven by Wayne O. Hudspath, 55, of Lebanon. Both Kennedy and Hudspath’s vehicles came to rest facing westbound on the right shoulder. The tractor-trailer came to rest in the outside westbound lane.

Troopers said Kennedy wasn’t wearing a seat belt, but it wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome of the wreck. No one else was injured.

Kennedy was the drummer for Strait’s Ace in the Hole Band for nearly 30 years.

“The heart beat of our band is gone,” said Paul Rogers, production manager for George Strait Productions, in a Twitter message. “Not sure how we will get back on stage without him. But we must. Much love and respect my dear friend Mike Kennedy.”

The westbound lanes of I-40 were closed for about two hours while emergency crews cleared the scene.

Wilson County Fair kicks off in grand fashion

By Rachael Anne Keisling

Special to The Democrat

The Wilson County Fair started in style Friday evening to celebrate the year of milk at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center in Lebanon.

The theme for this year, “mAGic memories,” celebrates agriculture, specifically Wilson County dairy farmers and overall healthy activity.

New to the fair this year is the Sea Lion Splash at the purple gate. There were four seals inside the swimming pool. Lily, one of the seals had her picture taken with the children.

The fair’s kickoff parade included a 1930s Mayberry vehicle from the Andy Griffith Show, Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto and the Addams family hearse. It began at 7 p.m. and worked its way around the fairgrounds where the crowds cheered for the participants.

A milk-carton decorating contest was the first of many activities at The Dairy Patch, which is located near Fiddlers Grove. Children walked through a mini-farm to gain a perspective some challenges faced by farmers and what their daily activities entail. Children picked up corn, picked cotton, milked cows and collected eggs. The children then grabbed a ticket and took it to a booth room to exchange for a prize for their efforts.

New rides from Reithoffer Shows are the Stinger, Euro Slide, EuroBungy, Speed, Indy-500, Music Express and Wild Claw. The Stinger is somewhat similar to the Kamikaze, but it seats 16 people. The Kamikaze has two sides that flip upside down frontward and backward.

Favorites like the traditional carousel are also available.

Former ‘Voice’ contestant Joe Kirk releases new tunes

By Sinclaire Sparkman


Local musician Joe Kirk released a five-song EP in July just in time for his birthday. Kirk came on the radar in 2014 when he appeared on season 7 of NBC’s “The Voice.”

“This first project I really wanted to be true to myself, so I just took my time writing it. After The Voice, I took about three and a half, four years just to make sure that these five songs were the right songs that I wanted the world to hear, and it turned out to be one of my favorite projects. I’m just so happy with it,” Kirk said.

Kirk also released two music videos for songs on the EP, which he traveled to Los Angeles to film with the help of his friend, Cameron Adams.

“I flew out there for a week and filming was for about three or four days, and it was from sun up to sun down, making sure we got the best lighting and everything. The biggest part of the process was just what we wanted the video to look like. It was crazy how it all worked out. I’m so happy with the outcome,” Kirk said.

Kirk graduated from Mt. Juliet Christian Academy and said he’s been writing since he was 14. He started singing in Mt. Juliet and Nashville, but his career as a pop artist didn’t take off until after his appearance on “The Voice.”

“Whenever I look back I just remember how much growth I have experienced in the past four years really. I think I went from somebody who was not confident in what I did and not very sure of who I was or where I was going, and I turned into somebody who knew exactly what I wanted to say and knew exactly who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. That caused my writing to be a lot more confident and a lot more entertaining,” Kirk said.

Kirk describes his genre as “cinematic pop” and said his brothers, Steven and Justin, help him write many of his songs.

“Anytime I have an idea I know that I can call them and we’ll write one of my favorite songs. Every time we write together, it turns into my favorite song and it’s on repeat,” Kirk said.

Though every song he’s created is special to him, Kirk mentioned two that stand out on the EP.

“‘All I know’ is a song that is very upbeat and very fun, and it was the first upbeat song that I had ever been a part of writing that I really loved,” Kirk said. “I’m really into the ballads. I’m really into the deep lyrics, so this was something that was kind of a battle for me and I conquered it, finally. I wanted a song that was fun and people could dance to and it could also be who I am.

“‘Let This Go’ is a song that is very relatable. Everybody’s kind of been through heartbreak and I wanted to write a song that was very true to my life at some point that could kind of help someone through a similar situation. It’s been getting the most love and it’s one of my favorite melodies that I’ve ever written. That one will always be very important to me because I let myself get vulnerable while writing that one, and I think that’s very important to do as an artist because that gives people the opportunity to connect with you.”

Kirk’s music is available on YouTube, Spotify and iTunes. Connect with him on Twitter @JoeKirkMusic.

Wilson County earns broadband-ready status

By Matt Masters


The Wilson County Cable TV Committee met recently to discuss the Public, Educational and Government access channel, city documentation on YouTube and an effort to streamline email services.

The committee filled out paperwork to become a broadband-ready community during the meeting, and Friday, committee chair Dan Walker announced Wilson County is officially a broadband-ready community. This is a part of a statewide effort to bring greater broadband access and infrastructure to rural areas.

Tressa Bush, manger of the PEG channel, showed off the county’s YouTube channel “Wilson County TN,” which has dozens of videos from coverage of county meetings to tourism and history videos. The committee praised the professional-quality videos that were responsible in part by a team of Wilson Central High School student interns who are involved to shoot, produce and edit the videos.

Bush also said the Public, Educational and Government access channel, known as the PEG channel, will be re-branded as “Wilson County Television.”

Walker also introduced a resolution that was passed unanimously that said incoming Wilson County commissioners would have access to Microsoft Outlook’s email service to get all county employees on a unified email service with the same domain name.

The option to cancel the subscriptions to Microsoft Office for some county employees in favor of access to only Microsoft Outlook email services was also discussed to save money.

Kidz Kamp coming to Fiddlers Grove

Fiddlers Grove at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center in Lebanon will offer its fourth-annual Kidz Kamp for children. 

The classes will be June 20-21 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The cost is $35 per child, and lunch and snacks will be served both days. Children must be registered before a class to ensure the instructor has enough supplies to teach the class. Class sizes are limited so that each child may receive undivided attention. 

“Your child will learn how to use their hands to create beautiful things,” said Gwen Scott with Fiddlers Grove. 

On the first day, campers will learn about Wilson County and Tennessee history, stories about famous people from Tennessee and the hardships forefathers endured. There will be fun and games, competition and awards for achievements. 

On the second day, campers will choose two of the favorite crafts they want to learn how to do and will work on each one during the day. At the end of the second day, they will be able to show off their handiwork.

“This would be an excellent way for churches to support the kids they serve by sponsoring them,” Scott said. 

Parents may call 615-547-6111 to register a child by phone. For more information, follow Fiddlers Grove on Facebook.

Staff Reports

Fair to honor dairy farmers with theme, ‘mAGic Memories’

The 2018 Wilson County Fair will honor dairy farms and families as it celebrates “Year of Milk” as the agriculture commodity and making more mAGic memories.

A life of early mornings, long days of hard work and braving the elements day in and day out 365 days a year may not sound appealing to everyone, but for Wilson County’s dairy farmers, this is the lifestyle they have happily chosen.

Looking out over the farm, raising children and grandchildren to experience morning and afternoon milking, bottle feeding baby calves, harvesting crops, baling hay – the many chores involved with stewardship of the land and cattle bring families closer together.

“Watching three little boys grow up and have the whole farm experience – playing in the creek, showing calves, seeing the natural life and death experience and growing up to be good people” are the mAGic Memories for Roy Major, patriarch of Major Dairy Farm, where he and wife, Diane, raised sons Josh, Seth and Jared.  Grandchildren Carter and Addison experience the same mAGic. Major Dairy Farm was established in 1979.

“It’s a good way of life,” said Larry Eastes with Eastes Dairy Farm. “A dairy farm is a good place to raise a family, to get to be with them every day and see them grow.”

Eastes’ farm will reach century farm status in 2019 – with 100 years of continuous dairy operation. Established by his grandparents, Ernest and Allie Driver, the farm was then operated by his parents, John D. and Ernestine Eastes, before Larry Estes took the reins. His son, Kirk, helps daily on the farm, while daughter, Lora Eastes Stutts, is a fifth-grade teacher in Watertown. Both live on the farm with their own families, and Larry Estes’ grandchildren are growing up steeped in farm life just as their parents were.

Brothers Jeffrey, Justin and Jason Turner grew up milking cows, and Jeffrey and Justin Turner decided to open their own dairy on the family farm, milking their first Holsteins on Dec. 9, 2015. Their parents, Tommy and Jackie Turner, got out of the dairy business in the early 2000s, but Jeffrey Turner has fond memories of going to the barn with his dad to milk, or when he was too small to help, waiting for his dad to come in from milking so the family could sit down together for the evening meal.  It’s all about family. And even though Jason Turner isn’t a partner in the new dairy, he helps out, too.

Holsteins are the predominant dairy breed in Wilson County, and the Turners have 100-percent Holsteins; the Eastes family have about 80 percent Holstein plus Jersey and a few Brown Swiss; and Major Dairy Farm has 95 percent registered Holstein, plus a few Brown Swiss, Ayrshire and Jerseys – from acquiring additional breeds for the youngsters to show through 4-H.  Eastes milks about 80 cows a day, the Turners about 100 cows, and the Majors average 200-220 cows. That translates to tons of milk in a year, 8 million to 8.5 million pounds of milk annually, combined.

While dairy farming is a beloved way of life, it’s one that is more challenging than ever before. Volatile markets and only one buyer for the area leave the hard-working families at the mercy of whatever price they are given. Margins are slim to negative. Giant corporate dairy farms that load out full tankers of milk daily are tough for the family farms to compete against. Prohibitively high land costs make expansion nearly impossible. But the dairy farmers are accustomed to adversity and do their best to survive and thrive.

Roy Major said he hopes to see market corrections bring some stability in the future so his farm can continue to provide the dairy farming opportunity for his grandchildren. The Eastes family already has diversified by building up their herd of beef cattle. Larry Eastes’ dream is to at least keep operating the dairy through the 100-year anniversary in 2019, but without market changes, they may transition completely to beef. As the youngest dairy farm in Wilson County, the Turner Dairy Farm would like to expand and is exploring options to eliminate the market volatility they face.

Through it all, they pull together as strong families rooted to the land and cattle they care so deeply for, making more mAGic memories as the days pass.

Staff Reports

Long Hunter State Park to unveil story trail

In partnership with the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation and La Vergne Public Library, Long Hunter State Park will unveil the third edition of the Reading Ranger Story Trail that combines the fun of outdoor exercise and a children’s book.

The public is invited for the unveiling and hands-on activities Saturday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. in the Couchville Lake area of the park. The event will be free and rain or shine. No RSVP is necessary.

This year’s book is “Miss Maple’s Seeds,” written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. It’s the story of a tiny woman who fosters lost seeds and teaches them their value of being a seed. The story introduces young minds to ideas about seeds and their journey to become a plant as they walk along a beautiful quarter-mile trail. Children can enjoy the engaging artwork as each sign reveals the story.

Located beside the Couchville Lake parking lot, the Reading Ranger Story Trail will be accessible every day during regular park hours, from 7 a.m. until sunset, through next spring. The trail is an easy 1/4-mile wooded path.

On opening day, the trail dedication and ribbon cutting will take place at 11 a.m. Ongoing activities until 2 p.m. will include games, various booths, self-guided tours of the trail and registering children with “Books from Birth” with Imagination Library representatives.

Those who plan to attend should enter Long Hunter State Park at the main entrance at 2910 Hobson Pike in Hermitage, take the first left and proceed to the parking lot beside Couchville Lake. The Reading Ranger Story Trail is at the back of the parking lot.

For more information, contact Leslie Anne Rawlings at leslie.anne.rawlings@tn.gov or call 615-770-6980.

Staff Reports

Local students take center stage with CAST

Photo courtesy of T.J. Jordan
Local students recently take the stage for the CAST production of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’

Students at the Collective Art School of Tennessee recently got their chance to shine as they took center stage for a musical production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

The students showcased their talents before packed audiences at New Heart Christian Church and Charlie Daniels’ amphitheater the weekend of May 19-20.

CAST executive director Hollie Hongosh, who referred to the cast as her little Ozians, said the students began to prepare for the production in January and were ready for their big night.

“The kids have worked so hard, and the audience finally gets to enjoy everything that this show has come to be,” said Hongosh. “I felt like every child grew throughout the rehearsal process, and that is my primary goal.”

Hongosh and co-director, Hannah Dias, brought CAST program to the greater Nashville area to provide classes, workshops and private lessons for children and adults of all ages who have an interest in classical and musical theater training, as well as dance, vocalization and instrumentation.

“We strive to foster personal relationships with our students so that we can better serve them in their journey through our program,” said Dias. “We strongly believe in the values of love, respect, open communication, acceptance, creativity and inclusion of all students.”

The CAST instructors further explained the skills developed throughout performing arts instruction go far beyond the limits of the stage.

“When the lights go down and the curtain closes, we want our performers to exhibit the qualities of confident, savvy lifelong learners with a zeal for trying new things,” said Hongosh. “We love getting to know each and every new child that we have the opportunity to teach. We hope that they learn lessons that they can take anywhere.”

The CAST crew will hold its production of “Annie” in the fall, and sign-ups for summer classes are open. For more information about CAST programs and productions, call 440-465-2377, email hollie@castenn.com or visit castenn.com.

Staff Reports

Cordell Hull Lake to hold ‘Touch a Truck Day’

NASHVILLE – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District park rangers at Cordell Hull Lake will hold the first Touch a Truck Day on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. to coincide with National Get Outdoors Day.

The free community event will promote safety and services offered in the surrounding communities. Overall, it will be a career day on wheels for children and their families. Some agencies and businesses participating include North Central Fire Department, Smith County Emergency Management Services, Tennessee State Parks and Tennessee Kayak and Outdoor Co., to name a few.

The event will be at Cordell Hull Lake’s natural resource management office at 71 Corps Lane in Carthage in the lower field on the left past the office.

Parking for vehicles not part of the event will be available at the natural resource management office’s front and back parking lots and across the street at the Cordell Hull Dam Site Recreation Area on the right.

In the case of inclement weather, information on the event status will be updated on Cordell Hull Lake’s Facebook page. Businesses and agencies interested in participating in the Touch a Truck Day event are asked to contact Park Ranger Ashley Webster in the Cordell Hull Lake resource manager’s office at 615-735-1034.

Staff Reports