Bluebonnet Choral Festival Set for April

Mason area singers are invited to join voices with other vocalists in the Bluebonnet Choral Festival to be held in Mason April 11-16. The choral festival is a chance for singers to renew basic vocal pedagogy skills and to sing music of the masters like Gabriel Faure and fun gospel and American spirituals. 
Choral conductor Dr. Jerry Ann Alt, New Mexico State University professor emeritus, will lead the choir. During Alt’s 26 years as NMSU’s director of choirs, her choirs performed around the world and across the United States. In 2001, Dr. Alt established the Choral Association of Southern New Mexico, a non-profit corporation that supports choral music in Southern New Mexico.  
The festival includes evening rehearsals Monday through Thursday, April 11-14, at Mason’s First United Methodist Church, and two performances. The first performance will be at 7 p.m. Friday, April 15, in the church sanctuary. The second performance will be at 2 p.m. in Mason›s historic Odeon Theater.  
For more information call Lynn Reichenau at 325-347-2216, haymakers@verizon.net.

Be an Outsider, Drive Right In

Don't try this inside the Palace, the Paramount, or Palladium movie houses, but no complaint in your own car or truck.

It may be the ultimate Throwback. An era that was finished now lives—not in huge numbers, but the industry is breathing. It’s not The End just yet. The MGM Lion roars; the Columbia Beacon shines; that Warner Brothers “WB” is coming at you.

The first reel is ready at the Drive-In theater.

“I was mentored by my grandfather,” Ryan Smith told me one balmy summer night. R. A. “Skeet” Noret was skilled in farming, real estate, and oil and gas but also opened a drive-in in La Mesa in 1948.

“My dream started in the summer 2002,” Smith recalled, as he was discussing “eating a char-burger under the stars, waiting on aliens to invade. It was a moment that changed my life, and I began a journey to build a drive-in.

“I had a romanticized experience in my mind—the ‘50s highlighted in movies.”

Law School was the loser in Smith’s version of “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” His first drive-in opened in August 2003 in Lubbock, and the structure known as “Stars & Stripes” grabbed a sibling in April of this year in New Braunfels.

I visited with Smith, but the three-screen Stars wasn’t exactly how I remembered drive-ins in their heyday decades ago. The concession “stand” was more like a concession restaurant—chicken, burgers, pizza, corn dogs and milk shakes were behind the counter. “Yes, you can bring your own food,” says Smith, who seemed about as neighborly and friendly as the “Mr. Smith” who went to Washington.

What was familiar? The playing of: My Prayer, So Fine, All I Have to do is Dream, and La Bamba—coming out of speakers set up (apparently) by angels in the lobby. I wasn’t 15 again, but the music was—and is—for eternity.


DriveinMovie.com tells us Claude Caver of Comanche came up with a prequel to the drive-ins in 1921.

The first official outdoor picture show in Texas was in Galveston, 1934, about a year after the first pair in the nation in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The peak? The 1950s—nearly 400 in Texas, 4,000 nationwide. This morning? The 400 or so may be nationwide, while 10-12 in our state.

In the “old days,” some folks called the theaters “Passion Pits.” I can’t remember why.

 Today’s Show

“Grandparents bring grandkids,” Smith advised. “In a station wagon.” That was, you might say, the father of a SUV I guess. Also in the audience: “Teens, college students, tourists—fun to see a wide variety.

“Business is great. People love being together as a family.”

Indeed. There they were: mom, dad, and two kids in the back of a truck watching a movie. “I saw it on the internet,” said a relaxed parent, Jason Bullard, whose family lives in the Houston area.

“It’s awesome,” the host of a Wendy’s advised me when I told her where my entertainment venue was for the evening.

Stars & Stripes shows double features for $8. “People appreciate getting a fair deal,” noted Ryan Smith. “People respect that.”

Colorado resident Michelle Perez, visiting in San Antonio,  declared on Facebook: “Wish we had a drive-in like this.”

Sarah Lynn McClenon wrote, “Atmosphere is perfect.”

Magdalena Throckmorton: “Brings back childhood memories.”

But not these: it’s all run by digital, of course, and you get the sound from your radio. The speakers are not involved in this rerun.

“We don’t give up anything to indoor theaters,” Smith insisted.


Down on the Farm

There’s farming in the front and back of the triple screens. Corn and wheat. “Herefords on one side,” Smith adds, “Black Angus on the other.” Modern-day cameo roles.

Between farm and screens is a playground for youngsters—well-populated before twilight and darkness introduce the moving pictures.


The living past

Ryan Smith called the 1950s a “Golden Era, a simpler time, a sense of community—{something} people are clamoring for now. This resonated with me. Since I never experienced it as a youth, I’m much more excited about it when I experience it in a drive-in.”

Some customers “will say they say they saw their first drive-in movie at Stars & Stripes. It will always be a part of them.”



Corral Theatre and Rocky River Ranch

A few Texas towns are proud to have drive-in outdoor theaters, but how many have walk-in outdoor theaters? Just Wimberley.

The Corral Theatre provides a few chairs and a small set of bleachers that patrons may sit on, or bring your own folding chairs to watch first-run movies in true comfort. Your only distraction may be fireflies or the occasional shooting star.

Twin brothers Roy and Ray Avey built The Corral Theatre in the late 1940s out of cedar saplings just off the Wimberley Square. They later sold the theater to Carol "Mama" Knolk, who ran Rocky River Ranch, a summer camp for girls since 1953. In 1966, Mama Knolk moved the theater to its current location on the ranch.

The Corral first used 1926 carbon arc projectors—later upgraded to 1932 projectors—to entertain enthusiastic crowds with first-run movies, the only walk-in outdoor theater in the U.S. to do so. But last year that tradition was threatened by modern technology.

Almost no movie companies use film anymore. They've switched from 35mm to digital. Suddenly, the Corral couldn't show first-run movies until they bought new computer projectors and upgraded their entire system, but the theater rarely makes a profit and couldn't afford the upgrade.

"We didn't know if we could do it. We weighed the pros and cons and said OK, go for it," says Rue Hatfield, executive director of Rocky River Ranch.

When they open their gates this year on the first weekend in May it will be a new era thanks to the generosity of Wimberley folks who couldn't bear the thought of not having The Corral.

Rue's daughter Kate and Teri Carter spearheaded the project, eventually raising even more money than was needed.

Instead of a box full of reels of film, The Corral now gets a digital memory stick from a movie company, explains Rocky River's Camp Director Shanna Watson.

"You plug the stick into a main frame computer in the projection room," Shanna says. "It's complicated, but not as complicated as film. We had to re-surface the screen so with that and digital, the picture is much better and the sound is amazing."

"It's amazing how the Wimberley community came together and supported us. We can't thank Wimberley enough," Rue says. "The people here are amazing."

Amazing is what brought Rue's aunt, Mary Anderson, to Wimberley to work at and eventually buy Rocky River Ranch and The Corral.

"In 1966, I was living with my mother in Lubbock and I wanted to move out. I came here and fell in love with Wimberley," Mary recalls. "Any place that loves trees so much they'll route a road around them is amazing. My kind of place."

Mary had worked as director of a Girl Scout camp in Lubbock and when she discovered Rocky River Ranch, she fell in love. She knew her friend Sandra Bateman, the nurse at the Girl Scout camp, loved horses so she invited her down and the two worked at Rocky River, then leased it from Mama Knolk, then bought it in 1971.

Located on the Blanco River, Rocky River Ranch has six sessions for girls ages 7 through 14, June through August. Three of them are one week long, one is for 10 days, and two are two weeks long.

Each camper chooses the activities she wishes to participate in—among them are cooking, various crafts, drama, fishing, various games and sports, gardening, horseback riding, kayaking, swimming, yoga, and more. The camp has its own 42-foot climbing wall, swimming pool, tennis court, archery range, and a zip line.

Lodging is in one of the bunkhouses or covered wagons.

It's a summertime adventure that builds confidence in the campers, teaches them how to get along with others and how to fend for themselves, Mary says with pride.

"I hear at least once a month from people who appreciate the camp and express their love for it," says Rue. "I just received a note from a woman who was here 35 years ago saying how much Rocky River changed her life."

Rue started out as a Rocky River Ranch camper herself in 1967. Then she became a counselor. Sandra passed away in 2005. Today, Rue is co-owner with her Aunt Mary, allowing Mary to relax a little more in her golden years.

"I came back because I couldn't stand the thought of it not being here," Rue explains. "I didn't want to stop affecting kids positively. It's home and it's impacted me over the years, too."

And her daughter Kate runs the barn.

When camp is not in session, Rocky River offers Great Escapes for women and Mother-Daughter weekends.

Great Escapes this year will be May 1-3 and October 2-4, both coinciding with Wimberley Market Day. You can escape with a facial or massage, shopping, horseback riding, or try your hands and feet on the camp's climbing wall. Included are two nights lodging and five meals.

Mother-Daughter retreats allow moms and their camp-age daughters to spend time together, away from most modern distractions. Featured are lots of outdoor activities and a talent show. Dates this year are April 17-19, 24-26 and September 18-20.

Plus, when the camp is not in session, groups may rent out the facilities.

"Every summer we bring 400 to 500 families to Wimberley," Mary says. "They stay here, they eat here, they shop here. We helped put Wimberley on the map."

For More Information

The Corral Theatre shows movies every Friday, Saturday and sometimes Sunday at dusk—if it doesn't rain—from the first weekend in May through Labor Day.

Both Rocky River Ranch and The Corral Theatre are located at 100 Flite Acres Road, just off Ranch Road 3237 in Wimberley; www.rockyriverranch.com, 800-863-2267 or 512-847-2513; www.corraltheatre.com, 512-847-5994.