Did you know there's a concert house in Iowa, built in 1893 and still operational, that has hosted big name acts including John Phillips Sousa, Guy Lombardo, Porter Wagoner, and Hank Williams, Jr.? Welcome to the What Cheer Opera House, located in the central Iowa town of What Cheer, in Keokuk County, with a population of less than 1,000. The building was constructed as a Masonic Lodge during the heyday of the town's coal mining industry, and in 1965 concerned residents rescued the concert house from the wrecking ball and restored it to its original glory. Velvet curtains, hardwood floors, and a brick exterior create a charming atmosphere for neighborly socializing while folks wait for the live music to begin.
These days the Opera House hosts musical performances from April to October ranging from country to bluegrass to gospel to rock. Most concerts are free with a donation bucket being passed during intermission. Last year I attended concerts showcasing a young bluegrass band from Iowa City (Slew Grass) as well as a "picker's festival" featuring musicians from all around central Iowa. The audience is dressed informally and families are welcome to come enjoy the music.
Here are some of the remaining shows for the 2017 season:
Thursday, July 6--the Texas Tenors kick off the Keokuk County Fair (paid tickets required)
Saturday, August 5 --Stan Knipfer and Music Mates
Saturday, September 16--Tyler Richton and the High Band Boys
Saturday, October 14--Pickers Festival (country, rock, and blues)
Saturday, October 28--Larry Wheeldon and Lonesome Country, Traditional Country Music, Keeping it Country
The Opera House is located at 201 N. Barnes Street, What Cheer, IA 50268. Free parking is available on the surrounding streets. Arriving 15-30 minutes early is advised to pick out a good seat. Seats are old-fashioned hard wood, so bring a cushion if desired. For more information, call the Ridgeway Hardware Store Monday-Friday 9 am - 4 pm (641) 634-2080.