In 1973, M. Ray Allen married Cherie Suzanne Davis, Miss Virginia of 1968, received his MFA degree in theater arts from UCLA in 1980, founded Appalfolks of America Association (AAA) in 1985 with Cherie serving as Chairman of the Board, and spearheaded the founding of The Virginia Opry in 1992 by recruiting H. Ray Tucker, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, as the director of The Virginia Opry that made its debut in the Historic Stonewall Theatre (renamed the Historic Masonic Theatre in 2003) during the Fall Foliage Festival.
The Virginia General Assembly passed "Resolution 397" on February 17, 2017, to commend The Virginia Opry for producing and presenting country music shows for 25 consecutive years. In January of 2019, the Town Council of Clifton Forge passed its own resolution commending The Virginia Opry for its " ... cultural and economic contributions."
Nationally prominent groups such as The Freight Hoppers, noted for appearances on Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion," have graced the stage as guests on The Virginia Opry along with outstanding Nashville recording artists, the late Dan Seals and Keith Bryant. Other outstanding guests include The Lonesome River Band, The Farm Hands, The Darrell Webb Band, Michael Hoover and his Show Band, Robby Meadows and Pony Express, and the late Bob Campbell, one of only six vocalists who performed as one of The Statler Brothers, having replaced Lew DeWitt during three tours with The Statler Brothers who opened for Johnny Cash, including a show at Soldier Field in Chicago attended by 55,000.
Michael Hoover and his Show Band set a box office record for The Virginia Opry in August of 2018 with Congressman Morgan Griffith in the audience after patrons paid $4,558 to attend "Memories of Elvis." A year later, Hoover and his Show Band performed The Virginia Opry's first dinner theatre at scenic Glen Haven Farm in Clifton Forge.
M. Ray Allen
Ray Allen, president and founder of Appalfolks of America, completed a 41-year career as an educator in 2003 after teaching 11 subjects during his career that led him from Morehead State University where he received his B.A. degree with a double major in English and physical education in 1963 and his M.A. degree in secondary education in 1965. Allen taught in the public schools of Kentucky, Michigan, California, and Virginia. He was inducted as the 80th member of the Morehead State University Alumni Hall of Fame in M. Ray Allen 1991 for his literary achievements, community service work with AM, and career as a coach and educator. Allen served as head coach in baseball, basketball, golf, cross country, and YPF physical fitness.
He is featured as a post-World War II poet in the Encyclopedia of Appalachia (University of Tennessee Press, 2006) as, " ... a poet and Appalachian activist from Clifton Forge, Virginia, and a native of Martin, Kentucky, whose writing and teaching career led him to help Appalachian youth through literacy and performing arts. Allen's poems are widely published in literary magazines across the United States and in four book-length volumes." Since moving to Clifton Forge in 1978, Allen has received the Elks Distinguished Citizenship Award in addition to having been chosen as Grand Marshall of the Annual Clifton Forge Christmas Parade.
Ray Tucker & Friends
Ray Tucker, the first director of The Virginia Opry, served in North Africa in the U.S. Navy, and his country music band performed there. Upon returning to the Alleghany Highlands, Tucker formed Ray Tucker and the Country Boys, a country-western band. At the invitation of M. Ray Allen, Tucker recruited musicians, vocalists, and a comedian to form The Ray Tucker Virginia Opry that debuted in October of 1992. Ray Tucker and Friends now perform benefits for worthwhile causes, and recently his band and AAA worked with Love's Travel Center and held a benefit for The Children's Miracle Network at The Historic Masonic Theatre.
Appalfolks has presented a variety of talent: The Free Agents, Bill Pinkney and the Original Drifters, Robin and Linda Williams and Their Fine Group, Goose Creek Symphony, Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen, The Easter Brothers, Home Cookin', The Bart Chucker Band, Ron Downing and the Downing Brothers, Blue Mountain Myst, Men of Greenbrier, Bluegrass Inspirations, Plumb Sideways, Against the Grain, The Connor Family, Cane Mill Road, Freight Train, The Brethren Four, The Cardinal State Quartet, The Harbor Men, The Announcers, The Expressions, Gloryland, Lime Kiln Arts' productions, Theatre IV's productions, Mike Seeger, John Mccutcheon, Mike Morningstar, Bruce Allen, Rebecca Holden, Charlotte Ivy, The Happy Time Cloggers, The Old Dominion Cloggers, The Rebels of Rhythm Cloggers, The Piney Mountain Cloggers, The Mid-Ohio Valley Ballet, and Bob Campbell and the Coachmen that set the Historic Stonewall Theatre's box office attendance record at 510 in 1994.
The Virginia Opry opened its 29th performance season on February 15, 2020 at The Historic Masonic Theatre. The Virginia Opry's final show of 2020 will be on December 18, 2020 on stage at The Historic Masonic Theatre on "Facebook" without an audience in the seats. That is due to COV|ID-19. The Country Christmas Show will feature Ray Tucker and Friends opening for Crimson River with Jana Allen emceeing and serving as a vocalist who will induct Bill Wade, Jr., a guitarist and vocalist, into The Virginia Opry during the production.