Renfro Valley Entertainment Center

Our History

History

ABOUT RENFRO VALLEY

Welcome to Renfro Valley Entertainment Center in beautiful Renfro Valley, KY proudly known as “Kentucky’s Country Music Capital”! We are a 55-acre destination complex located in south-central Kentucky and conveniently a stone’s throw away from interstate 75 exit 62.

Inside the lusciously green walls of this Valley you will find a tradition that started back in 1939 by our founder John Lair. Great classic country, southern gospel, and mountain bluegrass music rings from the rafters of our two unique show theaters April through December of each year.

Conveniently located within walking distance of the theaters: Our shopping village, which includes our newly opened Valley Liquor store, is well stocked with your favorite beer, wine, and spirits. Also, make plans to stay in our award-winning RV Parks located on the property.

As you can tell Renfro Valley is music and so much more! Explore our website and make plans to join us for all the excitement soon!

On November 4, 1939, a young man’s dream came true.  A proud John Lair welcomed guests to the very first Renfro Valley Barn Dance.  That first Saturday night performance made country music history and served as a foundation for season’s to come.  John Lair’s dream launched Renfro Valley and his vision for its future; give folks the very best entertainment available; keep it wholesome and clean; treat folks who visit like good neighbors.

John Lair held tightly to the values he had come to know in the remote settlement in the Kentucky hills.  Since before the American Revolution, when the first pioneers cleared land in the thick virgin forest, the inhabitants of Renfro Valley were self-reliant, spirited and neighborly, with a deep sense of commitment to a way of life that enriched all who came in contact with Renfro Valley folks.  John Lair’s dream was to preserve the values and way of life he held so dear. ”…The friendly, neighborly spirit of the plain folks who made America what it is…”

Radio was the vehicle that would carry his dream, that all who came to Renfro Valley would leave better for having been there.  As John Lair traveled to Chicago to begin his radio-broadcasting career at station WLS, he added new formats and techniques which were recognized throughout the industry. 

His innovative WLS Barn Dance, a live broadcast from a theater with a live audience, hit its height of popularity in 1936.  The show was a combination of traditional and folk humor and music, “Hillbilly music,” as the city folk called it.  Knowing he must give the audience a taste of what they were missing, Lair coaxed Red Foley, Slim Mille, Lily May Ledford and some other Renfro Valley folks to join the cast of the show. Live audiences were coming to the city from all over the Midwest to see this show, so why wouldn’t they come to Renfro Valley?

If radio was the vehicle that would carry Lair’s dream, the dream itself what a road map back to Renfro Valley.  After Chicago, the troop moved closer to home, stopping in Cincinnati at station WLW.  Foley, Miller and Ledford brought in more friends and Renfro Valley folks.  The Renfro Valley Barn Dance first opened in Cincinnati on October 9, 1937. Their reputations for success became well known, and the show secured financial backing through sponsors.  Lair’s determination and resourcefulness were beginning to make it possible to put form and substance to his dream.  The Saturday night show continued for two years in Cincinnati while the big show barn (now the Old Barn), the Log Lodge Restaurant, honeymoon cabins and Tourist Court was being built down home in Renfro Valley Kentucky. Most didn’t give this new venture a chance of success. Situated along out in the middle of nowhere, 125 miles from the nearest radio station, the big barn was viewed as a future tobacco barn by most around the area. What they didn’t take into consideration was the power of radio and the two years the Renfro Valley Barn Dance had in building a loyal audience on WLW.

On November 4th, 1939 the doors swung open in the Old Barn and the WLW announcer was heard to say, “And now friends, by way of the magic carpet of radio, we take you to the big Old Barn in Renfro Valley, Kentucky with John Lair and the Renfro Valley Barn Dance”.

After the first year on WLW, WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky took over the broadcasts and went from Saturday night only to as many as twenty radio programs a week out of the Valley. Broadcasts from “hay rides,” “possum hunts” and “lasses making” were some of the adventures Renfro Valley took its listening audience on. In 1943, the sponsor asked for a Sunday program that was not “religious” in nature but would fit into the Sunday format, and the Renfro Valley Gatherin’ was born. It is now the second oldest continuous radio broadcast in the nation. The Country Store program on the CBS network was broadcast live from what is now the Country Music Store.

In 1966, Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Hank Cochran, and music publisher Hal Smith leased the Valley with the option of buying. Hal Smith alone did buy it all in 1968. It was during this time, bluegrass artist Mac Wiseman came into the Valley and started the now famous Renfro Valley Bluegrass Festival in 1970. John Lair continued living in his home in the heart of the Valley and spent every waking hour planning on getting it all back. That came about in 1976 and in the early 1980’s the Lair’s started what is now called the Harvest Festival. In 1984 the Renfro Valley show was featured at the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. Some of the talent traveled to the state capitol in the mid 1980’s to perform before the House of Representatives in order to make the Valley the location of Kentucky’s Country Music Capital. The successful event would later bring about the Valley becoming the location for the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

After the death of John Lair in 1985 the Lair family decided they could no longer manage the Valley. They sold it in its 50th year to a group headed by Warren Rosenthal, founder of Jerry’s and Long John Silver’s restaurants, of Lexington, Kentucky. Under his command, the New Barn was built along with the Renfro Valley Shopping Village and campground. Two of his partners at the time were Ralph Gabbard, CEO of channel 27 out of Lexington, and Glen Pennington, longtime entertainer at the Valley. In 1993, a decision was made to add a show during the Christmas season called “Christmas in the Valley”. It has proven to be the most successful addition to the show line-up ever made. This production is watched by churches, school groups, and busloads of regular fans from all over Kentucky and the surrounding states each year.

Around the year 2000, the entire Valley was given to the Board of Directors of the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum. During this time two fans of Renfro Valley began making their appearances in front row seats about every weekend. They purchased tickets to more than 1200 shows before striking up a deal to buy the Valley in 2005. This wonderful couple was Don and Vera Evans. They brought life back into the Valley and under their direction, special shows were added to the line-up and a 35-site full hook-up RV campground was built. Don and Vera ran the Renfro Valley up until their passing in 2009 and 2010, 12 days apart.  At this time, their daughter and her husband, John and Julie Enneking are dedicated to take over the Valley with partners, the Hubert Family. 

John and Julie Enneking began running Renfro Valley with a very hands-on approach. They established a great working relationship with employees who they also consider friends. John and Julie are very involved in the day-to-day operations Renfro Valley and together, their goal is to make Renfro Valley the best it can be.  John and Julie are dedicated in continuing great entertainment, tradition and that southern hospitality that makes Renfro Valley such a great place to visit.  They are proud to be apart of Renfro Valley’s 82 year history.

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Inside the lusciously green walls of this Valley you will find a tradition that started back in 1939 by our founder John Lair. Great classic country, southern gospel, and mountain bluegrass music rings from the rafters of our two unique show theaters April through December of each year.