When it comes to attracting country music-loving tourists, Nashville and Branson might be singing a new tune – something like ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ – with the Dec. 1 grand opening of Country Crossing in Dothan, Ala. George Jones, Darryl Worley, Lorrie Morgan, John Anderson and Tracy Lawrence are among the stars who’ll open restaurants at the new development.
George and Lorrie were among a Nashville contingent that flew to Alabama recently to introduce press to the project, developed by Alabama entrepreneur Ronnie Gilley. As subsequent phases are completed, the site will also house the 10,000-seat Mandolin Grove Amphitheater, Bluegrass Hollow RV Park, a bowling center, recording studio, hotels and a hall where visitors can play electronic bingo. Country Crossing will also be home to the George Jones Possum Holler Bed & Breakfast as well as a George Jones Dinner Theater and Restaurant.
“I’ve been in the music business all my life and I’m slowing down on the road, so this gives me something to do in my spare time,” George told The Boot on board a private jet headed to Alabama. “We just fell in love with the group of people down here … we’re pretty sure it’s going to turn out to be one of the biggest things to happen in this part of the country.”
Before heading to the Country Crossing site, where the bed & breakfast is nearing completion, George and his wife Nancy gave select reporters a tour of their new home in the nearby town of Enterprise. Appropriately for the Country Music Hall of Famer, George’s spacious house is in the Legends subdivision. Developed by Ronnie Gilley, all the streets in the neighborhood are named after George and his hit tunes. Tracy Lawrence and Kix Brooks have also partnered with Ronnie on two other residential areas. Tracy’s is called Mayberry, and Kix’s place is Brookwood.
“It’s just been finished the last three or four months, so it’s all still new to us,” George says of their Alabama residence. “We put Nancy’s touch to it, and we’re just now getting it together. We’ll be coming down from Nashville quite often the rest of the year.”
“We’re not away from country music or his friends,” says Nancy, who has been married to the Possum for 27 years. “You’ve got Lorrie Morgan here. You’ve got Darryl Worley. You’ve got Tracy Lawrence.”
During the press trip, visitors from Nashville, along with local reporters, were served lunch at the Dothan Chamber of Commerce by Lorrie Morgan, who treated us to some of her famous hot chicken in three different flavors, including one so spicy it’s called “inferno.”
“When I met Ronnie is when we came up with doing the hot chicken, and it’s been a dream in the making,” says Lorrie, who previously had a hot chicken restaurant just outside Nashville. Lorrie looks forward to Country Crossing visitors getting a taste of her family recipe. “My father developed this recipe,” she says, referring to her late father, Grand Ole Opry star George Morgan. “It’s an old family recipe and through the years it’s kind of evolved into a little different taste than what it was originally, but it’s absolutely wonderful.”
Lorrie says she’s still finalizing the rest of her restaurant’s menu. “I’m hoping to have chicken livers,” she tells The Boot. “Most of the South likes them, but you go up north and they are like, ‘You eat what?!!!’ We might possibly have fried catfish fillets, but I haven’t had a chance to really sit down and get serious about the menu other than the hot chicken and fries, potato salad and baked beans.”
Darryl Worley, who’s opening the Worley Bird Café, says of Ronnie Gilley, “I can call [him] up if I need advice or if I need to pray. Ronnie is as solid as a rock, and anything that he tells you, you can hang your hat on it. There are not a lot of people like that in our business. I am honestly thrilled to be a part of what he is doing and I do not know a finer human being.”
A lifelong resident of Enterprise, Ronnie was also the man behind the mutli-artist “We Are Enterprise” CD, featuring George, Lorrie and Darryl along with Clint Black, Richie McDonald, Joe Diffie, Deborah Allen, Aaron Tippin and others. Proceeds from the project helped rebuild Enterprise High School, which was destroyed in a 2007 tornado.
While Nancy Jones says husband George is often approached about becoming involved with projects that want to use his name, the couple are very careful which ones they choose to support. “We’re definitely proud to let them use George’s name, because they’re not going to use it any other way but the right way,” she says. “It started out as a business deal, but now it’s a family deal, because George and Ronnie are so close. Ronnie looks up to George as his father, so it’s really a wonderful relationship.”
In addition to good food and great country music, Lorrie cites another reason tourists should flock to Country Crossing: “Alabama has the best looking men I’ve ever seen!” she says.