Monday, February 18, 2013

Just Call It Grand Ole Opry West

Country At The Merc
Alternating Saturday Nights
Shows at 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM PST
Mercantile/Temecula Theater
Temecula, California
Five Scoops of Bosco (Out of Five)

Reviewed by Allen Bacon, The Daily Bosco

It has been several years since I saw a live country music show at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.

I remember one time thinking that it would be cool if somebody brought that idea...a weekly live country music showcase featuring multiple new and established country music talent on one stage, to the west.

Well, recently I found it in the old west town of Temecula, California. The show is called Country at The Merc and it runs every other Saturday night at the converted old Mercantile building, AKA the Temecula Community Theater. The town is right off Route 15 in Southern California on the way to Las Vegas.

The show is modeled after the local Oprys all through Arizona, Texas, and the South West with different performers each week. This is a contemporary country music show giving local talent and budding country artists a place to ply their craft.

First of all going to Old Town Temecula is like stepping into a scene from Back To the Future 3...where Marty and Doc go back to the turn of the 19th century old west. A lot of detailed attention has been given to keeping the town looking pretty much like it did when it used to be a stop for the old Butterfield Stage Coach Route.

The backbone of the show is the house band, The Ranch Rockers, who are one of the tightest country bands you are ever going to see and hear and three talented lady singers who take turns singing lead and backup with the featured performers.

The Ranch Rockers are Craig Fenton (lead guitar), Mike Petrich (drums), Chris Harris (keyboards), Justin Heisey (guitars), and Sal Hamby (bass).

The emcee is Sandi Capel who doubles as one of the wonderful lead and harmonizing backup singers. Capel is like a country version of Rhoda from the Old Mary Tyler Moore Show. Most of her punchlines are punctuated by a rimshot from the Ranch Rocker drummer Mike Petrich. But the lady can sing too. In the second half of the show she did a soulful rendition of "Preacher Man" that Dusty Springfield couldn't even hold a candle to.

The trio of lady singers who are always on the show with the Ranch Rockers include Mary Gwyn Sanborn and Brianna Parish who do a great job of singing alternating lead and background harmonies.

Then there are is the constantly changing guest roster of local talent that is just wonderful. On the night I caught the show, Laurie Richardson sang great renditions of Sugarland's "Stuck on You", Lady Antebellum's "American Honey" and Carrie Underwood's "Temporary Home". And Ryan Johnson, a guy with a baritone voice that is pretty darn close to Trey Atkins sang a respectable version of "Forever, Amen". And there were many more guys and gals that are one close step away from making a trip to Nashville on the show also.

There was some original music also. Brianna Parish came out with Ranch Rocker guitarist Justin Heisey on acoustic guitar to perform a great original tune to start the second half of the show.

There are two shows each Saturday night. The first show is at 7 PM and features younger talent as the featured artists and the other is at 9 PM with the established featured performers. Tickets are only $15 each.

This same group does Temecula LIVE!. This is a fund raiser for Oak Grove Center that assists abused kids in the area. It will be at the Temecula Playhouse behind the Theater. More info at

Start the evening by visiting one of the many wine tasting establishments on Main Street and/or dinner at one of the restaurants along the way. Or make a day of it by shopping the antique and collectible shops or a stop at one or more of the wineries in the area.

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