By LANESSA MURPHY-SPAGNUOLO
News & Journal Staff Writer
A new music show has made its way to the Elkins Recreation and Event Center in Elkins, West Virginia.The Franks Family Music Show is a Branson-style concert any music lover won’t want to miss!
The Franks Family Music Show began late last year with a series of Christmas shows held (with no relation) at the Elkins American Legion. This year, the Elkins Recreation and Event Center, the former National Guard Armory, opened its doors and a spot became available for the music show. The Franks Family has weekend shows planned now through September.
While many Branson-style theatres have musicians from all over, the Franks Family Music Show is a little different than most – they really are all family. The group is composed of Denny Franks, the family patriarch, his wife Ishah, his daughter Jesse Wanless and husband Jeremy, sons Joel and Jeremiah Franks, grandson Willie Ward, and ‘adopted’ family member, Pat Schoonover.
“This show is a brand new endeavor for a bunch of longtime professionals,” says Jeremy Wanless, spokesperson for the group.“We are finally able to function as a whole family unit. All of us are now able to be on one stage. That has now happened as of the Christmas shows last year, even though we have all been at this forever.”
And like most Branson groups, they perform anything from “Bluegrass to the Beatles,” as Jeremy puts it.
“We really try to do a little bit of everything. There’s some classic country, and some more contemporary country because that needs to be represented. There’s a bluegrass unit, Motown, Blues, along with a good portion of the ‘60s,” he explains. “We try to keep that fresh and changing on an on-going basis so we try to include what we feel like the need at the moment is. You don’t often find a core unit that is able to slide in and out with authenticity and this one can do that. Really, you just might hear about anything. And we have some comedy associated as well.”
Jeremy describesthat their show is different from others around the area because each cast member musically brings something to the table. Many of them, including Denny Franks, are actually Branson veterans. And though they all come together to perform different genres as a whole, most everyone has a different musical background. And each member is able to play different instruments as well.
“We are able to represent a broad musical variety. We have authentic folks from each of those [genres]. Pat is an 80s rock and roller; you have Denny who has been with everybody, then you have the bluegrass guys; Joe has been doing it for 40 years and I teach Mandolin. So you have a person from each of those who really brings the authenticity,” Jeremy goes on.
As for the music, leader Denny Franks says they have worked places where their show lineup is picked for them, but here, everyone contributes. They perform pieces they personally like in hopes their audience will enjoy the selections as well. Denny puts the shows together, but he says everyone brings what is in their hearts.
The family is excited to have their own show in their hometown.
“We want to take advantage of this opportunity – the first opportunity we have had to work as a total family unit. That is the most exciting part for us. There aren’t any rules. It is allowed to be what it needs to be…there is no limit to what it might be…there’s a never ending creativity…Everyone is family so we laugh together. If it goes goofy, then fine. We are all just glad to be here. You can just laugh. That is the way we want to keep it. It’s family – it’s fun,” Jeremy reports.
This past Friday night, the Franks Family Music Show put on a phenomenal performance. Kicking their show off with an 80s hit, “We are Family,” they had the crowd clapping and singing right along. A special guest, ‘That Guy’ clad in a white suit jacket and tie and an Elvis wig, turned up for some hilarious wise cracks and one liners and even danced with a member of the crowd.
Jesse Wanless and Ishah Franks performed breath-taking renditions of hits from Country Music Pioneers Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline with ‘Stand By Your Man,’ ‘Crazy,’ and ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’.
Adding a touch of classic rock, Joel Franksperformed ‘Crossfire’ as well as paid tribute to Eric Clapton with his hit, ‘Wonderful Tonight’ including a remarkable guitar solo by Joel himself.
It didn’t stop there, though; other numbers such as 90s Country tune by Bryan White, ‘Sitting On Go’,was performed by Jeremiah Franks, and country duet, ‘I Told You So’, made popular by Randy Travis and more recently Travis and Carrie Underwood, was sung by Denny and Ishah Franks.
A bluegrass band, ‘Hardly Ever,’ featuring Jesse Wanless on guitar and husband Jeremy on mandolin, Jeremy’s mother Kathy Gainer on standup bass, and step-father, WDNE’s radio personality Joe “Danger” Gainer on banjo. The group offered up some of their original tunes including an instrumental, ‘This Time the Fool Ain’t Me’, and Joe’s personal testimony, ‘The Shepherd,’ among others.
The night rounded off with Denny Franks performing a few sacred numbers, including his claimed personal favorite, Dottie Rambo’s ‘He Looked Beyond My Fault,’ followed by the classic hymn, ‘Victory in Jesus’.
Following the concert, Denny Franks commented on the importance of the show and having his children with him on stage.
“We started out when the kids were little playing music together. We traveled the whole country and Canada. Of course school starts, they get busy, and now they have kids of their own. Life changes. For me, having everyone together again, it has been a dream come true. I’m surprised at the talent that my own kids have. I knew they were gifted, but every time I hear them play or sing something, it is a gift for me. To have them altogether and work together and stick together, this is a big adventure for us to start all over. You have to crawl before you can walk, but we are getting there. Family is so important. It means everything to me. They also believe in this. It’s not just doing another job, it’s ‘let’s get together and make people happy with music’. That is our heart.”
While the Franks Family can be found on stage at the Elkins Recreation and Events Center on the weekends, they are out on the road performing at fairs, festivals, and religious venues all over the country in the meantime.
“We want to share joy. We aren’t afraid to talk about God. We aren’t going to back off of those things because that is what we really want to do. We are using the tools we have with mission. We want it to be fun and light,” Jeremy addresses.
The show has already been a hit in Elkins. Its audience ranges from 8 to 80!
“We have been very blessed to have a loyal and immediate local following. It has been refreshing to see some of the local folks get behind this to where they feel like they are a part of this. That is dear to us; we want folks to feel like they are part of something that matters. We have had some large groups already and we are targeting that as we move forward to become part of the tourism part of Elkins. We want to be available to tourists and enrich that,” Jeremy states.
According to Denny, the family plans to expand their offerings. Since the Elkins Recreation and Event Center recently opened, as of right now, they are just doing the weekend shows. They are hoping to do a big band night, and once they get the kitchen functional at the facility, they are hoping to start dinner and dance nights. Denny says they have some good ideas in store. And of course their popular Christmas shows will be on the schedule for the 2016 Holiday season.
While the Elkins Recreation and Event Center is working out well for the group, they are hoping to have their own place later down the road.
“We are looking for our own place. We’ve had a couple opportunities to build that were just waiting. We want to wait and not get ahead of anything; this was perfect for us. They do other things [at the Elkins Recreation and Event Center] as well. They have Bingo on Monday nights and summer camps for kids. For the City of Elkins, this has been a brand new venture. For us, it is perfect, but eventually we will move into our own theatre.”
If you are looking for something new and enjoyable, check out the Franks Family Music Show in Elkins, West Virginia.
“You really never know what will happen, Jeremy adds.“You are going to laugh, you might cry a little, you might dance. You just really don’t know what could happen when you come to be a part of the family. It’s our objective for you to feel like you are part of this. I think that is the thing that sets it apart. It is a little bit different than just sitting back watching something. We want you to be involved. There is bound to be something for everyone with our range of music.”
For more information, find them on Facebook or check out their website, www.franksfamilymusic.com. For tickets, call their box office at 304-460-5009.
“I think if music is good, it’s good, and people will like it,” Denny concludes.