FOCUS: #MSWelfare Scandal • Jackson WaterAbortion2022 Elections • Race & Racism • PolicingIncarceration • UM Emails • JFP Acquisition

Jesse Betts reopened the Main Street Opry after 18 years in downtown Amory, Miss. The opry sells records, cassettes and CDs, and it serves as a space for events such as a sock hop on Friday, July 29, 2022. Here, people take to the dance floor at the beginning of the Main Street Opry sock hop that day. Photo by Lukas Flippo

‘The Town Is Coming Back’: Amory Musician Reopens Opry, Holds Sock Hop

Zach and Crysta Smith were leaving downtown Amory, Miss., after dinner on Friday, July 29, 2022, when they saw the marquees outside the Main Street Opry advertising a sock hop, a social dance popular in the 1950s and 1960s where teenagers would remove their shoes before dancing on wooden gymnasium floors.

“We rushed home to change and were back in 15 minutes,” Crysta said.

She wore a leopard-print bandana tied around her neck, a black top, black leather pants, and snakeskin pattern heels. Zach wore a buttoned-down white shirt tucked into blue jeans. He left the top three buttons open so that his silver cross necklace remained visible. Zach also rolled up the bottoms of his jeans, letting his white crew socks bunch up as they filled out a pair of shiny, black dress shoes.

Main Street Opry: Venue and Vinyl Shop

Jesse Betts, originally from Tupelo, Miss., first purchased the building in 1990 and opened it as a concert venue for family-friendly variety shows that included both country and gospel music and skits. Betts often headlined the events with his gospel band, and gospel and bluegrass musical groups from across the South performed at the venue.

“When I was 10 years old, I traded records for a guitar,” Betts said. “I fell in love with making music.”

He has recorded various records, from bluegrass to country to gospel, even charting in the early ’90s with a gospel remix of Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart.” The Main Street Opry served as his band’s home during its 14-year run in operation, as it would play a variety show on the first Friday of each month.

Breanna Lyle and Deanna Lyle dance Friday, July 29, 2022, at the Main Street Opry in Amory, Miss. The Lyles, who live in Amory, were excited to see a new business opening on Main Street. Photo by Lukas Flippo

The musician closed the opry in 2004 to begin work on renovations and a redesign of the aging building, which was once a one-screen theater. However, Betts’ wife, Martha, who owns half of the business and helped run the shows while performing with the Betts family band, faced health challenges, and his focus shifted to his full-time job as a hospice chaplain.

“I would work on it on and off when I could find the time,” Betts said. “But my focus was on providing for her and making sure she got better.”

After 18 years, the North Mississippi native reopened the opry, which also sells records, cassettes and CDs, in spring 2022, and the sock hop was one of the first planned events in the space. Currently, the business is only open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and during special events such as sock hops or event rentals like birthday parties.

Grooving to ‘The Twist’ and More

Betts wants to advertise the opry and gain enough clientele to open during the week. Most of Amory’s young people have grown up with the building closed, so the Betts family has focused on advertising their reopening through social media. Daniel Betts, Jesse’s nephew, often wanders through the building while filming himself speaking about upcoming events and hours of operation. Jesse thinks the style of the dance floor and concert space is the attraction of the building.

“I think how it all looks will surprise people,” Betts said. “Everything used to be gray.”

During the 18-year closure, Jesse and Martha used their spare money to refloor the building and add more shelving and storage for vinyl and merchandise.

“When I had a little extra money, like $5 or $10, I would buy paint or brushes or rollers or whatever other supplies we might need,” Jesse said. “We paid for everything as we went along, out of our own pockets.”

The black-and-white checkered entryway floor meets the red carpet at the long ramp headed up to the dance floor, hidden behind a yellow door. The floor was once full of bolted-down chairs facing a large white cloth, which captured a beam of light from a projector mounted in the balcony to display movies. Now, instead of curtains lining the walls, vinyl records from Bett’s song “Men on the Frisco” to Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” hang on the yellow walls, red lights illuminating them.

Daniel Betts, owner Jesse Bett’s nephew, manages the front door at the Main Street Opry during events. Betts takes entrance fees and gives customers tickets from the original ticketing machine from the former theater. Daniel also works on Saturdays while the record shop in the opry is open.  Photo by Lukas Flippo

Two rows of plastic folding tables lead to the open dance floor, which changes color every few seconds due to LED lights shooting across the room and bouncing off the disco ball mounted on the ceiling. Guests wander from sitting around the tables to the floor as songs they like play. They can also request songs from a binder in front of the DJ booth, where Betts selects records and places them into the record player during the sock hops.

Although most dancers spent time on both the dance floor and at the tables, Deanna Lyle rarely stopped dancing. Lyle spent the evening at the sock hop dance wandering around the floor in a yellow dress and red slippers, often meeting other people—ranging from young children to adults—mid-dance. For Deanna’s sister Breanna, the opry is a welcome attraction to Amory’s downtown, which they see as a place that has lacked options for late-night entertainment in the past.

“It has been dead for so long, so it’s exciting to see some life again,” Breanna said. “The town is coming back.”

Betts hopes the opry can be a destination for Amory families to watch and enjoy music, and he plans to begin hosting stage shows again in fall 2022.

“Lots of folks like to hunt, fish or play golf; we just like to play music,” Betts said of his band and family. “We are a place for good, clean family fun for kids and adults.”

To view more photographs from the Main Street Opry sock hop, see the gallery below.

Record art hangs on the walls at the Main Street Opry in Amory, Miss. The concert venue also serves as a record store that is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Owner Jessie Betts hopes to open during the week in the future. Photo by Lukas Flippo
A disco ball reflects light onto the black ceiling above the dance floor at the Main Street Opry in Amory, Miss., on Friday, July 29, 2022. Photo by Lukas Flippo
Mason Edwards looks through a music binder to select his request for DJ and owner of the Main Street Opry, Jesse Betts, to play over the speakers during the sock hop on Friday, July 29, 2022. Photo by Lukas Flippo
Mason Edwards looks at the page instructing visitors on how to request songs from the music binder available to request at the Main Street Opry sock hop that took place Friday, July 29, 2022. Photo by Lukas Flippo
Kennedy Garner eats cotton candy at the Main Street Opry sock hop Friday, July 29, 2022, in Amory, Miss. The opry sells concessions during events at the back of the dance floor. Photo by Lukas Flippo
Jesse Betts, the owner of the Main Street Opry, looks onto the dance floor during the sock hop on Friday, July 29, 2022, in Amory, Miss. Photo by Lukas Flippo
Zach and Crysta Smith kiss on the dance floor of the Main Street Opry during a sock hop Friday, July 29, 2022, in Amory, Miss. Photo by Lukas Flippo
The door to Jesse Betts’ DJ booth and music archive in Amory, Miss., has a sign that reads “Private. Employees only. Memories at work.” Photo by Lukas Flippo
Mason Edwards and Deanna Lyle dance at the sock hop held Friday, July 29, 2022, at the Main Street Opry in Amory, Miss. To create the motion and color-blur effect, the photographer used long exposure, a technique whereupon the camera’s shutter is left open while the camera moves and lights change. Photo by Lukas Flippo
A framed mission statement for the business hangs on the wall at the ramp up to the Main Street Opry dance floor in Amory, Miss. Photo by Lukas Flippo
People dance in the reflection of a vinyl hanging on the wall of the Main Street Opry on Friday, July 29, 2022, in Amory, Miss. Photo by Lukas Flippo
Glenn and Michelle Betts slow dance in the concessions booth of the Main Street Opry on Friday, July 29, 2022, in Amory, Miss.  Photo by Lukas Flippo

Can you support the Mississippi Free Press?

 The Mississippi Free Press is nonprofit, solutions-driven journalism for Mississippians and others who care about the state. 

With your help, we can do even more important stories like this one.