PANAMA CITY BEACH — Wayne Rader wants to share his family’s Christmas party with as many people as can be packed into an auditorium.
“The entire event literally makes our Christmas for all the family,” he said, as he prepared for the 35th annual Country Christmas Show, which will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at Arnold High School. Admission is free, the facility is handicap-accessible, and winter residents are welcome.
“The fun part for me and Patsy, as grandparents and great-grandparents, is that our family comes back from all over — Nashville, Atlanta, everywhere,” Wayne said. “It’s a family reunion. It means a lot to us.”
The Rader family has been an iconic name in Panama City Beach and Bay County since Wayne and Patsy Rader built The Ocean Opry in 1978. They performed there with three generations of their family for 28 years before retiring and selling the property. During that time, the Opry regularly hosted touring country music stars including Loretta Lynn, Mel Tillis, Johnny Cash and many more.
The Raders often perform for special concerts and benefits. Wayne has fond memories of shows they did at Everitt Middle School years ago to benefit the American Heart Association. The free Christmas show is a continuation of that desire to give to the community.
“The blessing I receive when I look out from the stage and see folks in the audience smile…” Wayne said, trailing off the thought. “People come that are totally depressed, some of them, and they leave with a warm spot in their hearts and a smile on their faces.”
Each song carries a special meaning, Wayne said. The show includes classics like “Silent Night” and “Away in a Manger,” but also more contemporary pieces. They always close with “Angels Among Us,” he said.
“When I hear those songs, I’m just almost in a dream world,” he said.
Music is in the family’s genes. Wayne’s son, Billy Rader, is a Panama City council member and mayor pro-tem, but Wayne recalls 5-year-old Billy winning a GE radio in a talent show many years ago. Today, Billy has a granddaughter that age who Wayne described as “a gifted vocalist — she’s not bashful, she just belts it out.”
And although the Ocean Opry is no more, Wayne and Patsy’s children and grandchildren are still performing. Billy continues to play gigs in the area, and Dennis “Moonshine” Rader is performing in Nashville, Tenn., these days; Danny Rader plays with Keith Urban’s band, including a recent performance at the CMA awards; Brent Rader played mandolin for Jana Kramer on The Tonight Show last summer and is the road manager for Collin Raye; and Shawn Rader is tearing up Southern stages fronting his own band.
“The Christmas Show is my opportunity to see my children and grandchildren all together and on stage, and I can see the love they have for each other and for the public,” Wayne said. “And when you get brothers and sisters on stage, you just have a good family harmony.”
35TH ANNUAL COUNTRY CHRISTMAS SHOW
When: 2 p.m. Saturday; doors open at 1 p.m.
Where: Arnold High School Fine Arts Center, 550 Alf Coldman Road, Panama City Beach
Details: Wayne Rader at (850) 234-8983 (do not call the school)
Admission: Free tickets available at the Panama City Beach Senior Center, 423 Lyndell Lane, and the Bay County Council on Aging, 1116 Frankford Ave., Panama City