PANAMA CITY BEACH — Dennis Rader, a founding family member and performer at the former Ocean Opry in Panama City Beach, will return to the area Friday to resurrect his “Moonshine” character in a free concert at Arnold High School’s Helen Blackburn Fine Arts Center.
While promoting his new CD release, “Fly Me to the Moon … Shine,” Rader’s aim for the show is tickle the funny bone with homespun humor, and perform some Gospel, country and old-time rock ’n’ roll. (He promises some Elvis standards in the mix.)
The free concert begins at 2 p.m. Friday (doors open at 1 p.m.) Last year’s winter event was played to a full house, Rader said, and this year is expected to be just as packed.
“I’m really excited about this CD release,” he said. “It’s crooner songs like ‘Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,’ ‘You Don’t Know Me,’ ‘Georgia on My Mind,’ and ‘Make the World Go Away.’ I’m hoping to have a lot of fun with that with the seniors. It should be right up their alley.”
Born in 1957, Rader originally came to Panama City Beach at age 20 when his family built the Ocean Opry. He even worked for the contractor on the construction project, and is proud to say he helped place the beams, install the roof and other parts of the building.
“We moved there for the express purpose of building the Ocean Opry,” he said. “I am the only one of us that can say I have walked every square inch of the place. That’s special, even though I was getting paid an hourly wage to work for the company.”
After 27 years of success, the family sold the Ocean Opry property in 2005. Rader later moved to Nashville, Tenn., with his wife.
“It’s where our kids had migrated, and we now have two grandchildren,” he said. “I’m keeping good on the promise to the wife that she won’t be eight hours from them.”
Rader still performs often at churches, banquets and other events, providing people the music and humor he is known for. However, he said he wasn’t sure about being the comedian on the playbill at first.
“As we made plans for the move, it was clear my brother was going to be our front man and singer, and my sister would play piano. But you can’t do one of these shows without a comedian,” he said. “I wanted to be a drummer; I had other plans. But I sat down with a pad and paper and made list of hillbilly sounding names. I wish I still had that list. I ended up with ‘Moonshine,’ which is about as hillbilly as you can get.”
Comedy is not easy, however, and Rader said he had a learning curve.
“There are so many different kinds of comedy, and I’ve usually done it with a straight man beside me, like Abbott and Costello,” he said. “I’m not a standup comic — that’s a whole ’nother kind of deal.”
As a result, Dennis’ father, Wayne Rader, will appear with him at Arnold High to play the straight man.
“He and I will have some fun,” Dennis said. “It’ll be good to be there with him.”
‘MOONSHINE’ MUSICAL COMEDY
- Who: Dennis Rader, a founding family member of the former Ocean Opry
- Where: Arnold High School auditorium, 550 Alf Coleman Road, Panama City Beach
- When: 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18
- Admission: FREE
- Details: Call Wayne Rader at 234-8983
- Website: DennisWRader.net