Feature: Home in Alabama

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The Alabama Fan Club and Museum serves as home base for loyal followers of one of country music’s most successful acts and a place for anyone to learn more about the band.

story and photos by RANDY GRIDER

The Alabama Fan Club and Museum is cherished ground for fans whom many describe as the most loyal in the world. The fan club is a mainstay among attractions in Fort Payne, Ala., the hometown of supergroup Alabama.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]On any given day, the three full-time employees at the fan club can expect visitors to drop in and ask almost the same questions. “Are they here? Are they coming in? How often do they come in? Do you know them?”

By “they” and “them,” the visitors are referring to the founding members of Alabama – Randy Owen, Jeff Cook and Teddy Gentry.

With 41 No. 1 hits, hundreds of awards and other accolades including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and enshrinement in the Country Music Hall of Fame, Alabama has a diverse, long-standing – and sometimes obsessive – fan base.

Myra Frye, sales clerk at the fan club for the past nine years, understands the fans’ quest for knowledge about their favorite musicians. She counts herself among them.

Frye, who is from Accokeek, Md., started coming to Fort Payne for Alabama’s June Jam charity concerts (1982-97) that drew tens of thousands for the weeklong event. “I was a fan and still am,” Frye says. “I came down for the jam and met a few people and started volunteering. I relocated here in 1998.”

Did we mention loyal? Many fans have been members of the “Alabama family” since the group took the country music scene by storm in the early 1980s. By the end of that decade, Alabama had multiple Entertainer of the Year awards and had been named Artist of the Decade by the Academy of Country Music. Alabama even recorded a song dedicated to its fans – appropriately titled “The Fans.”

“Alabama has the most loyal fans in the world,” says Mary Jones, accountant and chief spokesperson for the fan club. “Alabama cares very much for their fans and they always put on a great show for them.”

Even though Alabama stopped touring for more than a decade until its return to the road last year, the fan club membership stands at more than 5,500 and includes fans from all over North America as well as New Zealand, England, Germany and other parts of the world.

Every year, throngs of fans journey to Fort Payne for Alabama Fan Appreciation Weekend.

This year, the fans got a special treat when Alabama held a free concert as part of the annual event. Held in the parking lot of the fan club, the concert was the band’s first performance in Fort Payne in almost two decades. Fan club members were given priority seating close to the stage.

Official membership in the fan club is $35 a year and includes an Alabama T-shirt (design changes each year) a membership card, a key chain and a 10-percent discount on all Alabama merchandise in the gift shop.

But you don’t need to be a member to visit the fan club or museum. There is no charge for browsing the large gift shop that contains a wide range of Alabama merchandise, including many styles of shirts, hats and other apparel, posters, key chains, cups, pens and, of course, Alabama CDs.

Admission to the museum is $3 for adults, with discounts for children and seniors. The museum includes personal memorabilia from each band member as well as awards and many gold and platinum albums. A small theater shows a documentary about the group.

The complex also includes a warehouse and Alabama’s production and promotion offices. Jones says band members are involved in fan-club operations. “They meet once a month with their management and they include us and find out what is going on and what we need,” Jones says. “They approve a lot of the merchandise. They are pretty involved.”

Visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the band members at the fan club would have to be pretty lucky, though they do drop by the offices fairly regularly when not on tour.

“I usually see them once a week – especially Randy and Teddy,” Jones says. “We don’t see I was living in Philadelphia with my wife and kids when the band Alabama was enjoying its first hits – “My Home’s in Alabama” and “Tennessee River.” At that time – the early 1980s – country music was not programmed as much on radio stations in northeastern cities as it would be in years to come.

Shipping clerk Karen Potts, who has been with the Alabama organization for 29 years, has seen a lot of things transpire at the fan club, including a wedding several years ago, but it’s the fans who return year after year that she says makes the place so special. “It’s always like a family reunion,” Potts says. “We have watched children grow up here. They came as toddlers and now they are bring their children here. We’ve got ‘Jammers’ that are now bringing their grandkids back. I feel like they are family.”

Alabama’s Music Introduced Me to Fort Payne Area

A personal perspective by John Dersham, CEO of DeKalb Tourism

Driving through rural Pennsylvania on business one day, I was turning the dial and discovered this fantastic new group called Alabama. I became an instant fan.

Alabama was singing songs that described this wonderful area of the country, and the lyrics created so much visual content for me. The songs were picturesque and had a certain romance. They described a wonderful, wholesome way of life surrounded by clean rivers, beautiful scenery and fine people.

In 1985, with the release of “Christmas in Dixie,” I discovered the Alabama boys were specifically writing and singing about Fort Payne and Lookout Mountain in Alabama. A decade later, when I accepted a job transfer to Birmingham, my wife and I finally began visiting this area and falling in love with it for the same reasons Randy, Teddy and Jeff wrote and sang about it. Fourteen years ago, our love affair with this area was so strong we decided to make it home.
As president of the local destination-marketing organization, I realize the picturesque language in Alabama’s songs inspires the same kind of emotions we try to evoke in our strategies to bring people to visit our beautiful county. The group’s link to a particular town and county is interesting to note. What other big stars are so associated with their hometown and surrounding areas?

It started with the music and songs that described a people, a city and a beautiful region I now call home. I can honestly thank Alabama for introducing me to it all as I traveled the back roads of Pennsylvania more than three decades ago.

If You Go

GETTING THERE: The Alabama Fan Club and Museum is located at 101 Glenn Boulevard S.W., Fort Payne, AL 35967, less than a mile off Exit 218 of Interstate 59.
HOURS: Wednesday through Saturday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m
WHAT TO KNOW: In addition to country music success, Alabama is known for its philanthropy efforts. The long-running June Jam raised millions of dollars for local charities and other community-based projects. Like its predecessor, the various events that make up annual Fan Appreciation Weekend continue to raise money for community needs.
MORE INFO: thealabamaband.com; 256-845-1646Jeff as much since he lives in Guntersville. But they come in quite often.”