Carolina Journal News Reports
Randy Parton speaks to reporters outside of the Randy Parton Theatre in Roanoke Rapids Thursday night after being asked not to perform.
ROANOKE RAPIDS — Roanoke Rapids city officials sent an apparently intoxicated Randy Parton home on Thursday night just before his show was to begin at the theater bearing his name.
This is the latest in a series of setbacks for Parton and the theater that Roanoke Rapids officials hoped would spur a Branson, Mo.-style entertainment mecca for northeast North Carolina. Late last month city officials scrapped their contract with Parton and hired a new firm to manage the theater.
As the 7:30 p.m. show was scheduled to begin, Parton went out the back door of the theater and was met by reporters from WRAL-TV and Carolina Journal. [Watch WRAL-TV's video of the impromptu press conference] He said city officials told him to leave, but would not explain why. He denied being intoxicated, but appeared to be impaired. Officials of the theater’s new management company said he was “under the weather.”
When Parton attempted to get in a car, he was unable to unlock the driver’s door. He was quickly assisted into the front seat of another vehicle by people who CJ later learned were policemen in plain clothes, and he was driven off the property.
Sources told CJ that Parton was routinely showing up intoxicated prior to his performances. City Manager Phyllis Lee, Mayor Drewery Beale, City Councilman Reggie Baird, and city policemen were at the theater Thursday when Parton was asked to leave, fueling speculation that they had hoped to catch him under the influence before a performance. CJ was unable to determine just who asked him to leave.
The city released information Thursday showing that Parton made some questionable expenditures with some of the public money given to him to help start the theater. The information shows money was spent at state liquor stores, on trips to Las Vegas, and for a Greenville apartment for Jason Watson, the son of former regional economic developer Rick Watson, the man who originally brought the theater idea to Roanoke Rapids officials.
The city scrapped the original plan for the Randy Parton Theatre on Nov. 20 and removed Parton and his company, Moonlight Bandit Productions, as its managers. Meanwhile, the city signed a contract with Massachusetts-based UNICCO to operate the theater and to book other acts.
After Parton had left the building Thursday night city officials directed questions to Jim Craig of UNICCO. Craig said that Parton was “under the weather and could not perform.” He said any decision about Parton’s future was up to city officials.
Approximately 200 to 250 people had come to the theater Thursday to see the Randy Parton Carolina Christmas Show. After they were informed Parton would not be appearing, they were told they would be able to use their tickets on another night. Randy Parton’s band, the Moonlight Bandits, and comedian Freddie Pierce pieced together a last-minute show to entertain the crowd.
The city-financed project, one of North Carolina’s most unusual economic development experiments, appears to be in financial trouble after being open only four months. City officials had bet on Parton’s ability to competently manage the theater and to attract enough customers to pay expenses.
Parton is the brother of Dolly Parton, and before coming to Roanoke Rapids in 2005 he played at the Dollywood Amusement Park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Randy Parton, however, appears to have no experience managing a theater. It also appears that he never invested any of his own money in the project.
Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.