The Tennessee Roadhouse in Alexandria is rockin' with music, fun, food and a nationally syndicated radio show
Country charm, toe-tapping music, good food, and friendly banter keeps crowds coming to The Tennessee Roadhouse in Alexandria, especially on Sunday nights.
The Roadhouse begins national syndication of its radio show "Connie Lee and Friends" in October or November on BOB FM 105.5 in Albany and St. Cloud, and 106.1 in the Twin Cities metro area, broadcasting Sunday nights from 6 to 7 p.m.
The fun starts early, so Roadhouse owners Connie Lee and Kevin Cunningham recommend grabbing a chair and joining in.
From the time she was a little girl, music was a key ingredient in Connie Lee's life.
She remembers playing guitar with her dad, Ben Stich, as a child. Stich and his brother sang on local radio shows in the 1940s. He currently resides near Inspiration Peak with wife, Rose.
"I was lucky to have that foundation," Connie said. "My whole family was raised on music. It kept us really tight as a unit."
Connie recalled days spent singing with her sisters, Detsie, Sharon and Dory, and her dad in church.
"It was God, family and music," she said.
Her "base roots" grew from those times spent singing for Sunday services, weddings and funerals.
"I grew up on country gospel," she said.
Success soon followed.
Connie made her first record when she was just 12 years old. And at 14, she signed with the Grand Ole Opry Road Show, touring with her sisters and other country stars for seven years.
She also appeared on the Ralph Emery show and did demo work for numerous songwriters.
"Music has taken me so many different places," she said.
At 21, Connie moved to Nashville and lived in Tennessee for 15 years, quickly rising to stardom as a country singer.
"I wouldn't have traded it for anything," she said. "There were a lot of fun stories."
She remembered the famous Music Row in Nashville and meeting country greats like Merle Haggard, George Jones and Kenny Chesney.
"I worked with all the legends," she said.
She described what it was like to work with and befriend stars like Chet Atkins, Dolly Parton, Parton's sister, Stella, and Jimmy Buffett.
"Country people are so loyal," she said. "You just stay true to your friends."
Music took her touring across Europe, where she scored a number one hit song and hosted the British Country Music Awards in 1995.
In 2006, Connie was inducted into the National Traditional Country Music Hall of Fame and was bestowed with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
"We wanted [the restaurant] to be like places in Nashville that I sang at where we have a lot of producers and singer/songwriters," she said. "They would come and have great food and great music. You never knew who you were going to see at some of these places."
Every other Sunday night, Connie Lee records two country music shows with her sisters and special musical guests at the Roadhouse for BOB FM 105.5 and national syndication.
"It's kinda like a jam," she said.
EVOLVING RADIO SHOW
Connie Lee and Friends will produce a show aired live nationally between 6 to 7 p.m. alternating Sundays and the other show will be prerecorded and heard the following Sunday.
Country music guests on the show exchange "road stories" and sing acoustic country. Singers can "pop in" for a jam session at any moment, Connie said. Local celebs include Jim Faber, Kevin Klimek and Lonnie Knight. Sisters Detsie Wagner, Sharon Bitzan and Dory Larson join in the main show group.
"You never know who is going to show up," Connie said. "I like to keep it pretty spontaneous."
In the radio show's early days, Connie produced and handled sound for the show herself.
"I did it all," she remembered with a laugh.
At that time, the show had 2.5 million listeners and was broadcast over six stations in the Twin Cities, Albany and St. Cloud, reaching much of Minnesota and part of Wisconsin.
Jon Eagen now produces the show and Lonnie Knight, a singer/songwriter from the Twin Cities, accompanies Connie as a regular guest.
"This is like our baby," she said of her and husband Kevin's commitment to the Roadhouse. "We try to be here as much as we can."
Connie said they might add additional instruments to the mix in the future, like a snare or bongo drum.
She appreciates the show's adventurous flavor.
"It's like an excitement in the air," she said. "It's the anticipation of what is coming. There is an electricity. All of a sudden, the tables get moved - the music goes up. It's just a fun atmosphere on those nights because you never know who is going to pop in. Folks don't know what to expect."
Connie recommends arriving at the Roadhouse about 4:30 p.m. to find a table before the show.
"You get to be part of the show and have dinner," she said.
The music continues after the radio shows end, usually until about 9 p.m.
More information may be found at www.tennesseeroadhouse.com and connieleemusic.com.
Connie Lee and Friends' next show is Sunday, August 28, at 6 p.m.
"It's just like you are coming inside our home," Connie said of the Roadhouse experience. "When you leave, it is something you will never forget."