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Aurora Rides Again

Hold it right there, pardner. If you ask Rudy Grant, an Aurora Pro Country Music Hall of Fame makes perfect sense. A longtime local country musician, Grant remembers Aurora's honky-tonk heyday (when clubs such as the legendary Zanzibar on East Colfax Avenue stacked 'em ten deep at the bar) like it was yesterday. Clint Eastwood even strode through the Z-Bar's doors in the '70s to shoot Every Which Way but Loose, and diehards remember when George Strait had the crowds stomping there in 1980.

"I want to bring country music back to town," Grant declares, and he thinks a hall of fame is the way to go. But instead of looking to the Z-Bar for inspiration, he's envisioning more of a Branson-style venue, where babies, kids, parents and grandparents can go to enjoy weekly concerts without having to squint at the performers through a beer-soaked haze. "We want to bring the family back into country," Grant says.

The hall is still on the drawing board, Grant admits, but a first local inductee has already been chosen and is slated to be honored during an event planned for next August. "I've drawn up the blueprints--get this, now--for the 1999 Aurora Pro Country Music Festival," he says. Grant foresees a three-day affair in downtown Aurora featuring national acts and culminating with an induction ceremony and hoedown in the spirit of the Grand Ole Opry. And that's only the beginning. Grant also hopes to see recording studios and booking agencies pop up along Colfax, making Aurora a regional country-music center. "I'd like to set up a farm club for prospective country pickers and singers and bring them up and bring them along," he says.

A project like this deserves a dynamic ambassador, and Grant thinks fellow performer Lee Sims is the man for the job. Sims, who's fronted his Platte River Band for 25 years and counting, has been chosen as the hall's inaugural draftee, and with good reason. Now 47, he came to country music while still in his teens. His father, a military man stationed at Fitzsimons Hospital in Aurora, was a fan of all the old stars--Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash--and collected their records. "When he'd go to work, I'd grab 'em and throw 'em on the turntable, and I'd start pretending like I was singing along with them," Sims recalls. One day dad came home early and caught Sims in the act--and ended up buying the boy a guitar. Sims grew up to reign over the Z-Bar until its demise in the '80s, and he still performs at area clubs.

"I've known Lee Sims since before I got into music myself," Grant says. "He has not slacked; he's been the cornerstone of country music in these parts. As long as I've known him, he's been as stable as the rising and setting of the sun." In other words, when the proper time comes, Sims the showman has all the makings of a hall-of-fame spokesman.

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In the meantime, Grant remains optimistic: "Aurora is perfect for this--I have this feeling about it in my bones. I dream about it at night. It comes to me in the weirdest scenes. We are going to make it happen."

--Froyd

The Aurora Pro Country Music Hall of Fame Benefit Show, with Kelly Ray & Midnight Rodeo, Beau David, E.L. Whited and Lee Sims, 8 p.m. Saturday, August 22, Aurora Fox, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, $5 at the door.

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