55 GOOD THINGS ABOUT WEST VIRGINIA: Kenny Sexton and AMT Bringing Tourism Dollars to Elkins
It’s not only “The Freshest Sound in the Mountains,” American Mountain Theater continues to be a major draw for Elkins and other tourist attractions in the surrounding area.
AMT opened its spacious 527-seat theater in the historic Elkins Rail Yard in July 2007, presenting family-oriented, live entertainment. Owner/producer Kenny Sexton said the crowds have increased substantially each year. That’s good news for the theater, area restaurants and hotels.
“To put it in perspective, we had 131 buses here in 2007,” Sexton said. “Then we had 261 buses in 2008 and 325 in 2009. I expect we will have between 400 and 500 bus groups this year. We’ve been right on track, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue this year.”
The economic impact of the theater goes well beyond the box office and has not gone unnoticed by others in the business community.”The American Mountain Theater has been everything to Elkins as far as tourism growth,” said Robbie Morris, executive director of the Randolph County Chamber of Commerce. They bring hundreds of tour buses here from all over the country, and they truly make Elkins a destination.
“They also tour the region most of the time when they come here to see the show,” he added. “They stay in the hotels, eat at the restaurants and visit downtown Elkins to shop. They have really helped our other businesses and the local economy.”
Brenda Pritt, executive director of the Elkins Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, said AMT has become the primary destination for the area, and it also benefits regional attractions, such as the tourism railroads at Durbin and Cass, Seneca Rocks and historic Beverly.
Lodging packages offer a two-night stay, tickets to the show, dinners at Graceland Mansion on the campus of Davis & Elkins College and the 1863 Tavern and a four-hour trek on the New Tygart Flyer railroad.
“The theater is very important to the other businesses in the area,” she said. “Their overnight packages have been phenomenal during the summer. We have visitors who tell us they are overwhelmed that we can offer that kind of quality entertainment in a small town like Elkins.
AMT features West Virginia’s first and only Branson-style show. The two-hour, G-rated performances include country, pop, bluegrass, southern gospel and patriotic music, as well as comedy sketches and impersonations.
“We use the same format, but we change the show every year,” said Sexton, who also serves as the emcee. “Ninety-five percent of the show is new.
The exception is our patriotic closing – we still do that. And the fiddle player has to play the “Orange Blossom Special” – we can’t change that.”
The cast is a blend of experienced performers and young talent, according to Sexton, who previously operated the Ozark Mountain Hoe Down music theater in Eureka Springs, Ark. Many of the performers are family of sisters and Elkins natives Beverly Sexton, who is Kenny’s wife, and Susie Heckel.
American Mountain Theater offers a regular schedule of performances from April through October. Tickets are $23 for adults, $21 for senior citizens and $13 for youth between the ages of 5-11.
Special shows include the Sunday afternoon Summer Southern Gospel Concert Series, hosted by the Sexton Trio, and the one-hour matinee History of American Music Show. AMT’s Christmas Spectacular is a popular attraction from late November through mid-December.
A detailed schedule of performances and overnight package information is available at http://www.americanmountaintheater.com.