Thursday, November 13, 2008
Conway opened up Twitty-City in 1982. The complex had been under construction since 1981. According to Conway, he built the tourist attraction because he felt country music fans were kept too far away from the singers they idolized and were fans of. He opened this complex with the goal to allow his fans the opportunity to tour his property and look at his career through the help of pictures and other souvenirs on display.
His family lived on the complex which included his four children and his mother. He lived in the big house you see behind him in the picture. At the time of the 1982 opening Conway was still one of the biggest country music acts and his singles were reaching #1 with unequaled rivalry from his peers. At the complex there was an area known as the Showcase. This was the place where Conway's Wall of Gold was on display. The records were not officially "gold records" by the RIAA...instead, these gold records were in reference to his number one hits. Each chart-topping single that Conway had in his career was spotlighed under glass in the Wall of Gold...by 1990 the Wall of Gold contained 55 plaques representing each #1 single.
The name of the complex you might think was dreamed up by Conway or one of his associates but in reality the name of the place was un-titled until critics began calling it 'Twitty-City' as a joke. Conway liked the name and so that's what it officially became. It's location was in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Music Village, USA became a tourist attraction and Twitty-City was the main draw in both the summer AND winter months...each winter Conway put on his Christmas At Twitty-City light display. The Opryland Hotel in Nashville did a similar event in the winter months leading up to Christmas where they, too, would put on a dazzling display of Christmas lights. Conway did a TV special in 1982 called Conway On The Mississippi that featured a line-up of singers popping in and out. Tammy Wynette, Loretta, Charley Pride, and Jerry Lee Lewis made appearances as did Barbara Mandrell. She and Conway appeared together in a segment taped/filmed at the Nashville ball-park, footage from a celebrity ball-game. George Lindsay appeared in a stand-up comedy routine and Ralph Emery acted as co-host in a few of the segments. There was a segment on Twitty-City in this special.
In 1983 Conway released a very rare album...his only holiday album...called Merry Twismas and it featured spoken and sung selections as Conway "strolled" through Twitty-City with Twitty Bird, the mascott. He and the bird talk back and fourth and make jokes plus sing a few songs together. After the release of this album, it would be the main soundtrack heard as visitors came to Twitty-City during the holidays.
Twitty-City never really had a down-year. Each summer, specifically, throughout the 1980's as Conway ruled the country charts his fans planned their vacations around the place. In June of each year he hosted a celebrity softball game for charity...often playing against a team headed up by Barbara Mandrell. Also, Fan Fair happened in June...Conway would often put together a concert called 'Country Explosion' which would feature Conway and usually Loretta plus anyone else that Conway could get to appear.
Robin Leach's TV show, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous came calling and they did a story on Conway's tourist attraction in 1986. The special also spoke of Conway's media shyness and how his "luxurious mansion" sits smack dab in the middle of the entire complex. It was out of place to see a show like that do a segment on Conway...even though I suspect the publicity didn't hurt. The fifth anniversary of Twitty-City was a local media event in 1987. In 1991 he started allowing fans the ability to tour his own house...where as before they could only see his house from a distance. Twitty-City continued thriving until 1993...Conway's death in June amidst the upcoming Fan Fair festivities sent a shock wave through Nashville...his untimely death at 59 was even more shocking. Fans from all over went to Twitty-City throughout 1993...a dedication show was put together called 'Final Touches'. The complex was shut down in early 1994...and during the infamous auction of Conway's personal property, the Christian company, Trinity Broadcasting, bought the complex and turned it into a religious complex.