Concert Review: Legends of Country offers stories, laughter and friends

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11194623703000.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jonathan Hicks’, ‘The "King of Western Swing," Hank Thompson, performs in concert June 17 at Rockford Woman's Club in the River District.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-1119462489863.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jonathan Hicks’, ‘Helen Cornelius and Jim Ed Brown share the stage at the inaugural Legends of Country concert June 17.’);

First in country music concert series featured Jim Ed Brown, Helen Cornelius and Hank Thompson

When Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius made a stop at the Rockford Woman’s Club June 17, they brought with them nearly 30 years of experience performing together. Over their six years together, the duo garnered six Top Ten hits, including their debut single “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You,” which reached the No. 1 spot in 1976. With the recent release of their new album, Together Again, Brown and Cornelius were ideal choices to headline the first show in Rockford’s “Legends of Country” Concert Series.

Geared toward fans of classic Country Western music, the concert series kicked off with a bang as Country Music Hall of Fame member Hank Thompson was welcomed to the stage. At 79, Thompson is perhaps one of the most significant country artists still performing, boasting the incredible achievement of having played shows for seven decades—a feat duplicated only by Frank Sinatra.

As the “King of Western Swing” sat at center stage, he quickly nabbed the crowd’s attention, singing songs about the railroad and sharing stories about his life and times in the music industry. Thompson made the most of his 25 minutes on stage, playing 10 songs, including crowd favorites “The Wild Side of Life,” “Humpty Dumpty Heart,” and “Six Pack to Go.” Each song garnered healthy applause, which he seemed to enjoy as much as he had when his career began in the 1940s. His disarming smile, coupled with his comical knack for storytelling, made Thompson a brilliant choice to begin the evening and served as a surefire indicator that the show would not be simply about music—it would be about stories, laughter and friends.

Helen Cornelius was next to step onto the wood-grain stage floor. Like Thompson, Cornelius made the most of her opportunities to tell stories and laugh with the audience. The set was highlighted by her renditions of “The Rose,” which earned her a standing ovation, and the Hank Williams classic “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” which inspired audience members to yodel along with her.

After a short intermission, Jim Ed Brown stepped into the spotlight. Clad in a bright red suit coat, Brown began his set with the 1973 hit “Southern Loving,” and the beer-drinking anthem “Pop a Top,” which he referred to as “my theme song.” His short set ended with a medley of songs made famous during his time performing with his sisters Maxine and Bonnie—collectively The Browns.

Brown then welcomed Cornelius back to the stage to sing a number of hits the duo made successful in the late 1970s. Though they ended their partnership in 1981, Brown and Cornelius still occasionally perform together. And on this night, one might have thought they had never split. Their playful competition for the microphone filled the room with laughter, and their friendly tones encouraged conversation between those on stage and those in their seats. The brilliant harmonization on their new single “Couple of Dreamers” as well as during classics “Lying in Love With You,” and “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You” revealed a clear distinction between the pair and many of their contemporary country counterparts. While many of today’s stars rely on being flashy, Brown and Cornelius made it readily apparent that the real beauty of their songs lies not in production, but in solid vocals and friendly rapport with the audience.

Brown and Cornelius concluded the performance with what they both called their favorite song to sing together, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore.” Originally made popular as a duet by Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand, Brown and Cornelius made it their own, ending the show with a rousing applause from the small but dedicated crowd.

The Legends of Country series continues Friday, July 8 at the Rockford Theatre (inside the Rockford Woman’s Club) with Bill Anderson, Jan Howard and “Little” Jimmy Dickens. Tickets are on sale. For more information or to buy tickets, visit or

From the june 22-28, 2005, issue

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