enjoy a home-style meal in the dining hall of Wildwood Springs Lodge
in Steelville. Good cooking has attracted visitors since 1922.
There’s a buzz of excitement
in the buffet line as a young woman fills her plate with pan-fried chicken
and visits with other diners. The conversation is light, mostly about
home cooking, but those nearby hang on every word.
Although she is the guest
of honor Rhonda Vincent waits until nearly everyone else has gone through
the line before serving herself. In part, her delay is in deference
to the other guests but also because she’s busy signing autographs
in the lobby of Steelville’s Wildwood
Vincent is one of the biggest
names in bluegrass music today. The mandolin player from Greentop, Mo.,
has appeared on the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Television but
on this night in June, Vincent entertains about 150 die-hard fans at
a little-known lodge on the outskirts of Steelville.
The occassion is the Rhonda
Vincent Birthday Bash, a special concert at Wildwood, following a larger
bluegrass show in Steelville the night before. In addition to sharing
a meal with the artist, these fans enjoy a spirited set of bluegrass
music performed in a casual atmosphere around Wildwood’s swimming
pool. A few lucky guests even jammed with the band in the lobby.
For Bob Bell, manager and
part-owner of the lodge, the Vincent concert was another “Wildwood
moment,” one of many special events that mark the history of the
postcard shows Wildwood as it appeared in the 1920s.
“It’s a pretty
magical place,” Bell says. “You never know what’s
going to happen here.”
Modeled after a typical Adirondack
Mountains inn, Wildwood opened in 1922, “built by the elite, for
the elite,” Bell says. With a large octagon-shaped lobby and a
long, elegant dining room, Wildwood was the last and grandest of numerous
resorts that once dotted Crawford County.
Bell grew up across the road
from Wildwood and spent his youth hanging out, mowing grass and helping
however he could. The owners, Ben and Sonya Finkel, had no children
so Bell became almost a surrogate son.
At that time, in the 1960s
and ’70s, the lodge attracted families which spent summer vacations
floating nearby streams and relaxing by the pool. The inn was known
for its good food. So much so, that when their cook passed away the
Finkels decided to close the lodge.
For 10 years Wildwood sat
empty. Bell had keys to the place and stopped by to mow the grass or
rake leaves. In the meantime he finished college and joined his brothers
in the family business, manufacturing parts for the aviation industry.
In 1992 Bell’s family
bought Wildwood. Keeping with tradition, they hired another good cook
and began hosting guests from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
“It was a dream I had,”
Bell says. “I always thought it would be cool to have people come
back and enjoy it. I just felt like it was important to let people have
Recalling another tradition,
Bell brought music back to Wildwood. In the ’20s the resort had
its own orchestra. At least one regular performer, Gordon Jenkins, went
on to fame as a songwriter and arranger, most notably for Frank Sinatra.
artist Rhonda Vincent and her band, The Rage, perform poolside at
Wildwood. During the fall musicians perform in the hotel's lobby.
During the fall, Wildwood
is open only on weekends for a unique series of concerts in the hotel’s
lobby. This year’s line up of “living room concerts”
includes bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice, acoustic bluesman John Hammond,
folk artist Ritchie Havens, rocker Leon Russell, members of the ’70s
group Poco and a performance by the folk-rock duo Brewer and Shipley.
Missouri natives Tom Shipley
and Michael Brewer are regulars at Wildwood and represent the foundation
of the hotel’s fall concert series.
In the mid ’80s —
he’s not exactly sure when — Bell befriended Tom Shipley
and invited the duo to play at the lodge. The concert was a disaster
financially but Bell asked them back the next year, with the same result.
A third try proved successful, thanks to fans who spread the world over
the then-burgeoning Internet.
“The next thing I know
people are calling from California and New York and Texas wanting to
come,” Bell says. “We sold out two nights.”
The following year Bell added
a performance by another friend, Johnny Johnson, Chuck Berry’s
piano player and the inspiration for the rock and roll anthem “Johnny
With his entire resource
of music industry contacts exhausted Bell looked for ways to expand
his musical offerings. He turned to Patti Donahoe-Fadden, who grew up
in nearby Cuba. Patti’s Nashville company, Applause Entertainment,
books acts for county fairs and concerts. It took Donahoe-Fadden’s
connections to find musicians willing to perform for just 150-200 people
in an old hotel lobby.
While Patti says some musicians
relish the idea of playing in an intimate setting, others are merely
looking for a break and a quiet place to unwind.
“Believe it or not,
an important part of the gig is good food,” she says. “It’s
a lot of fast food on the road so they really appreciate the cooking
2003 Fall Concert Series
at Wildwood Springs Lodge
Sept. 19 & 20
The Amazing Rhythm Aces
Sept. 26 & 27
Oct. 10 & 11
The Tony Rice Unit
Oct. 17 & 18
Brewer and Shipley
24 & 25
31 & Nov. 1
Like the summer guests who
come to Wildwood to get away, these musicians enjoy the quite and solitude
of the lodge where rooms lack phones or TV and bathrooms are down the
Now in its fourth season,
Wildwood’s fall concert series has hosted such diverse offerings
as guitarist Leo Kottke, Starship (the present incarnation of the ‘60s
rock group Jefferson Airplane) and banjo and fiddle player John Hartford,
who played Wildwood shortly before his death in 2001. Other performances
have featured members of the folk rock Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Pure
If there’s one thing
in common about the musicians who perform at Wildwood, it’s the
age of those who recognize their names.
the Classics Series because you have to be 40, 45 to know who they are,”
If these fans are nostalgic,
they’re also faithful. Last year, Wildwood hosted guests from
27 states and two countries during the concert series. This year, five
couples are traveling from Europe and Japan to see shows.
Together with Donahoe-Fadden,
Bell also brings a series of bluegrass concerts to a Steelville music
theater each summer. He says fans flock to Wildwood to see favorite
artists in a setting far more personal than a typical concert stage
“You just have to see
their eyes,” Bell says, attempting to describe the reaction of
guests. “It’s pretty cool.”
Concert Series begins Aug. 31 with a performance by fiddler Vassar Clements.
For more information call 1-800-554-3746 or log on to www.wildwoodspringslodge.com.