“A diamond in the rough.”
That’s how J.D. Snoddy described the once popular Looney’s Amphitheater Complex and Cultural Center, an entertainment complex in rural northwest Alabama that sat silent and unused for nearly 20 years, until the Winston County Arts Council decided to breathe new life into the facility.
For nearly a year, the council, along with many others in Winston County, has been working to restore and revitalize the site, located in the center of the county near Double Springs, Alabama. In its heyday, the venue was the home of the historical outdoor musical, “The Incident at Looney’s Tavern,” which traced the story of how Winston County came within a hair’s breadth of seceding from Alabama during the Civil War.
“It was a great place and had a lot of history, and we felt it could be revitalized,” said Snoddy, chairman of the Winston County Arts Council. “Smith Lake and Bankhead Forest bring people into our county and provide them with recreational opportunities in the daytime. We wanted to give them some other entertainment they could enjoy while they are here using our lake and forest, so we decided to see what we could make out of Looney’s.”
Snoddy said the complex will provide an economic boon for Winston County. It will also benefit surrounding towns, with travelers to Looney’s stopping along the way to eat or buy gas.
“Because we’re so rural, we don’t have many businesses in Winston County. All we have are the lake and the forest,” said Theresa Snoddy, Winston County Arts Council vice chairman and grant writer. “We’re working really hard to repair and renovate the amphitheater complex because we believe it will bring more tourists and will provide them with entertainment and a cultural experience.”
When the complex is fully restored, it will host arts education events, concerts, plays, exhibitions, festivals and more. There will also be an interactive museum focusing on the history of Winston County, and fun outdoor games for the entire family, such as putt-putt golf, cornhole and pickleball.
Restoration work is underway in the lobby and other interior spaces at the amphitheather. (Contributed)
New steps are in place at the complex, part of the extensive renovations at the site. (Contributed)
The Alabama Power Foundation has provided a grant to the Winston County Arts Council to help support the restoration project. The grant is going toward renovating the complex’s 1,500-seat outdoor amphitheater.
“We really, really appreciate the grant from the Alabama Power Foundation,” Theresa Snoddy said. “Even though people are behind us all the way, they don’t realize how much everything has increased in cost. The wood, the plumbing, the lights, the sound systems – all of it has to be replaced. It’s amazing how much everything has gone up these last few years. That makes us appreciate everything we get that much more, because we can keep working.”
J.D. Snodgrass added that along with the foundation, many others have contributed to the project.
“This is not an ‘I’ project, but it is a ‘we’ project because the whole county and the whole surrounding area of northwest Alabama are contributing in all kinds of ways to make this happen,” he said. “We’re getting support from individuals, businesses, towns, the Legislature, the county, the state and other groups. They see our vision.”
Putting action to words
J.D. said reopening the complex has been the council’s longtime dream, adding that many people in the county have fond memories of attending Looney’s marquee outdoor stage production, which ran from the late 1980s until the last curtain call in 2003.
“We were at a meeting one night in 2022, and we said we either need to buy Looney’s or quit talking about it. And in two months, we bought it,” he said.
Project manager David Jacobs at work at the site. (Contributed)
Workers replace the flag at Looney’s Amphitheater. (Contributed)
Last October, work began on the complex, which includes five buildings, along with the amphitheater.
“The whole place needed work,” J.D. said. “The ceilings leaked; there was rotten wood; the bathrooms had to be totally gutted and redone … we even found rats in the dressing rooms and insulation.”
Since then, the council has totally remodeled the 300-seat indoor Dual Destiny Theater, repaired the outdoor stairs, replaced lighting in the parking lot, begun renovations on the putt-putt golf course and set a new flag atop the more-than-100-foot flagpole.
The council has now turned to redoing the bathrooms and renovating the outdoor amphitheater, a monumental task that includes installing new seats, replacing the lighting and sound systems, pressure-washing the bleachers and repairing rotten steps. The old wooden stage will also be demolished and replaced with a more durable one made from concrete.
Performances are already being booked at the renovated, 300-seat indoor theater. (Contributed)
Theresa said the grant from the Alabama Power Foundation will “play a big part” in restoring the amphitheater to its original glory.
“This project is expected to not only enhance the quality of life in northwest Alabama but also enhance tourism to Winston County, which will boost the local economy,” said Melinda Weaver, community relations manager in Alabama Power’s Western Division.
“We feel strongly that the funding provided to the Winston County Arts Council for this project is well-aligned with the Alabama Power Foundation mission, and we are proud to support it. Organizations like the Winston County Arts Council are critical to our communities, and they ensure that we are building a better Alabama for our citizens,” Weaver said.
Reviving the arts in rural Alabama
The nonprofit Winston County Arts Council is focused on providing arts education to all students in the county and making fine arts more accessible to area residents. Formed in 2007, the council has hired part-time art teachers at all five Winston County schools, as well as Haleyville Elementary and Seymour Bevil Daycare in Double Springs, and sponsors a theater troupe for high school students. It has also placed rolling carts in Winston County schools, filled with art supplies teachers can use to enhance their lessons in the classroom.
J.D. said the council’s primary goal is to make a difference in Winston County.
“No one at the arts council makes a dime; we’re working for the nonprofit for free,” he said. “We’re from Winston County, and we want to make it a better place and provide opportunities that people haven’t had here for a long time.”
Although it’s not fully restored yet, visitors are already flocking to Looney’s Amphitheater Complex and Cultural Center. The newly remodeled indoor theater has hosted several plays and concerts, along with a prayer and patriotism service. An Alabama History Day event is on tap for all fourth-graders at the theater on Oct. 12-13.
The former on-site restaurant has also been in great demand, with people reserving it for meetings, class reunions, baby showers and other events.
Theresa said the council hopes to complete all the renovations and host a grand opening in May 2024.
“People have been incredibly generous,” she said. “We couldn’t have done this without the Alabama Power Foundation and other entities and groups that have all made it possible.”