Illustration: Jonathan Fehr

Ray Stevens talks with C&I about his new PBS variety show and the opening of his new entertainment venue, Ray Stevens CabaRay.

Cowboys & Indians: With a new PBS variety show and your new performance venue in Music City, is it safe to say you’re expanding your vast media empire this year?

Ray Stevens: [Laughs.] Actually, it’s a last, valiant splash at having some fun. I’m getting on up in years, and I thought, Well, what the hell? I’ll just do everything that I always thought I might want to do and didn’t have time or whatever to do. I’m building a showroom and spending a lot of time designing it just like I wanted. And we’ve produced this TV show, and public television has picked it up, and so we’ll see what happens.

C&I: You’re calling the new venue Ray Stevens CabaRay. Does this mean you plan to be the permanent headliner there?

Ray: Well, I don’t know yet. I’m going to perform there a lot. But, hopefully, we can lure some other great performers — because, heck, I can’t carry the whole load myself.

C&I: What do you think will make Ray Stevens CabaRay unique?

Ray: We’re going to be a full-blown entertainment venue with food and drinks. See, the thing that’s a little different about the CabaRay is it’s designed in the style of old-school Las Vegas, where the people sat at tables in the showrooms, and they could eat and have drinks and see a great show. I used to work those years ago, and it’s really a great way to put on a show. It’s a lot of fun for the entertainer as well. I think the audience appreciates it more than sitting in a theater-type seating configuration like sardines, where any time anybody has to go to the bathroom, you have to say, “Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me, excuse me,” while you’re making your way in front of everybody to get to the aisle. Don’t get me wrong: There are 200 seats in the balcony that are theater-style seating. But the big bulk of people will be on the main floor at tables.

C&I: Let’s get back to the TV show. How would you describe the format?

Ray: Mostly music, but we do talk a lot and joke around a lot. It’s a lighthearted show that’s strictly entertainment. We don’t get heavy with anything other than maybe music. It’s a lot like the show I had been doing on RFD-TV. That one was called Ray Stevens Nashville. This one — well, since I’m building the CabaRay, it’s called Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville.

C&I: Sounds like you’ll be having the best of both worlds — immediate audience feedback from your live performances and building an even bigger audience with the TV show. How many tour dates do you do these days?

Ray: Not many at this point. I’ve been busy with things here in Nashville — producing television shows and writing songs and making records and building buildings, things like that. Of course, I still do some. And when we go out, we do well. We fill the shows up, and people enjoy them. But I have to admit: I’m looking forward to not having to travel. Flying is so hard since 9/11, and buses are just — you know, I’m just kind of tired of buses. Never was big on them in the first place.

C&I: The last time we chatted, a couple years back, you were working on a concept album — popular songs rearranged as bluegrass. Is that still in the works?

Ray: Oh, gosh, yeah. I’m still tweaking it, but I’m looking forward to doing that after I get the CabaRay built because I want to book a small symphony in there and do a live performance of the album with a bluegrass group in front of a big symphony. I want to record it on video and debut it like that because I think it would be exciting to see, as well as hear, what I’ve got in mind on this album. I call it Melancholy Fescue, which is high-class bluegrass. Think about it.

COMING ATTRACTION: Ray plans to open his Ray Stevens CabaRay in August. His Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville show is airing nationwide on PBS stations. Check your local television listings, or visit his website.

From the April 2017 issue.