The way she tells it, Frieda Harlow had no choice but to purchase the crumbling Ridgeway Opry House. A native of the Ridgeway section of Warren County—she grew up approximately a mile and a half from the beloved venue—Harlow says the building that became the Opry House played a critical part in her childhood. “I just about grew up here…This is the first building where I saw a neon light in my life.”
When she bought the property, Harlow explains that “the building was coming down—I mean, it was just about to rot and fall down because nobody ever really did anything to it to keep it up…It looked so pitiful, and I loved the place so much because it was a part of Ridgeway.” With the help and support of the late local musician and instrument builder Billy Jarrell, she began extensive renovations to the building to bring it back into use.
The refurbished Ridgeway Opry House opened its doors in 2003, and was an immediate success. Harlow was raised to value hard work and the music—including hymns and string band music—that she heard around the house as a child. She explains that while her large family might have been poor, they didn’t want for anything. “We had all we needed,” Harlow remembers. “We had what we wanted, and the rest I guess we didn't need.”
Harlow’s spirit of love makes the Ridgeway Opry House such an important gathering place for musicians and community members in and around Warren County. “I think it's a warm place, an inviting place,” she says. “I just love people.”
Each Saturday night, visitors can find Freida presiding over performances at the Opry House, often singing or playing a mountain dulcimer, or introducing visiting musicians to the enthusiastic audience. “I try to make everybody feel at home down here. And it's been real successful, this little place,” she explains. “If anybody needs me for anything special and I can help them out here with the Opry, I will do it.”
Freida Harlow will consider select engagements. The Ridgeway Opry House is located at 704 US Highway 1 South, in Ridgeway, North Carolina. Doors open at 6 pm on Saturdays, and the show starts at 7 pm. Seats cost $5. Check the website for show dates and performers.