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Norton Center talks 50th anniversary and bringing top-name entertainers to Danville

Centre College’s Norton Center, home to a world-class performing arts series of professional touring artists, marks a milestone in 2023 and plans to celebrate turning 50 all season long.

A special exhibition, “A Retro Perspective: Revisiting Prints from the Permanent Collection,” opens Monday, Aug. 14. A free community concert by the Louisville Orchestra as part of its In Harmony tour takes place on March 8, 2024. The Norton will also take a look back (and forward) with 50 Years of Great Stories, with friends and neighbors, including Centre College students, reflecting on the power of authentic connections and experiences at the Norton Center.

Additionally, the 2023/2024 season performances have been crafted to commemorate the last five decades of programming while also representing the next generation of entertainment.

“We are bringing back fan-favorite artists from every decade since the building opened in 1973, as well as innovative artists who will help launch us into the next Norton Center era,” said Addie Osborne, marketing and media coordinator.

Executive Director Steve Hoffman shared insights about bringing in marquee entertainers like Dolly Parton and keeping The Norton’s calendar filled with irresistible programming, including Vice Presidential debates.

Q: Describe the process of booking performers and scheduling the calendar.

A: Just like most businesses, relationships are key. The Norton Center has an excellent reputation with artists’ agents and managers. Working on creating a series and adding on shows is a year-round endeavor that often feels like a jigsaw puzzle being solved while wrapped around a Rubik’s Cube. It’s complex and parts are always moving around, but with a little finesse, it always works out.

Q: Let’s name names.

A: The Norton Center has welcomed so many incredible artists to Danville. In recent years, stellar artists such as ZZ Top, Foreigner, Styx, Starship, Wynona, Martina McBride, Yo-Yo Ma, Gustavo Dudamel with the Vienna Philharmonic, Ben Vereen, Alison Krauss, Béla Fleck, Lyle Lovett, Tony Bennett, Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Smash Mouth, Smokey Robinson, Scotty McCreary and Nick Cannon & Howie Mandel have graced our stages.

(ZZ Top performing at the Norton Center at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky).

Q: What was it like snagging Dolly Parton for The Norton?

A: At the time, Dolly Parton was touring outdoor amphitheaters and large arenas. We submitted our best offer and were honestly surprised that she chose the Norton Center as her only Kentucky engagement on that tour.

Her personal manager called to tell me that we were by far the smallest venue selected to be on the tour and we were selected over the Yum Center in Louisville. He said that she shouldn’t be playing the Norton Center for this tour, but Dolly had a great experience at the theatre before and wanted to return. He also commented that we owed our agent a bottle of wine for the work he did. I replied that we are in Kentucky, and I started the conversation with the agent by driving to Nashville and presenting him with a giant bottle of Kentucky bourbon.

Dolly Parton is an extremely smart businessperson. I’ll never forget her walking on stage at the start of the performance, laughing and saying that because of the theatre’s size, she shouldn’t be performing at the Norton Center—but she remembered what a great theatre it was and wanted to come back.

Q: What about those vice-presidential debates?

A: Centre College had the distinct pleasure of hosting two vice-presidential debates. In 2000, Dick Cheney and Joseph Lieberman debated on The Norton’s stage and, in 2012, Paul Ryan and Joe Biden debated.

Institutions interested in hosting presidential and vice-presidential debates go through an extensive bidding process through the Commission on Presidential Debates. To maximize the experience, Centre College also hosted free Vice-Presidential Debate Festivals each year on the campus lawn that featured local and national performing artists and a gigantic screen for everyone in the community to attend.

Q: Every performing arts center has a list of dream performers. Who’s on The Norton’s?

A: There are so many! Let me say that we are always excited and surprised about who we get to come each year. It was a complete surprise that the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ann Wilson, from the rock band Heart, accepted our invitation to perform here this year. (See the Events calendar for tickets for Wilson’s Sept. 1 performance.) Same with the indie-pop bands, Toad the Wet Sprocket and The Verve Pipe (performing Sept. 16). Be on the lookout for more to come!

Q: What is a little-known fact about The Norton and its history that always surprises people?

A: The building was built in 1973 through the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The chief architect was Wright’s son-in-law, William Wesley Peters, who designed the building specifically for Centre College. Peters took over the Foundation after Wright passed away in 1959. The building was funded nearly 100 percent through donations outside of Kentucky.

To see The Norton’s 2023/2024 lineup of entertainers and ticket information, click on Events.

(Blog post written by Kathy Witt)