Friday, November 24, 2017
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Hooper: State fair entertainer Dennis Lee takes pride in his love connections

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When it comes to love connections, people can signup for Match or eHarmony or ChristianMingle.

Or they can just pick up an instrument and join the Dennis Lee Band.

Lee and his music mates continue their engaging daily shows at the Florida State Fair today through Feb. 15. The performances will contain all the aspects that have made him a four-decade favorite at fairs and festivals across the country: music, comedy, patriotism and family fun.

And maybe a wedding bell future.

Over the years, Lee has had 40 to 50 bandmates, and four of them have actually met someone special through the stage shows and found matrimonial bliss. All four couples remain united, and Lee frames all the stories in his homespun humor.

"Not only do I matchmake and get them to love each other, I make sure they stay together," said 50-year-old Lee, who laughed heartily about his successful love connections.

The first took place at the Delaware State Fair in the early 1990s. Lead guitarist Jeff Bell focused on the set list and the woman working in the nearby vendor booth.

"He had his eyes on the woman to the right instead of the man up front, me," Lee quipped.

At show's end, Bell came to Lee and explained he would leave the band to stay with his new love, Susan. Lee says they have now been married 20 years, have two children, and he gets a Christmas card from the couple each year.

"You would think they could put a coupon in there for a free dinner at Cracker Barrel," Lee said.

Love struck again later that decade at the South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach when the lead guitarist, Dave Torre, met a woman named Kelly. When the fair wrapped up, Torre came to him and started the conversation with: "Dennis, I need to talk to you."

Lee said it's like getting a Dear John letter.

He received another Dear John letter a few years later at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, this time from drummer Scott Hammerbacher. He made the connection with Berta and now they've been married 23 years, have three children and one grandchild.

Understand, however, that Lee doesn't really begrudge his bandmates for finding their forever sweethearts. He's convinced the wholesome fair atmosphere and his good-natured shows foster romance.

You have to admit, meeting someone with corn dogs wafting in the air is better than meeting someone with nightclub smoke wafting in the air.

David Northrup won't argue. Like Dave Torre, he met his forever love at the South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach. The drummer made a love connection with a woman named Sandy and ended up touring with the legendary Oak Ridge Boys.

Lee reckons he took a pay cut when he left his band to join the country superstars. Either way, he and Sandy have celebrated 20-plus years of marriage and have two kids.

Lee's only disappointment: none of the couples named the children after him.

"It's going to be a requirement for future relationships spawned from the Dennis Lee Show," Lee said. "Even the girl has to have Dennis in there somewhere."

Now Lee wonders if it can happen again. He jokes that current band drummer Dave Hughes, who's single, wants to whip himself in shape for the Valentine's Day show at the Florida State Fair.

As for Lee, who's divorced, it's possible he may meet a future bride. But he quickly adds that he has to keep his fans in mind.

"I don't want to disappoint any of the ladies of any age who come out to my show," Lee said. "I want to give myself to them in a special way. I have a heart so big, there's a place for everyone."

"But I'm open to the possibility," Lee said, adding that whoever snares his heart needs, "a nice car, a nice home and a nice insurance package."

He's joking about the house and insurance package. I think. But when it comes to having a heart for his fans, he's completely serious. That's what makes Dennis Lee as popular as a funnel cake.

Make that a heart-shaped funnel cake.

That's all I'm saying.

SKIP O'ROURKE | Times (2014)

The rides are waiting to thrill the throngs, and the aroma of fried food of every shape wafts across the midway of the Florida State Fairgrounds on U.S. 301 in Tampa. But there's more to the fair than rides and food. There's livestock to admire and music to enjoy. Our guide to the fair, which runs through Feb. 15, has tips for saving on admission and special attractions. Details on page 12

   
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