Make us your home page
Instagram

Hooper: State fair entertainer Dennis Lee takes pride in his love connections

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

>>If you go

What to see, how to save

The Florida State Fair continues its run through Feb. 15 at 4802 U.S. 301 N in Tampa.

Admission: You can save money if you buy tickets in advance for $9, $5 ages 6-11 at floridastatefair.com. Otherwise it's $11-$13 at the gate. Make a donation at any Goodwill Industries location and get a coupon good for $2 off admission. Any-Day Ride Armbands are good for unlimited midway rides any day of the fair and are $35 at the gate. Weekday Ride Armbands are $25 at the gate and are only valid today and Monday through Feb. 11. Parking is free.

Specials

Gold Access Pass: Offered for the first-time, holders get a special access line. Gold Access Passes are $15, plus the cost of a ride armband, and are only available on the weekends and the last Monday of the fair.

Super Sunday BOGO: Not into football? After 4 p.m. on Sunday, you can get buy-one-get-one-free ride armbands while everyone else is watching the Super Bowl. Free band can only be used Sunday.

Senior Days: Weekdays from Monday through Feb. 12, seniors 55 and older receive discounted admission of $7 in advance or $9 at the gate. Also find special Senior Seminars in the Expo Hall.

Fair highlights

Taste of the Fair: On Monday, select food vendors offer samples of their regular menu items at a budget price point. Find a list of vendors at the guest services booth.

Elvis Extravaganza: The annual competition featuring a bevy of Elvis impersonators is at noon Feb. 12-14 on the Coca-Cola Headline Stage.

Budweiser Clydesdales: Budweiser's iconic, elegant animals will be at the fair Wednesday through Feb. 14.

Daily entertainment

Dennis Lee Show takes place at noon, 3 and 6 p.m. daily on the Tampa Bay Times Stage. Other daily entertainment at the fair Matt's Family Jam, Chipper Experience (comedy magician), Circus Hollywood, Welde Bears, SwashChucklers Comedy Pirate Show, Sinbad High Dive Show.

Compiled by Kelly Stefani, Times staff writer

Hooper: State fair entertainer Dennis Lee takes pride in his love connections 02/04/16 [Last modified: Thursday, February 4, 2016 12:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Equality Florida leader honored at Tampa U2 concert

    Briefs

    TAMPA — Equality Florida director Nadine Smith couldn't attend last week's U2 concert in Tampa, but she can tell you which of her friends had great seats for the June 14 show at Raymond James Stadium.

    Nadine Smith, Equality Florida founder and CEO, received a unique distinction last week when U2 included her in a montage of photos saluting activism and women leaders.
  2. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 23

    Events

    Leslie Odom Jr.: A solo concert by the Broadway star who won a Tony for his performance as Aaron Burr in Hamilton. 7 p.m., Ferguson Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $35.50-$55.50. (813) 229-7827.

    Leslie Odom Jr. accepts the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical in "Hamilton"  during the 70th Annual Tony Awards  on June 12, 2016.  (Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)
  3. Han Solo movie now in the hands of ... Ron Howard?

    Blogs

    Dear god, I love Ron Howard movies. All of them. Especially Cocoon and Night Shift in the '80s. Particularly The Paper, which is the most accurate comedy I've seen about the newspaper biz. And even Rush, which I was sad to learn was not about the band but instead about Formula 1 …

  4. Take your vacation! Being a work martyr doesn't help

    Travel

    The traditional start of the summer vacation season always produces vacation-themed reports. This year's theme is "vacation shaming."

    This year’s theme is “vacation shaming,” the common workplace condition when employees leave paid vacation time unused because they’re afraid to take time off.
  5. Celebrate Pride with this playlist of LGBTQ musicians

    Essays

    I first came out over a decade ago, early in the torments of middle school and deep in the cornfields of suburban Indiana. To say I was lacking classmates who were out and local queer role models — let alone national ones — feels like an understatement. The school and public libraries offered few LGBTQ …

    Tegan and Sara perform during Splendour in the Grass 2016 on July 24, 2016, in Australia.  (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)