Ronnie Gilley still dreams big.
He dreams of a development that will encompass retail, a water park, outdoor activities, and homes. And he dreams of bringing music back to a 1,600-acre rural corner of Coffee County north of Enterprise.
First, there will be Dwight Yoakam and Collective Soul in April and then Nelly and Brett Young in May.
Gilley, along with his business partners, friends, family, chamber of commerce representatives and city leaders, officially cut the ribbon for the Bama Slam Saloon at Ten Buck Two on Wednesday. Beforehand, Gilley announced the planned development for the property and the long-term vision for a Branson, Missouri-like community in the Wiregrass.
And, yes, the BamaJam music festival will be back — possibly in 2021 but by 2022 at the latest, Gilley said.
In the meantime, there will be 10 outdoor musical events, with three of those being on what was the main stage for BamaJam, Gilley said. The rest will be held on the lakefront beach still covered in white sand and palm trees.
The first large concert, Rock N Country, will be held April 17-18 with Dwight Yoakam, Collective Soul, Puddle of Mudd, Blackstone Cherry, Michael Ray, and Larry Fleet. A two-day pass will cost $75, while a one-day ticket is $49. Visit www.bamaslam saloon.com for information.
A musical event planned for May 22-25 will feature Nelly and Brett Young, with other acts to be announced later.
The Bama Slam Saloon opened New Year’s Eve with a sold-out show by Riley Green. The larger property known as Ten Buck Two also features the Bama Slam ATV Park and an RV park. The property will open the water park in the spring, Gilley said. The lake will have Jet Ski rentals, canoes and fishing tournaments.
Perched on a stool on the saloon’s stage, Gilley was open about the past — often referring to the five years he spent in federal prison — and how his supporters helped him move forward and see a long-ago dream of a planned residential development finally become reality.
Inspired by developments such as The Villages near Orlando, Florida, Gilley said plans for the development will include 250,000 square feet of commercial space, hotels, town squares and a mixed-use residential concept. It was a concept he and his partners first laid out in 2006, but the housing market crash in 2008 steered those plans in another direction.
“I promise you, we have the tenacity and the team to bring this dream to reality,” Gilley said. “We never lost sight of it. We got derailed; we got sidetracked. Everything all works out for a greater good, and this vision has done nothing but get better and better and better. It’s all about timing, and the timing is right now.”
Gilley started BamaJam Music and Arts Festival in 2008. Initially, he said, the plan was to build an entertainment-oriented residential community that catered to baby boomers and retirees on the BamaJam property in Coffee County.
However, the plans shifted to Dothan with Country Crossing, and electronic bingo was added as the catalyst for the development. But questions surrounding the legality of the development’s electronic bingo hall arose before it opened in December 2009.
“At the end of the day, it took me down,” Gilley said. “I chose to partake in corrupt politics for a little while after I fought it hard for two years, and I paid the ultimate price. I lost my freedom for five years.”
In 2011, Gilley pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, six counts of bribery and four counts of money laundering in connection with an attempt to secure the passage of pro-gambling legislation that would have benefited Country Crossing. He was released in February 2017.
Today, the Dothan development is called The Crossing at Big Creek and features restaurants, a music venue and a bingo hall.
As far as music festivals go, the three-day BamaJam was a hit from the beginning, bringing in throngs of fans from all over to see musical performers like Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Kid Rock, Hank Williams Jr., ZZ Top, Alan Jackson, the Zac Brown Band and Sheryl Crow.
As legal issues hung over Country Crossing, BamaJam was canceled in 2011 and returned in 2012 with new management. The new organizers suspended the 2013 festival and eventually moved the event to Panama City Beach, Florida, renaming it Gulf Coast Jam.
Since his release from prison, Gilley and his business partners managed to secure the old BamaJam property after their first attempt fell through.
Sonya Partridge, one of Gilley’s Ten Buck Two business partners, said there were challenges even once Gilley served his time and came home. But they have overcome them, she said.
“When God gives you a vision, you can’t lose it. It’s in your heart, and he will make it reality,” Partridge said. “Together with the team we have, we’re blessed to have the project back; we’re blessed to have this team in place to bring this to reality. I can’t express in words how excited we are.”