Back in the saddle: Rider’s In The Country reopens to honor George Rider
By: Terry Rader
Many in the Triad knew George Rider as the original co-owner of the nightclub, Rider’s in the Country, which opened in 1988. What many may not know is that he was a philanthropist involved in many community events and fundraisers during his life. He held pet clinics at Rider’s in the Country twice a year and worked with our homeless and impoverished communities. George donated and helped raise money for Toys for Tots, The Christmas Toy Ride, Silversirus for Kids, numerous benefits for cancer awareness, and he was one of the original members who started NASCAR Days. George passed away on Jan. 13, 2017, and left the club to the love of his life for 19 years, Patricia Gann Harris.
Harris first met George when her two friends asked her to go to Rider’s in the Country with them one evening. She said George first asked her out as a widower, and she kept saying no because she was too busy. At the time, she said she had two jobs, working for Sears Credit Central and Vanity Fair. Harris said George kept trying and one day, exclaimed, ‘I’m not asking ya to marry me, just go to lunch with me!’ She said yes, and the rest is history.
Harris said she was with George when he died, and Rider’s in the Country was even open that night to honor his legacy. Harris told me that when you know someone who is larger than life, you think they’re never going to die. But George did, right after breakfast on Friday the 13th. George’s daughter, Cindy Campbell, wanted his funeral held at the club, and Harris said that turned out to be the perfect place. They placed him in front of the stage on the dance floor, and everyone gathered around to pay their respects. George was a Shriner and member of Guilford Lodge 656 A.F. & A. M. At his funeral, four Shriners wearing white gloves took turns holding an American flag at the head of his casket. George’s fingerprint was taken so that a memorial necklace could be made because he touched so many lives. Harris’s son, Jason, noticed that the finger that they inked was George’s middle finger. Harris said George always used to say, “When I die…” and many who knew George (and Harris told me that everywhere they went someone would recognize him and call out his name) would know how to finish this sentence.
Afterward, the funeral home director told Harris that it was a good thing that they had his service at Rider’s in the Country because the funeral home could not have accommodated the hundreds of people that came through the day and night. The viewing began at 10 a.m., and the family received a steady stream of visitors and friends until 9:30 p.m. Harris said that people drove or flew from other states to honor and pay respect to George’s passing. Harris said she wasn’t able to come to the club for the first two weeks after George died. However, she knew she had to try and keep it open so that everyone could have a place to go.
Harris told me that she didn’t close the club last year because she wanted to. There were circumstances beyond her control that caused her to close it, or else she would have left it open because she knew that is what George would have wanted her to do. Now that those circumstances are in the process of being taken care of, Harris was able to reopen the club for a cookout party on Sept. 15 with live music by Fair Warning.
“George would have been proud of me to be on the stage introducing the band for the first time, but knowing him, he’d say get down here and get behind the bar and sell that beer,” Harris chuckled as she thought about George. “He would have been so happy to see all the new and old faces that turned out for a big reopening blowout.”
Harris said she never dreamed that over 600 people would show up to the grand reopening, especially while Hurricane Florence was ripping across the state.
“With the weather being so bad, I had told the staff to be prepared to go home early if no one came, but we had a great night,” she said. “The next day I called my son, and we decided to donate $2,000 of what we had made to the flood fund. That’s what George would have done.”
Harris doesn’t plan to change things. Rider’s will still serve beer and mixed drinks and have live music with mostly country/rock bands on the big raised stage that keeps the dance floor full. The bar will serve free hot dogs, and popcorn just like George did. (Harris said George used to say at the door, ‘Come on in! We’ve got hot dogs, long and greasy, and they slide down easy.’) Inside, just as before, there are two bars, three pool tables, a multi-arcade machine, a foosball table, a dartboard and lots of tables and chairs. Smokers will be happy to know that the covered, screened back porch with fans, tables and stools are still the same. Harris is proud to say that the only thing that has changed is that the club is an even safer place for people to come to with their friends, with the newly added metal detection screenings and security cameras. For additional safety precautions and sustainability, they will replace glass bottles with aluminum cans.
One regular, Danny Collins of Jamestown, has been going to the club for over 20 years. Collins told me that he knew George for years and was excited about the club reopening. “Go and have a good time, it’s a lot of fun, and they always have great music,” he said. “I go and dance all night long.”
Lino Gil of Lounge Lizard Tattoo (located next door to Rider’s in the Country) knew George for many years and was very happy to honor him with a portrait he illustrated in 2016.
“George is looking down smiling with the club reopening,” Gil said.
The staff at the door includes managers, Doug, Sean, David and Rob. Chuck and Rodney are the bouncers. Kathy and Devina work the door, and Devina is also a server. Melanie and Brittany are bartenders, and Chris is the bar-back. (Harris said if anyone is interested in working at Rider’s in the Country, call the club after 8 p.m. on Saturdays to apply for server and bartender positions.)
Harris is pleased to honor George’s wishes by reopening the club. She said she hopes more new people will come to join the regulars, so she can afford to keep it open.
Tentatively, she plans to stay open on Saturday nights for a few months to see how it goes before committing to more nights. She bravely sports that big, loving smile and says, “Everyone is welcome.”
Terry Rader is a former ad agency pro creative director, branding strategist, Earth Harmony columnist and storyteller on a mission to write stories to promote creative people, grassroots, sustainability and underground happenings in our community while she pet/home sits and writes her personal stories, songs, poems, and nature essays.
Rider’s in the Country is located at 5701 Randleman Rd. in Randleman, 336.674.5111. Live music dates coming up: 10/6 Cumberland Drive, 10/13 Southbound 49, 10/27 Halloween Party with Fairwarning Band and 11/3 Karolina Rose. See Facebook for details.