With its tower overlooking the intersection of Santa Fe Avenue and Walnut Street, the Stiefel Theatre is an iconic and well-known building in downtown Salina, but after its fame has been known outside of the city, something it is being recognized for by a major music academy.
On April 13, the Stiefel was announced as one of the nominees for Theater of the Year at the 58th Academy of Country Music Awards, with the winner announced during a ceremony at 7 p.m. May 11 in Frisco, Texas and airing live on Amazon Prime Video.
Jane Gates, executive director of the theater, said she found out about the nomination after receiving a call Thursday from a friend in Nashville, Tennessee.
"He just goes, 'Jane congratulations,'" Gates said.
With various shows and events happening practically every week at the theater, Gates said she gets so busy and exhausted that she thought her friend was joking or pulling a prank at first.
An appreciation for everyone that made this happen
Gates said with her job she knows a lot of people in Nashville and in the country music industry that she believes helped get the theater to this point, but she thinks it's the people here locally that make the theater stand out in the industry.
"I know that people really like coming here and playing the Stiefel, we just have a really good staff that...takes care of people, is competent," Gates said. "There's so many different little nuances to running a theater and taking care of people."
She said in recent years, the theater has been fortunate to book bigger and better acts and has been able to thrive in the aftermath of COVID and all of this has led to this nomination.
"There's just an industry recognition right now (of our success)," Gates said.
Gates recognizes that the Stiefel is facing some tough competition in this category, with fellow nominees being the Crystal Grand Music Theater in Lake Delton, Wisconsin, the Florida Theatre in Jacksonville, the Orpheum Theater in Omaha, Nebraska and the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville.
"As far as I'm concerned, to be nominated and make the top five, is a win," Gates said.
Something that Gates thinks makes the Stiefel stand out, and possibly gave it some of the momentum for this nomination, is the audiences that show up to see artists perform.
"The audiences here are really warm and the artists really pick up on that," Gates said.
In an industry that is fairly tight-knit and connected, it's great to be known as a place that will be welcoming and exciting.
"(Acts) that come in for the shows know all about your theater and have talked to other people that have played here," Gates said.
Excited to expand the Stiefel, and Salina brand
Gates said she is hopeful that this nomination and the recognition it brings will be a boost for the theater and the community.
"At least 70% of our tickets are sold regionally, so the more we can get on people's radar and they understand that this is a really good theater and a really good place to see a show, I feel like the better," Gates said.
She said there is hope this nomination can also bring more attention to those outside the region, whether fans or artists, about the benefit of having shows in Salina.
"It doesn't matter that Salina is smaller than Kansas City is," Gates said. "We're right where I-135 and I-70 meet, so we're a great place for bands."
Finally, Gates said one of the things that makes this nomination special is the fact that the Stiefel is one of the remaining independent venues left in the industry.
"We rely on donations, we rely on Friends (of the Stiefel Theatre) memberships, we rely on corporate sponsorships to keep our doors open," Gates said.
She said the biggest supporters of the theater are those that come to see these shows.
"Nothing could happen here without those ticket buyers," Gates said.
Gates said this nomination is for these patrons too.
"This should be very affirming to people, that (their) theater is a big deal and it's being recognized by the industry," Gates said. "We should all be very proud."
Tickets for Stiefel shows available now
For more information about the Stiefel Theatre, including purchasing tickets for upcoming shows such as The Wood Brothers, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Three Dog Night, Chicago, Melissa Etheridge, Jeff Tweedy, Ben Folds, Nickel Creek and more, visit www.stiefeltheatre.org.
This article originally appeared on Salina Journal: Stiefel Theatre nominated for Academy of Country Music Award