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Craft

Veteran area country singer Eric Gordon, outside of hoop dress and Dolly Parton wig.

The man who is about to be seen in the monster hoop dress and Dolly-worthy wig was still waiting for his first dress rehearsal at mid-week.

Because of that, he still closely resembled himself as his fans know him: B-N-based country singer Eric Gordon, of Justin Case, Cattle Bandits and multiple-opry fame.

But come this weekend, Gordon will be a million country miles away from from his comfort zone.

That transition will come when he dons a very special kind of gay apparel: full-blown drag, all the better to essay the coveted "guest role" of the gender-challenged Mother Ginger in this year's Twin Cities Ballet production of "The Nutcracker" (2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday).

Moreover, he'll be doing it on the stage of a long-desired venue for his performing skills: Illinois State University's Braden Auditorium.

How did the man whose country career began 30 years at the then-rowdy Western Tap in Bloomington come to this ... looking like a cross between Dolly Parton after the estrogen treatments (he has facial hair) and "The Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman."

Blame/thank/canonize Jim Plath, a board member of Twin Cities Ballet/Twin Cities School of Dance, and a longtime colleague at Illinois Wesleyan University, where Gordon is mailroom coordinator and Plath the chair of the English Department.

"I'm afraid I kind of talked him into it by asking him," confesses Plath of the role that longtime "Nutcracker"-goers will recall traditionally has been essayed by a male member of the community (i.e., last year it was IWU provost Jonathan Green).

"How would you like to appear on the same stage that hosted such country performers as George Jones and the Oak Street Boys?" queried Plath.

"He sends me the longest email I've received in years," adds Gordon. "It just went ON and ON about how would I like to play on the same stage as all these people ... the Beach Boys, John Denver, James Taylor ..."

Of COURSE, Eric Gordon would like to play Braden! What self-respecting longtime local mainstay of the music scene wouldn't?

Then comes the rest of Plath's pitch: "I told him it wasn't to play guitar or sing. He'd have to trade in his cowboy hat for a wig and a woman's bonnet and wear a hoop skirt under which there are eight or nine children."

He adds: "I forget how the discussion went after that ..."

Famous for his sense of humor (Gordon's joke-riddle Facebook page was once assigned as a subject for Plath's students to analyze in terms of their comedic content), Gordon decided to go with the funny-flow.

"I'm 6-foot-2, pretty good-sized," he notes, which means there's plenty of elevation for the gigantic hoop skirt concealing a pack of Bon-Bon's and someone to operate the kind of skis-on-rollerblade wheels that elevate him a further three feet off the floor and are used to give him mobility among the wheel-free ballet dancers.

"I get the feeling than when pictures of this are posted on social media, I'll start getting it pretty good," Gordon realizes with a laugh.

"I'm a country music guy who does better with three chords," he admits of his freshman foray into the world of ballet and debut on the Braden stage.

"But the kids are so cute, all these little girls so full of energy they practically explode," says the man whose regular gig is with house bands at the PrimeTime Country Opry at Olympia High School in Stanford (Christmas show, 7 p.m. Dec. 9) and the Bellflower Country Opry in Bellflower Community Center in Bellflower (Christmas show, 7 p.m. Dec. 16).

Gordon's 30-year career hereabouts began with the band Justin Case in August 1987 "on a flatbed trailer outside of The Western Tap."  The band endured through 1995.

In 1996, he co-founded (with guitarist Doug Ross) one of the area's top country bands of the past 20 years, Cattle Bandits, then went solo in 2009. He formed the Bellflower Opry in 2010 with Merle and Marcia Shelton, then joined the PrimeTime Opry in 2014.

In 2012, he released a country-gospel album, "Sunday Morning Sun," which produced the single, "I Believe," a No. 1 hit on European country charts.

"I'm not sure if my acting skills in 'The Nutcracker' will lead to more acting opportunities ... but I'm taking all offers," he notes as he prepares to don Dolly wig and hoop skirt.

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com.

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