Country singer Billy Dean is set to perform at Willow Brook Barn in Colo this Saturday, following this year’s rendition of the Colo-NESCO Alumni Banquet.
According to venue owners Bob and Sharon Wilson, the beautified 8,000-plus square foot building has come a long way since its conception just years ago. In fact, the family’s original plan was to simply make the building an attractive auction house. “My husband has had an auction business for almost 40 years,” Sharon explained. “We just needed a new place. We had been on Main Street before. So, [Willow Brook] really started out as a new auction facility, and the kids kept telling us to make it bigger. We felt like we were in a good location, without too many other venues around. So, we thought we would take up that business, too, and have a wedding and events venue. That’s kind of how it got started.”
The Wilsons purchased the property in late 2018, and it wasn’t long before they had found multiple uses for the location. In 2019, even before the building’s interior was completely finished, the Wilson’s youngest daughter got married at Willow Brook. Then, in March of 2020, Bob’s aforementioned business, Wilson Auction Service, hosted its first auction at the new site. However, as became the theme with so many local 2020 business ventures, Covid-19 reared its ugly head.
“We had two weeks where we were open, and then with the governor’s 10-person order, it kind of shut us down until mid-June,” Sharon said. “We just really had to start it up again.”
The Wilsons stuck with their plan, though, knowing they had plenty of space to pull events off safely. “The auctions started coming back in June,” Bob stated. “Because of the size of the building, we were able to keep people spread out. We followed the guidelines and had no problems.”
“We had plexiglass up, stickers on the floors so people would know to spread out, and everyone wore masks,” Sharon continued. “We really got along well.”
As time wore on, the Wilsons realized that a steady demand of wedding requests was headed their way. The couple spent ample time and money making the inside of Willow Brook suitable for ceremonies of various sizes. “We knew we had some people interested in hosting weddings,” Bob voiced. “We made it with a rustic look. People can decorate, too.” Bob believes the facility is big enough to host to a wedding of 400 or more people, if ever that need was to develop.
All that being said, one big question still loomed: How did the idea of booking Billy Dean come about?
“It started out because of the Colo-NESCO alumni banquet that we’re having here this year,” Bob said. “We thought that maybe we could develop into something more. We started to look around for some local talent. We reached out to a really good local quartet, but they had broken up because of Covid. One of our daughters started looking around and realized that Billy Dean had that date available.”
“We were already looking for some entertainment for weekends where we didn’t have weddings or other events,” Sharon added. “Bob and I have been to see Billy Dean several times. Our daughters started looking at some Nashville entertainment. He happened to have a couple weekends open, and that was one of them. His wife is from Iowa, too, so I’m sure he comes back here often. He was thrilled to come back.”
The Wilsons raved about Dean’s personality on and off the stage, which they believe will be a big part of his evening in Colo. “The first time we saw him was at the Civic Center with Kenny Rogers,” Sharon said. “He is very personable and very friendly. He really likes interacting with the crowd, which I found really nice. He likes to talk about his songs, introduce them, and talk about how they came about. Afterwards he will usually hang around, talk to people, and take pictures. And you can just sit there and visit with him. So, that’s kind of unusual. A lot of people come out, perform, and then they’re gone.”
Saturday’s acoustic performance will actually mark the fifth time the Wilsons have seen Dean in person. They swear neither Dean, his storytelling, nor his music ever disappoints. “He also went to Java Joe’s [CoffeeHouse] in Des Moines, and we went to see him there twice,” Sharon remarked. “He even came to the old Camelot theater in Nevada, and we were able to eat dinner with him at Bailey’s Pizza in State Center.”
With Colo-NESCO unable to hold its annual Alumni Banquet last year due to the pandemic, the Wilsons are hopeful that everyone who attends will remember this year’s reunion, and the Billy Dean show to follow, as one memorable occasion. To ensure everyone in attendance has a good view of Dean’s performance, the stage is expected to be set up in a central area of the main hall. “There won’t be a bad seat in the place,” Bob concluded.
The activities at Willow Brook Barn this Saturday will begin with a Happy Hour from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. It will be followed by the annual Colo-NESCO Alumni Banquet (invite only) from 5:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Doors will then open to the public at 7:00 p.m., with Dean expected to begin performing at 7:30 p.m.
Willow Brook Barn is located at 408 Progress Drive in Colo. Billy Dean tickets can be purchased at the door Saturday or in advance by visiting www.eventbrite.com. General admission tickets are $30.
POST-EVENT UPDATE: Watch our complete video recap of Billy Dean’s appearance at Willow Brook Barn below or on our YouTube channel.