On Stage and Screen

June 2015
Written By: 
Sara Sobota
Master entertainer Greg Rowles on big dreams and the power of a smile

He’s a part of the collective unconscious of the Grand Strand:  the archetype of a true entertainer. Perhaps you’ve seen him emcee Alabama Theatre’s ONE: The Show. Maybe you’ve caught him hosting Fox’s Not the News, anchoring the network’s midday news program or leading musical worship at Waterbrook Community Church in Longs. However you have encountered Greg Rowles, there’s no doubt he was sharing his trademark smile and working his hardest to make sure you were having a good time.

As Rowles details the routine of his days, a listener begins to feel fatigued.  He rises at 5:45 a.m. in time, together with his wife, Brandee, to transport his two sons—Grayson, 16, and Ashton, 15—to high school (daughter Courtney, 19, is a sophomore at Coastal Carolina University). Five days a week, Rowles fits in both a live show and a taped broadcast at WFXB-Fox News before going home to work on music for his position as music pastor at his church. Then he heads to the theater at 6 p.m. for pre-show preparation, “and that’s my office for the next 4–5 hours,” Rowles explains. As he’s leaving the theater each night, his program Not the News is just beginning on the Fox network, cementing the public impression that Rowles is everywhere.

Rowles’ tenure as emcee at The Alabama Theatre spans 15 years, but the musical talent that got him here was evolving long before. Entertainment is a Rowles family tradition; he was a member of the “Nashville Connection” from the age of 13, when he played his first professional gigs with his father, mother and brother in and around his hometown of Fredericksburg, Virginia. “I was trained in the school of honky tonk,” Rowles quips. “We played the animal circuit: the Moose lodge, the Elks lodge and the Eagles lodge.”  

In not one but a series of big breaks, Rowles landed a job with the former Opryland in Nashville in 1992. From there he competed in and won Ed McMahon’s Star Search in 1994. He was still touring with Star Search when he got the call from Jean Whittaker, former choreographer at Opryland and current choreographer and staging director for The Alabama Theatre, offering him a job.

A dynamic communicator even in one-on-one interaction, Rowles moves around his office at the theater, picking up a photograph or taking his guitar off the wall as he shares his perspective on the entertainment industry. “My dad was my hero,” he explains. “He taught me about life; he taught me about entertaining. When I was little, I’d sit in front of the mirror and think about my dad singing Hank Sr., and I’d try to mimic him…” Rowles shares as he breaks into the first verse of Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart.” Rowles goes on: “I’d dream of the Grand Ole Opry,” where he ended up performing several times. “Mom and Dad never said ‘you can’t do it.’ They said, ‘Dream. Dream big.’”  

“Now, I’ve become the elder statesman,” Rowles continues. “I find myself in a role where young entertainers come into the theater asking me questions, and I’m giving them advice my dad gave me. It’s very humbling.”

Regardless of the context or medium—on stage, in front of the camera or before a congregation—Rowles believes entertaining is about enjoying the task at hand and conveying that enjoyment to the audience. “The biggest marketing tool that God will ever give you is your smile,” Rowles states. “You’ll get through doors with that smile. Education is very important, talent is important … but we tend to underestimate the power we have just by greeting someone.”

Whittaker and her husband, Bob, retired general manager for the Grand Ole Opry, heard that message loud and clear way back in 1992 when Rowles auditioned for the position at Opryland. “He had such talent and charisma that we hired him on the spot,” Jean states. Bob continues, “Greg has more than just a vocal connection with the audience. It feels like he’s making eye contact with every seat in that theater. No matter what he’s doing—introductions, emcee, singing—he’s connecting to the audience visually; that smile is just a magnet—people just focus in on it.”

Rigby Wilson, vice president and general manager of WFXB-Fox TV, echoes this sentiment. “Greg’s got a genuineness that shows through over the air, an immediate comfortableness with being on camera that you cannot teach people,” Wilson says. “People think, ‘Here’s somebody that I’d love to have in my living room and just chat with him.’ That’s what a successful television personality does—he’s not just approachable, but someone you’d be inviting into your home. We and the whole community are beneficiaries of that talent.”

And so, when younger cast members come to him for advice, Rowles passes on his father’s words: “Dream big. And never turn down a gig.”