‘Cooter’s Last Stand’ expected to draw 20,000

Page News and Courier

LURAY ― Duke fandom will descend on the Valley this weekend when 20,000 visitors from almost every state and beyond convene in Page County for “Cooter's Last Stand.”

As of Monday, 17,300 tickets had been sold for the two-day event that celebrates the 1980s hit television show “The Dukes of Hazzard,” according to event organizer Alma Viator. With a final “push” in sales expected in the days leading up to the event, Viator said a count of 20,000 is likely between Saturday and Sunday.

Event-goers will head out from 42 states and 11 countries for what is being billed as the final installment in more than the decade-long “DukesFest” series. Previous events have been held in Bristol and Nashville, Tenn., as well as Rappahannock County, where Viator and her husband Ben “Cooter” Jones formerly operated “Cooter's Place,” before the attraction made the move to its new home on Route 211 near Luray last fall.

Events held in Rappahannock drew between 5,000 and 6,000, while those in Bristol drew between 8,000 and 12,000, said Viator. DukesFest hit an all-time attendance high in 2006, when “Hazzard Nation” drew more than 80,000 thanks to nationwide advertising and media sponsor CMT. In contrast, said Viator, the fanfare surrounding “Cooter's Last Stand” has been generated solely through social media, minus several advertisements through local news sources.

“The time was right to have one last DukesFest,” said Viator, adding that the last event was held in 2013.

Two years later in April 2015, continued Viator, James Best, who portrayed Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, died at the age of 88.

“It was Rosco's passing that really inspired Ben to have one more,” said Viator. “He said, 'We're all getting older and while we're still able to do it, let's do it one more time.”

Best's wife, Dorothy, will join cast members this weekend who will be on hand in designated tent areas to meet with fans and sign autographs for a fee. “Dukes of Hazzard” cast members John Schneider, Tom Wopat, Catherine Bach, Sonny Shroyer and Rick Hurst will then take the stage with “Cooter” at 5 p.m. each day. Hazzard “friends” Don Pedro Colley who portrayed Sheriff Little, stuntman Corey Eubanks and “ace car guys” the Smith Brothers will also be in attendance.

Perhaps the show's main star, the Dukes' orange 1969 Dodge Charger, dubbed the General Lee, will be prevalent throughout the weekend, with hundreds of vehicles on display during a General Lee and Hazzard County Car Show. Nearly 200 General Lees have registered, in addition to about 100 other Hazzard County cars.

Pint-size, Fisher-Price style versions of the iconic wheels will be on display in a children's area, with one winner taking home a mini General Lee. A monster truck General Lee from Pennsylvania is also expected at the event.

Other headliners include Hall of Famers “The Rock-N-Roll Express,” “Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant and “Progressive Liberal” Dan Richards. Civil War re-enactments, visits by the Mayberry Deputy, BMX bike stunts, a “Kids Fun Zone” and more than a dozen bands will also make up the festivities each day.

“The fans are what keep us going and what makes us want to do this,” said Viator.

It's those dedicated fans, Jones said in a note posted on his Facebook page, who have continued a love for the show and its characters for nearly four decades.

Miss Alma and I have come to think of 'Hazzard Nation' as an extended family of good hearted folks from all over America and the world who would have ‘fit right in’ back in Hazzard County,” Jones wrote. “ … The reason we are still watched and loved all over the planet is because of our fans, who have been on this ride right along with us.”

The gates open at 9 a.m. both days ― Saturday, July 29 and Sunday, July 30. Each day will culminate at 6 p.m. with the “Jump of the General Lee.”

“We've been in America's hearts for almost 40 years now,” Jones said in a July 23 news release. “We want our last festival to be a 'thank you' to the world's greatest fans.”

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