Rolling Stones to swing through new Thunder Ridge Nature Arena in the Ozarks

The Rolling Stones and the Ozarks don't seem like the most natural pairing. But nature itself, and of all things fishing, have brought them together.

The Stones announced Thursday that they will end their summer Hackney Diamonds Tour on July 21 at Thunder Ridge Nature Arena, a brand new monument to mountain beauty in Missouri built by Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO Johnny Morris.

The Missouri native hopes that Thunder Ridge, which opens with a Morgan Wallen concert Saturday — will be a name heard alongside Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre in Colorado and The Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington state when people talk about the nation's most beautiful music venues.

“I just I really love my home here in the Ozarks,” Morris told The Associated Press in an interview. “I’m happy to share it with the world.”

For him, the site is as personal as it is pristine. Since he was a boy, with his father and grandfather, he fished the White River and Table Rock Reservoir — both visible from the venue's seats — in the deep-green Boston Mountains section of the Ozarks that surrounds it.

Morris entered the first national bass-fishing tournament — full of future fishing legends — on the reservoir in 1970, and the competitors' hard-to-get lures convinced him to start selling tackle to fishermen on the way there out of his father's liquor store in the early years of what would become Bass Pro Shops.

The 18,000-capacity arena in Ridgedale about 10 miles from Branson is downright tiny compared to the 80,000-plus-seat MetLife Stadium where the Stones will play Thursday night.

Mick, Keith and their crew coming to these mountains also had its origins in fishing. About a decade ago, Morris took his friend Chuck Leavell, a former member of the Allman Brothers Band who has been the Rolling Stones’ primary touring keyboardist and musical director since the early 1980s, on a fishing trip to Canada.

“We were on this pristine little stream, he hooks on this big fish, he said, ‘John this is like the happiest day of my life. If you ever need a favor, you let me know," Morris remembered with a laugh. "A couple years ago we were working on this, and I said, ’Chuck remember that day you asked if there was anything you could do for me? How about you get the Rolling Stones to Ridgedale, Missouri?”

Morris has for years dreamed of putting a venue on the site. Many musical acts have played in more makeshift set-ups for summer camps and fishing tournaments. Garth Brooks played to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Morris' stores.

“It just inspired me to see if we could expand this facility,” he said, "just to share the beauty of the Ozarks.

The site won't necessarily require roughing it. Its 12-story “Nature Tower” — designed to look like the old fire-watching towers in national parks — rises over the back of the venue. The amenities in the VIP suites inside it include bedrooms. Morris later plans to have it re-dubbed the “Veterans Tower” to honor, among others, his father who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

He takes the “Nature” part of the name seriously. Morris and those promoting the site say its structures were designed to blend and peacefully co-exist with their environment, and along with 1,200 acres of surrounding land they have been permanently set-aside as part of a not-for-profit foundation committed to the cause of conservation, to which all the proceeds will also go.

“Hopefully, it’ll be undisturbed,” Morris said. “You won’t come there in the future and see condos or nothin’. Only beautiful nature.”

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