The Dennis Lee Band gains smiles through humor, music at Manatee County Fair

MANATEE -- Entertainer Dennis Lee describes himself as a mixture of comedians Robin Williams and Red Skelton, rock 'n' roll legend Elvis Presley and preacher the Rev. Billy Graham.

That's quite a range, but Manatee County Fair-goers who catch the Dennis Lee Band in action during the remaining week of the festivities on a stage near the Firkins Auto Display at the front entrance, might be inclined to agree.

Lee performed such gospel songs Sunday as "How Great Thou Art." He honored his Memphis roots with Elvis' "Don't Be Cruel," Joe Cocker's "Unchain My Heart" and Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire." He showed his love of country with Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA."

The 49-year-old Lee wore a shirt with orange and yellow flowers on it Sunday along with tangerine-color dress shorts and blue sneakers. He said he always always dresses in happy colors,

"I once saw him in a suit and tie and didn't recognize him," said Betty Wilkes, one of a group of fans who traveled to see him perform Sunday.

There is also plenty of family humor at a Lee concert.

Lee noticed fair employee Sam Dodson in the audience and yelled, "Will Sam's wife raise her hand?" to which Pat Dodson obliged. Then Lee said, "Will Sam's girlfriend sitting across from his wife raise her hand?" Betty Brooks, who is really Pat Dodson's lifelong friend, went along with the joke and raised her hand.

"I don't know how you do it Sam!" Lee yelled out as everyone laughed.

Lee has been an entertainer for 33 years, although he's never had a hit on the radio. He travels all over the United States and Canada performing his music and comedy at fairs and festivals.

During the next three months, he will perform 120 shows in eight Florida cities, including the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City.

His band includes pianist Dave Schliesmann of Atlanta, drummer Dave Hughes of Tampa, lead guitarist Stan Bozek of Nashville and fiddle player Renee Riddle of Lakeland.

"I'm trying hard not to be famous," Lee said with a laugh after one of his three shows Sunday. 'I just love making people laugh and enjoying myself. How can you beat a day like this? Look what the Lord has given us -- this beautiful fairgrounds. I don't need to be famous to be happy."

Lee's grateful attitude toward life and fun-loving ways have attracted fans who catch many of his shows.

Vero Beach's Wilkes and Plant City's Keith and Glynis Crowe and their son, Cameron, were all in the audience Sunday.

"I just love everything he does," said Wilkes, who works for the Florida Department of Revenue and schedules her vacations around Lee's shows. "I've seen more than 1,000 Dennis Lee shows."

Lee will sometimes involve the Crowe and Wilkes families in his routine, just to get the crowd going.

"I'm a working man's performer," said Lee, who is based in Clearwater. "Some of my jokes are regulars, but some I just make up on the spot."

Pat Dodson enjoyed the show.

"You can tell he is a spiritual man," Dodson said. "Everything he does is family oriented. That comes through."

The Dennis Lee Band will perform four times during the day Monday.

Parrish boy wins tractor pull

Parrish 4-year-old Wes Rolfe is so strong that his mother, Dana, has to brace herself when she picks him up from school because his hugs are so powerful.

"I think it's because he wants to keep up with his sisters, Ella and Natalie," Dana Rolfe said.

On Sunday, little Wes set a Manatee County Fair record when he pulled 200 pounds 24 feet during the Kid's Tractor Pull.

Wes won the 1 p.m. competition over a field of 17.

"He had three bowls of Captain Crunch this morning," his mother said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.