Crantford Samples, 82: Co-founded Lanierland Music Park
By J.E. Geshwiler
Crant Samples didn’t sing or play an instrument, but he surely loved country music and always had it playing from the radio in his pickup truck.
His daughter, Marla Gazaway of Dawsonville, recalled that during her childhood he and her mother often took her and her brother to Hiawassee Mountain Fairs, where they all enjoyed watching the fiddling and clogging competition.
“That experience,” she said, “got him to thinking: Why couldn’t he create a North Georgia venue for country music?”
So it was that in 1970 he and M.L. “Shorty” Hamby, both Forsyth County natives, set out to establish Lanierland Music Park on a section of Samples’ 100-plus-acre farm in Cumming.
It was a modest beginning, with a large circus tent covering a wooden stage and metal seats for 1,800 spectators on a pasture field spread with sawdust. There was nothing minor-league, though, about the performers that Samples and Hamby brought to Lanierland.
Tommy Hamby of Cumming said his father and Samples paid an unannounced call on a Nashville, Tenn., talent agent and managed to book Hank Williams Jr., Dolly Parton and Porter Waggoner for Lanierland’s very first season. And they continued attracting country music stars of that magnitude thereafter.
Brenda Jones and her husband, Leon Jones, both of Cumming, became partners of Samples and Hamby a year later, She said the two co-founders deserve a lot of credit for getting Lanierland off to a solid start with their hard work and initiative that first year.
Crantford Ervin Samples, 82, of Cumming died Wednesday at Embracing Hospice of kidney failure. His funeral is 2 p.m. Sunday at Cross Roads Baptist Church, Cumming. SouthCare Cremation & Funeral Society in Alpharetta and Ingram Funeral Home in Cumming are in charge of arrangements.
In Lanierland’s early years, celebrities often stopped at the Samples home to relax and snack before performing, “just like ordinary people,” his daughter said. Members of the band Alabama were especially fond of sandwiches made with tomatoes from her father’s garden, she added.
Year by year, Lanierland Music Park’s stage and seating area were expanded into an amphitheater covered with a metal roof and seating for more than 4,000. Its “Concerts in the Country” were scheduled every Saturday and some Fridays from May through October.
In addition to having a hand in managing the music park, Samples was kind of a groundskeeper. He was fussy about appearances, his daughter said, and conscientiously picked up trash after concerts and regularly steered a riding mower over the pasture area used for spectator parking.
A dozen years after co-founding the music park, Samples withdrew from its management but continued to lease a portion of his property to partners who kept it going. In 2006 the owners shut down the music park after 36 years of down-home entertainment.
Samples enjoyed working outdoors, his daughter said. He raised cattle and chickens for meat packers and grew vegetables for home consumption. He built chicken houses for other farmers and even sewed and installed curtains for chicken house interiors. With his front-end loader, he did a lot of grading at the home sites developed during the 1960s-1970s property boom along the shores of Lake Lanier.
His wife of 62 years, Kathleen Samples, died in 2010. Survivors aside from his daughter include a son, Randy Samples of Cumming; a sister, Thelma Glover of Charleston, S.C.; a brother, Harold Samples of Cumming; and four grandchildren.
In the chaotic Fulton County court system, Judge Jerry Baxter’s impatience can be a virtue.From his Superior Court bench, he often views a courtroom packed with defendants charged with anything from murder to mayhem.