SALISBURY — For the past few weeks, Melissa Utley has been struggling to keep a secret.
Now that several hundred thousand people know what she’s doing, she can breathe out and enjoy the moment.
Just after midnight on Friday morning, country music star and North Carolina native Luke Combs released the video to accompany his new song “The Kind of Love We Make.” The single is taken from Combs’ upcoming album “Growin’ Up”, which is slated for release later this month.
In the background of a few picture frames is an unmistakable landmark for anyone who calls Salisbury home – the blue ice cream cone-shaped sign and red-striped awning of the Dairy Queen at 1004 W. Innes St.
The shop, which has been delighting customers of all ages with “iced milk” for more than seven decades, is where the couple at the center of the song’s story seemingly fall in love, each with an ice cream cone to the hand. The pair were played by actors, and Utley doesn’t believe Combs himself visited the Dairy Queen for the shoot.
The Dairy Queen served its first frozen treats in 1950 and was originally operated by entrepreneurs Gerald Grumbly and Robert Widerman of West Palm Beach, Florida. Robert Utley, Melissa’s husband, bought the store with his partner, Bill Link, in 1981. Melissa took on management responsibilities a decade later and it’s been in her care ever since.
The store was once a seasonal operation, but Melissa and her brother Derek Porter, who helps with day-to-day operations, keep it open year-round.
“We’re open 362 days a year,” Melissa said. “We open in the morning and we stay open until late at night. It’s a lot. It has been our life.
Boasting a nostalgic facade that brings back memories of days gone by, it has been photographed countless times over the years. But Melissa said it hasn’t made it into a major music video until now.
A Charlotte-based production company approached Utley about using the site as a filming location about three months ago. They wouldn’t tell him much more than that – only that the store, with windows that draw long lines in the summer, would be an ideal setting.
“They said they knew they wanted an early ’80s setting with a freestanding ice cream shop that looked quite unique,” Utley said. “They came to us and thought it would be a perfect fit.”
Most of the video was shot in a small town outside of Nashville, not far from Combs’ current home, according to a Tennessean report.
The scene at the Dairy Queen appears to have been shot at dusk, but was actually filmed closer to sunrise. Utley and Porter actually arrived at the store around 6 a.m. for the shoot. Filming early ensured the video wouldn’t disrupt the store’s regular opening hours or attract too much attention.
Still, a few people noticed the filming gear and asked questions. Utley gave nothing.
“I kept a good secret,” Utley said.
Utley and Porter’s duties during filming were to “stay away and make ice cream cones,” Utley said.
Utley only saw the clip on Friday morning when she woke up to find her phone flooded with text messages from her daughter who stayed up until midnight to watch it as soon as it came out. Messages and calls from other friends and family started pouring in as the morning progressed.
Utley has always loved country music, but did not consider herself a country music fan.
“I am now,” she said. “And I love that song.”
The song and music video tell the story of a young couple bonded by a house fire. The story hits close to home for Utley, who said her parents “had a love affair like in the video.” Utley’s father, Darryl, and mother, Rachel, were married for 61 years before Darryl died shortly after the video was filmed.
“I know he would have been so excited to see it,” she said.
By Friday afternoon, the video had already surpassed 220,000 views on YouTube.
Utley is “so thrilled and so honored to be a part of it”.