bill and sonya joines
Friday night was Hillbilly Show practice night at the school auditorium. Bill and Sonya are the hosts as they have been for so many years I don't have the exact count. It's something like 15 or 16 years they've been the ones onstage in the rocking chairs talking between acts. I stay backstage and pull the ropes that work the curtains. I can see what's happening on the stage, what's going on backstage, and the audience. I have to pay close attention to Dottie the stage manager. She signals me for opening and closing. Inevitably, every show, somebody tells me with authority, "Close the curtains." I start them closing and Dottie gets frantic signing me to open them. I'm learning to pay attention only to Dottie for those instructions. It's a good time with everybody going through their performance, getting the sound right with George Sheets who operates the sound system very well. I like it because I get to see people I like to see but don't see very often.
Tonight it was Henry Thorne, 4th grade teacher to about everyone in the county, retired, appearing to play piano for the Red Hat Dancers. I saw Henry hobbling like an old man, and we're the same age. I said, "Are you all right, Henry?" He said he was. I said, "You're hobbling like an old man." He said, "I don't like getting old." He turned his right ear to me when I spoke. Evidently the other ear doesn't function. We talked about forgetfulness and people we know much older than us who have minds far clearer than ours. We talked about how wonderful heaven must be. Both of us have so many we cared about on the other side, we agreed we look forward to being with them again. Neither one of us expressed any desire to get really old, certainly not unto feeble. And we agreed neither of us is anxious to leave our friends here. We're in a kind of middle place, maybe something of a bridge. I had the impression it was Henry's first old-time music experience. After hearing Charlie Edwards play guitar and sing, Ernest Joines playing banjo and Gary Joines playing guitar, Henry said to me of Charlie, "Where did he learn to sing like that? He sounds like he went to school." I said he's a country boy who took it up, adding he played with a bluegrass band in Maryland when he worked in a factory there. Henry did not know mountain boys could make music so incredibly well. It kinda blew his mind.
The feature of the show for me was Cheri Choate singing an Emmy Lou Harris song, an extraordinarily beautiful song, and Cheri sang it right, not imitating Emmy Lou, but in her own style that sounds like she has many hours of stage experience. She said she hasn't played much on a stage, but from what I saw and heard, she has what it takes. She's doesn't back down from a great challenge, like singing an Emmy Lou Harris song and making it her own. I'd met her a few times before and knew she was involved in country music and songwriting. Seeing that she was to sing two Dotty West songs for the Saturday night show, I figured she'd be awfully good, but didn't dare expect what I heard. The only word I could come up with hearing her was that it was NICE, two syllables Southern style with enthusiasm. I include the delicacy that goes with the word nice. Nice like a lace wedding gown. Nice like Art Wooten's fiddle. Nice like Scott Freeman's mandolin. Grace is what it is I mean by nice. Cheri's grace singing is what I connected with. I noticed her small silver dragonfly earrings had the same grace she has in her singing. I took it the grace comes from within. Her singing put me into full appreciation.
I don't mean to leave off Bill Joines picking lead guitar with her. Bill did some almighty pickin. He's one of the better guitar pickers we have in the county. I won't call him the best, because if I did, he would tell me there's a dozen better. Not from false humility, but he'd mean what he was saying. Bill has played a lot of bluegrass onstage over his adult life. His dad, Paul Joines, picked guitar and sang too. Paul picked rhythm guitar with the Little River Boys in the 1950s, Cleve Andrews fiddle, Jr Maxwell banjo and Estal Bedsaul guitar. They never recorded, but they could pick some bluegrass music. Every one of them was an excellent musician. I painted the band about 5 years ago and it gave me satisfaction when Bill saw how I'd rendered his dad, Paul. Bill looked at it like he was seeing Paul again. The painting is in the county with John and Deborah Sherrill. Even better, it is in Whitehead. I didn't want that one to leave the county. Didn't want it to leave Whitehead, but thought that a little too restrictive to ask. Bill was a good friend with Jr Maxwell, too. Junior was my connection with Bill. Bill's present band is Alleghany Moon, an interesting band with its own sound. Bill's wife, Sonya was a dj at WCOK for several years, and she co-MCs the Sparta fiddlers convention with Harold Mitchell. Their daughter Taras is playing bass with Bill and Cheri in their performance.
Agnes Joines sang a song that got everybody going. Agnes is one of my favorite people in this world. She's somebody who can get in your face and let you have it and ten minutes later she's back to like there was never a problem. She's about the best I know of anybody who can get over something in almost the blink of an eye. I don't mean to say she doesn't sometimes struggle with it, but she gets there. Agnes is up and ready to go, to git-er-done. She makes everything she's involved in fun. You want something done, get Agnes to do it. It will get done. And done right. She's light-hearted and she's serious as it's called for. When it comes to getting down to business, Agnes is there. She's what I call real people. Ernest too. I'll never forget the time I heard Agnes, exasperated with Ernest, say, "I wish you'd get your head out of that music!" I thought: No you don't. Ernest only thinks music. Only. That's a big part of what she loves about him. Ernest without Agnes to keep his spring wound up would have a hard time getting by, because music is the only thing on his mind. When music is the only thing in your mind, you're not fit for much else. It's the music in Ernest that makes him who he is, the Ernest that everybody who knows him loves. Everything else passes him by. Ernest's art for the Hillbilly Show is picking a tenor banjo with a piano where they play as the the Dixie Dew Drops. Ernest made it work. It was beautiful. This is the performance that caused Henry Thorne to ask if they went to school to learn to play like that. Ernest played football in school.