stage / backstage
Saturday night the Hillbilly Show happened in Sparta, the 19th annual. Large, responsive audience and the show was indeed entertaining. The picture above is my view of the Hillbilly Show. I pull the rope that opens and closes the curtain. I see stage and backstage at the same time. I can't participate in moving mics around and setting up props, because I have to be alert for Dotty to signal open or close the curtain. I take a moment to make a photograph of somebody backstage or onstage and before I can get the camera out of my hand I'm told to close the curtains, so I have to hold the camera strap with my teeth while I pull the rope. That happened several times. Not being a master camera operator, I made video of Agnes Joines singing on stage. The camera picked up the beginning when she first spoke on stage, then skipped to her turning and leaving the stage. Frustrating.
The show was fun like always. This time Gary and Bobbi Parlier danced a Beauty and the Beast costume waltz. They put together props and outfits that are quite a production. Gary made a "castle" out of some cardboard and painted it like made of stone. The castle had a fog machine. Gary put on a mask-wig that was the beast face. I couldn't tell if Bobbi made it or if they found it somewhere. It was the same with her dress, 19th Century deep South Suthun. Beautiful. I wondered if she'd made it or found it somewhere. They are a couple who likes to dance. They dance well together. Before Gary went out as the Beast, he huddled behind the castle walls filling his black cape with smoke from the fog blower. When he stepped out onto the stage, the fog billowed and seeped from his cape and followed him when he walked away from the castle. Every year they perform a dance of some sort and dress up for it. They spent the entire skit dancing. No telling a story in words. The dance itself told the story. He throws off the wig-mask and it's Prince Charming in a silver crown. And they lived happily everafter. In Cocteau's film, they ascended to the clouds.
Henry Thorne was dressed up in a suit and looked alert, no more hobbling. Agnes was dolled up in a red belly-dancer's dress with beads all over it that shimmied when she moved. Hillbilly Wes, who works at the middle booth in the post office, makes a good MC for the show. He engages the audience directly and personally. If you're in the audience, you feel like he's talking personally to you. He's good at slapstick and spontaneous comedy. His personality is inclusive of all around him. He takes you in and includes you in his attention, that's with everyone around him. He is not shy of other people. He told me a few years ago that since his divorce with his first wife, who he said with the humor of exaggeration was related to half the people in the county, in the post office he figures half the people he sees in the course of a day hate his guts. It's like the time I was told once by someone I didn't know, "Everybody loves you!" That was middle-class approve-of-me exaggeration, but it sets off alarm buzzers. I said, "No they don't. I can make you a list of exceptions, a long list. You just don't know the right people. The right people despise me." Wes is what we call in the mountains a catbird, somebody who is fun, cuts up, pulls pranks, makes funny remarks. He doesn't know it, but he's an asset to the county. Agnes Joines, too, is a catbird, and an asset to the county.
Cheri Choate sang two Dotty West songs quite beautifully. To my personal ear, I preferred the Emmy Lou Harris song she sang Friday night. But only by a little bit. She told the story of Dotty West's life and death in brief and sang the songs. I took an empty seat in the first row to make video of her performance. I did that video poorly too. The first song took good all the way through. The second song quit making video after about half a minute and finished it out with about 50 still pictures. It was not the camera. It was me. I haven't used it in several weeks. It was just as well for the second song, because in the middle of it a wire in the sound system did its thing. David Nichols said it burned out a wire. A shrill, loud screech went on for several seconds, went away and came back for several more seconds. George Sheets, sound man, got it under control. If I'd been backstage where I was the night before I'd have heard the singing better. It probably would have been a better place to make video from. The two guitars and bass made some good music.
George Sheets sang his tear-jerker song about the farmer in the Depression. It's a song with a powerful story of a man who works all his life for something and ends up with nothing. That's becoming more and more the American story. His second song was another good American story, Okie From Muskogee. It's a place where they get high drinking liquor instead of smoking pot, and the boys don't have long hair and this and that and the other. It was a country hit in the time when boys with long hair were from the city and boys in the country still got haircuts. A few years later, country boys were growing long hair and smoking pot. Now they're doing crystal meth and crack. The Okie from Muskogee story didn't last long. It took about as long as it took country girls to quit wearing pointed toe spike heels several years after city women quit wearing them. Ten years after city boys were smoking pot, having long hair and listening to metal rock, country boys had long hair, smoked pot and listened to REO Speedwagon, Ted Nugent and such. City boys eventually started having shorter hair; the country boys were the only ones with long hair for about ten years. By now in both city and country, hair length on a guy is individually optional. Tattoos are not optional in city or country. They're mandatory of a certain age group.
Maybe ten minutes before the show was to start, I was talking with Agnes. She expressed her fear with a long, sorrowful face of the whole show being a flop. "I'm afraid it's not going to work." I said,"It's going to work. It always works." She gets wound up into a state of anxiety as the director who orchestrates the whole show. Every year she falls into a state of fear that it is going to flop, everybody will walk out and demand their money back. It never works out that way. At the end of every show she is ecstatic that it worked, as high in spirit at the end as she was low in spirit at the beginning. Ernest, he just laughs, everything's going to be all right. And it was. At the end everybody involved, stage and backstage, were required to go out on the stage and bow to the audience. Nobody threw tomatoes or rotten eggs at us. No boos. Just a big roar of clapping. It worked.