Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Oldfield Opry

Video scenes: Banjo solo by Glen Dale Robertson;
Eddie Goins singing "This Ole House" with Kerre Thompson.
Ending photos: Denise St. Clair with Kerre Thompson;
Phil Baker as Willie Makeit; Jess Grimes.

Last week we tried something new, the Oldfield Opry. We’d known about it as an Ozarks mainstay of traditional music. We’d driven by it during fall color and spring blossom tours. Then, our friend Jane Toben invited us to go. And so we went.

The music

The Oldfield Opry Band struck up promptly at 7 and played a variety of country, folk, gospel and traditional Americana tunes. It was clear from the beginning that the players and the listeners were fully committed to the music, in a fun way. Shouts, whoops and hollers of encouragement spiced the performances, but no one went nuts. Carpet covering the walls assured best possible sound quality, and concrete floors provided a perfect surface for clogging. The stage, the room and the people cooperated to maintain a low-key, relaxed atmosphere.

The musicians on March 27 were:
Hank Thompson: lead guitar
Dave Thompson and Steve Beyers: rhythm guitar
Glen Dale Robertson: banjo
Eddie Goins: bass and MC
Jess Grimes: fiddle, pedal steel, dobro
Denise St. Clair and Kerre Thompson: voices
Other musicians who appear regularly include Dwight Armour, Tonya Gardner and Doyle Yoder, Goins said.

Each musician brought distinct talent to the group. Among the my memorable moments:
  • Robertson’s elegant banjo solos.
  • Grimes’ understated delivery of melodies on violin.
  • Beyers’ yodeling.
  • St. Clair and Thompson’s masterful harmonies.
After intermission, guests are welcome to play or sing with the band. Jane Toben sang, in a honeyed alto, "Don’t Forbid Me," a tune that was a hit for Pat Boone.

Assorted surprises

Phil Baker, performing as Willie Makeit, provided hillbilly stand-up heavily perfumed with bathroom references. He played a guitar constructed of plumbing and toilet materials. I love bathroom humor.

Storm: For a short time, a torrent of rain rumbled on the metal roof like unknown manufacturing machinery. Then, when a tune ended, the downpour kept thundering like berserk arena applause.

Cloggers: Throughout the evening, the Pride And Joy Cloggers filled the aisles with smartly chiming foot-strokes. For the closing tune, "Orange Blossom Special," a clogger who looked about 8, with "Cameryn" on the back of her Pride And Joy T-shirt, took a solo turn, down one aisle, across the space in front of the stage, and up the other, her heels and toes shuddering with jingling blasts against the concrete floor.

The cat aloft in a box

The open rafters of the building invite the eye to look up. Among the network of roof supports, a box with no bottom perched, a stuffed toy cat dangling from within. Eddie Goins said the inspiration for the cat in the box came from a song.

"Several years ago one of the band members started singing an old novelty song called ‘The Cat Came Back’," Goins wrote in an e-mail. "Someone got the idea of tying a cat on a string and dropping it down when he sang the line ‘the cat came back.’ " Goins said “The Cat Came Back” is one of their most requested songs.

There's room for about 200 people
in classic theater seats.

The food

Served by volunteers, the fare was simple and plentiful: hot dogs, cheesy dogs, chili dogs, nachos, popcorn and pie. No one needed to fear making a mess of a meal while sitting in one of the old theater seats. Dinner was served on a big plastic platter, big enough for a Thanksgiving turkey. I don’t know what kind of hot dogs they were, but mine was more softly plump and richly textured than any ballpark dog. Dinner for two — including chips, drink and pie — cost less than a single standard issue Major League Baseball wiener.

About the Oldfield Opry

The band is an established institution that dates back to 1977, according to the opry’s flier. The regular Saturday night performances are the band’s presentations, not jam sessions.

Location: The fork in the road at Missouri highways 125 and T.
Follow this link to a Google map.

Performances: Saturdays, 7-9:30 p.m. Donations encouraged.

Background: Local musicians Hank Thompson, Bill Gardner, Steve Beyers and Johnny Walker established the opry in 1977 at a vacant Oldfield store owned by Walker. Supporters launched a fundraising drive to build a new building across the road, where the opry moved in 1990. Source: the Oldfield Opry flier.

On the Web: Find the opry on Facebook.

Video: See two blog posts with video by Chris Brewer, a video reporter who worked briefly for the Springfield News-Leader. Unlike me, Chris is a professional videographer; I just shoot video for fun. I highly recommend his two blog posts:
The Oldfield Opry is a real Ozarks gem
My return to the Oldfield Opry

A note to my jazz friends

I’m sure you are asking what I see in the Oldfield Opry. The answer is: A community of like-minded people formed around the commonality of music. Same as in jazz, but without the chord substitutions. Surely you can accept this much. (As Louis Armstrong said, "If you have to ask, you’ll never know.")

I did find some elements that jazz shares. For example, the opry band has many interchangeable players, making for a slightly different lineup each night. This format is not unlike the Mingus Big Band in New York, which has a depth chart of three or four deep for each chair to account for the unpredictable schedules of the players.

Also, the Oldfield Opry Band has a theme song, similar in function to the "52nd Street Theme" that some jazz groups play to close their sets. The Oldfield song has lyrics, though. One verse goes like this:

Come on out to Oldfield on a Saturday night. You won’t see no drinkin’ and you won’t see no fights. Just good friends and neighbors; they’ll sure treat you right, at the Oldfield Opry on a Saturday night.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Urban vineyard update

Vines pruned. Buds ready to burst. Arriving on the scene today is an essential element: the sun.