Sunday, June 24, 2012

PurpleHull Pea Festival Is Never The Shell Of Its Former Self

(From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR)

One look at the calendar says it all. Final weekend in June looms. Must be time to pea.

From humble south Arkansas roots, the PurpleHull Pea Festival, arguably the biggest annual festival in Emerson, Ark., is past drinking age now and just keeps getting bigger and better. Good thing because as you’re aware, in the vegetable festival game, you either keep her in high gear all the time or you die on the vine.

Eat, or be eaten.

You know about the PurpleHull Pea Festival and its biggest event – the 200 World Championship Rotary Tiller Race -- because we’ve written about it since 1990 when the Father of the Festival, the since departed Glen Eades of Emerson, looked around and said, “We’re so boring, we don’t even have a cop.”

The seed was planted. An annual happy harvest is the blessed result.

On June 29 and 30 in downtown Emerson and greater Emerson proper, this town of 368 will swell to at least twice that, sort of like people’s bellies. You do not have to know the difference between a black-eyed and a purplehull to attend. You have to know only how to get to Emerson, hard on Hwy. 79 and a tiny piece from Haynesville or, if you are coming in from the north and need a bigger city to gauge distance from, 30ish miles from Mt. Holly.

At, you will find all your informational needs concerning the Peas & Cornbread Cookoff (also reci-peas), the Shelling Competition, the new 2012 Pea-Shirts, the Pea Pageant, the Saturday early afternoon parade, the dance, talent show and arts & crafts fair, the Tiller Girls (“Tiller Personality” is a must), as well as the biggie, The Tiller Thriller, the crown jewel competition during tiller racing season, which is approximately one day long.

A small-town festival with global intentions, the festival even has a facebook page,

Just sayin’.

Oh, it’s huge. The tiller race itself, when grown men and women latch on to souped-up tillers and hang on for dear life and tiller glory down a 200-foot stretch of specially prepared track, has been covered by everything from your network morning news shows to ESPN to “USA Today” to, of course, us.  

Why was I the first outside of Greater Emerson to write about it? Well, I am a pea picker, sheller and eater from way back, my own mother having introduced me as a tot to this particular garden delicacy in Dillon County, S.C., where purplehulls were cheap and easy. When festival Pea-R guy Bill Dailey called me to make his pitch way back in the salad days of 1990, my pea mania was such that I almost pulled a muscle hitting the computer’s “On” key. This year, Lord willing, I finally get to attend the actual festival proper.

I’m all keyed up.

Not to say the festival is perfect. An unfortunate byproduct of the June date has been that too many people were scheduling weddings on Festival Day. Seriously?!

“That always puts the friends and family in a quandary,” Dailey said. “And you hate that they're in that position. What do they do? Attend the wedding, or the PurpleHull Pea Festival & World Championship Rotary Tiller Race? It has to be torment.”

Cooler heads prevailed in 2009 when friends and family were able to do both: a couple was married by the race track.

“And they’re still together,” Dailey said. “Sharing their peas.”

Monday, June 18, 2012

Why 'Prairie Home' Is Better Than Sweet Corn

(Reprinted from Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR)

“It was not amazing to learn in eighth-grade science that corn is sexual, each plant containing both genders, male tassels and female flower, propagating in our garden after dark. Sweet corn is so delicious, what could have produced it except sex?...A quick prayer, a little butter and salt, and that is as good as it gets.”
--  Garrison Keillor, from “Leaving Home,” 1987
There are worse things to be than a sweet corn and “Prairie Home Companion” addict.

I told a buddy I was going to see Garrison Keillor and “Prairie Home” last Saturday and he said – I am embarrassed to even write this – “What is a Prairie Home Companion?”

There are philistines among us.

The rest of you already know that PHC airs at 5 p.m. most every glorious Saturday evening on public radio, which would be Red River Radio in the Shreveport area. The station sponsored a LIVE appearance of the show last week at homey Municipal Auditorium, which was only packed, thank you very much.

I love Red River Radio but never moreso than now, which includes and by far surpasses the time when I was allowed to voice my meanderings on its airwaves. Even so, I’d underestimated the magnetic verbal pull of Keillor, who is doing for live radio what the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks have done for the NBA the past two seasons: keeping it relevant. About 3,000 people at Municipal to see a talking radio show?

While sitting there in my favorite Shreveport building, I thought that my being present might be the reason I was thinking this was one of the best PHC broadcasts ever. But I re-listened to much of it over the next two days online and decided it was one of the best because it was one of the best, period. GREAT show. (Having James Burton on and letting him play four or five different times sure didn’t hurt.)

Genius. These PHC people are genius, what with their sound effects and timing and pre-broadcast research and tailoring of material to north Louisiana. And Keillor has perfected a radio bedside manner that makes you feel it’s all about YOU, not about “the show.” Just friends over to entertain and tell stories while you watch and listen.

Unlike the children in Lake Wobegon, these folk are WAY above average. Don’t you love people who are good at what they do and look like they’re having fun while doing it? So it’s fun to you too? If momma smiles while she’s cooking, dinner somehow tastes better.

It is a wonderful thing to hear 3,000 people laugh. “Everybody wants to laugh,” said Carl Reiner, who remains a hero of mine because he’s a guy, like Keillor, who knows what ‘everyday funny’ is and doesn’t mind sharing. “People need to laugh.” And at ourselves, most of all.

Frank Cady died this week at age 96. People my age remember him as storekeeper Sam Drucker in “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres.” His death and PHC’s life, strong after 40 years, reminded me that the greats know how to crack jokes and make a point of truth without totally offending the whole world. (Sam Drucker worked in Hooterville or, as Eva Gabor always called it, “Hooters-ville.” That was when writers didn’t mind going to extra mile to be clever and hoodwink censors.)

Keillor is a guy caught up in yesterday but still able to make fun of today. What a break. Because while the world changes, human nature does not. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Kix & Brooks Still A Hard Workin' Man

(From Sunday's Times and News-Star)

Country music star Kix Brooks worked on Memorial Day Monday, but not singing.

I found this most impressive when I got him on the telephone on a holiday. Most of us have the impression that your big music stars write a song, sing it, then take a couple of months off to fish or hunt or watch “Hee Haw.”

Not Kix & Brooks, the name I like to call him just because. As you know, Shreveport’s Kix & Brooks was part of the most successful duo in country music history: Brooks & Dunn sold more than 30 million albums, scored 23 No. 1’s and became the most awarded act in country music’s storied history during their 20-year partnership, one that ended two years ago when the friends decided to take a break to pursue solo stuff.

So while it is doubtful Kix & Brooks has to work another day in his life, he does. He co-owns a Nashville-area vineyard and in mid-March released the single “New To This Town,” a song he co-wrote with a pair of Nashville friends; it’s his first solo release and features the familiar sound of Joe Walsh, guitar stud extraordinaire, who might have worked Memorial Day Monday but I doubt it because I just can’t see Joe Walsh working with anything but a Fender.

Like the title song of the Brooks & Dunn’93 album that yielded five hits, the accomplished Brooks is still a “Hard Workin’ Man.”

"Today I’m working on the (radio) show; got to be in the studio for an interview at 10, and then the countdown show,” he said from his Tennessee home.

Brooks would be asking the questions during the 10 a.m. interview, not giving the answers, as he’s the host of the nationally syndicated “American Country Countdown.”

“We’re in our fifth year now and just negotiated three more years with Cumulus,” he said. “I’m also starting to host a five-day-a-week overnight show. “I never realized what a good job this (deejaying) was,” he said. “I’m a musician and songwriter at heart, but that’s also why Cumulus was interested in hiring me -- I have the inside track on some of these people. Plus they know I love to hear myself talk.”

A speech communication major at Louisiana Tech and ’78 graduate, Brooks worked while in school and now is investing in a bug that bit him in Ruston. In the past two years he’s acted in “To Kill A Memory” and “Thriftstore Cowboy,” two completed but not-yet-released western movies, and become a partner in Team Two Entertainment, a production company.

“Shooting the ‘South of Santa Fe’ video years ago (with Dunn) reminded me that I did want to go back and get into acting or production,” he said.

His professional record or resume should serve to show any undergrad that all country songs or country lives don’t have to end in heartache. If you’re trying to decide this summer whether to stay or go back to school, Brooks’ willingness to keep showing up should serve as inspiration.

“One thing school does is give you a sense of responsibility: having deadlines, studying for a test, preparing for the school play. You have deadlines,” he said. “I see it all the time with writers and entertainers: ‘I’m gonna do that,’ but a lot of them never follow through. School teaches you that at some point, you have to be ready, whether it’s getting a song finished in time to play for an artist or whatever.”


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Anything You Can Do, Glue Can Do Better

(From today's Times and News-Star)

The working title is called “Ode to Vacation Bible School” or “Why Are Mommy and Daddy So Excited About Dropping Me Off At Church This Week?

Will there be tape in heaven?
Will there be glue and paste?
Will there be ’Nilla wafers
And juice we can waste?

Will there be construction paper
And crayons by the score?
If we run low on Fig Newtons
Can we always ask for more?

Will we do daily Bible drills
And play games we love?
(It CAN’T be heaven if you aren’t
Allowed to bring your glove?!)

One day I’ll cash my cookies in
And cross life’s final moat.
If there’s no post-death VBS…
I’ll know I missed the boat.

It needs work but hey, God’s not finished with me yet, right?

I know, I know…It needs at least one other stanza, maybe two. And it will, soon as I figure out how to rhyme something with “I should have paid better attention in church” and keep it in the proper iambic pentameter. Good poem writing can be heck. And I probably need more in here about glue, which is so underrated.

Regardless, the “theme” of the poem (for lack of a better term) should jump out at you: Vacation Bible School is fun!

Free eats. Arts. Crafts. Play. More snacks. And no “real” school in the morning.

It’s a beautiful thing.

A veteran of crushed egg shells and spray paint and safety scissors, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Vacation Bible School. Wrong again. I thought VBS was For Children Only.

My friend and former co-worker Marilyn Rech informs me otherwise. Monday, Cypress Baptist Church in Benton will begin its annual weeklong Senior VBS for the 55-and-older bunch. Marilyn borrowed the idea for her church -- and I say “borrowed” because “stole” seems a bit harsh – which is why it will come to pass that Asbury’s JOY Club will begin it’s second annual Senior VBS July 31.

The lineup: a visiting preacher speaks of his favorite scripture, a community guest shares, crafts (yes! Amen!), music, a review of volunteer opportunities.

And of course eating. (“Menu” comes in second only to “Bible” in terms of most popular reading material in most Southern congregations.)

Marilyn, she of the seven children and 14 grands, could have Vacation Bible School at her house with just her family. But she is certain it’s better to be out and about and spreading the love, especially among the more mature population.

“The active adults should be a vital group to any church; sometimes they are forgotten and it’s all about the youth,” she explained to me. “Well, we are Just Older Youth – JOY – and need to be part of the FUN stuff.”

And so they are.

There are several opportunities for tacky jokes here. Will prunes be the snack? Will the craft be “How To Build Velcro Sneakers”? Will nap time be from 9:45 a.m. until 11, just in time to get up for lunch? Will Billy get mad at Tommy and hide his dentures? I could do this all day.

But I will not make any of those tacky jokes because Mrs. Marilyn would hit me with a hymn book and because I am soon to be eligible to attend Sr. VBS. If it’s as fun as Young VBS was, it will be one of the sweeter things about aging.