Johnny Cash, the Human Hamster, and Jerry Mathers as the “Beave”
I love performing in Charlottesville. I always have. Over the past 20 some odd years, I think I’ve played in just about every club, coffeehouse, and bar in this town. I’ve sung in the corner of restaurants and out in the middle of cow fields. I’ve performed plugged and unplugged; on the downtown mall and off the downtown mall; in front yards, back yards and living rooms. I’ve even performed in a grocery store, at which point I told my bass player, “Stick with me, Sonny, we’re goin’ places!” It was a very high end grocery store.
If you ask long-time Charlottesvillians (seriously, ask them), they can fill you in on all kinds of stories about the gigs I’ve played. More than I can remember, really, because I’ve blocked out a select few of them…
Let me tell you about one show that was just too weird to forget. My buddy and harmonica wizard Gary Green and I were hired to perform at a small country crafts fair a few hours outside Charlottesville. I don’t remember the name of the town. Let’s call it Middle of Nowhere, Virginia.
I figured it would be a simple little gig, playing Americana music in the background while folks ate cotton candy and browsed booths for knick knacks. Well, we were definitely right about the background part…
Picture this: Gary and I are performing on a small make-shift stage set up in the front yard of an old one-story Court House. I’m singing and playing acoustic guitar, and Gary’s wailing away on his harp. To the left of us (close enough to spit), is a 150 foot high figure-eight shaped set of hamster wheels housing a scantily clad female acrobat who is running back and forth between the two circular frames while the circus calliope tune “dat dat da da da da dat dat da da” blares out across the small fairground. Don’t get me wrong -- I have nothing against the song. I rather like it. I’m just not sure folk music, a human hamster and the Circus Theme really go together.
And, if that wasn’t strange enough, sitting at a table directly behind us were none other than “the Beave” (Jerry Mathers) and Eddie Haskill (Ken Osmond) from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s TV show, “Leave It to Beaver.” They were half-heartedly (that’s giving them more credit than they deserve, really) talking and signing autographs for their fan—all 150 people in attendance at the fair that afternoon—who were lined up from “back stage” (the Court House steps) to a block and a half into town.
Worried we had slipped into an episode of “The Twilight Zone”, Gary and I got packed up to go -- sound system and all – the second our last song ended. We took off in the van onto what appeared to be a short-cut leading out of the fairgrounds. It was a short-cut, all right, but not out of town. That would have been the perfect get away, but not the perfect ending to this story.
No, it turns out, the short-cut was a one-way-only path leading directly into the parade procession heading down Main Street. We did not make our great escape, but rather our grand entrance…riding and waving as we followed along behind an old red convertible carrying none other than “the Beave” and Eddie Haskill.
Do do do do; do do do do…
Of course, there are a few performances I’ll never forget for all the best reasons. Like our 1998 sold-out CD release concert at Old Cabell Hall, UVA’s beautiful 1000 seat auditorium. Our fans were so excited to see us fill such a classy venue, we weren’t even on stage yet and they broke into applause as the house lights went down. We were all celebrating the release of Loose Change & Spare Parts, and the fact that we were a long way from the grocery store. The crowd cheered, and we pinched ourselves to be sure it wasn’t just a dream.
Most recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to perform at The Jefferson Theater for the Johnny Cash Tribute Show put together by Charlottesville bluesman, Eli Cook. Six bands took the stage that night -- Sons of Bill, Bryan Patrick Band, Ian Gilliam & the Fire Kings, Eli Cook Band, Hogwaller Ramblers, and my band (featuring Gary Green, Eddie Hall, Mike Clem and Ian Gilliam) – to honor and celebrate one of Americana music’s greatest songwriters. I had such a good time -- I thought my head was going to pop!
Clearly, I paid a lot of “dues” to be able to play in such a cool venue with so many talented musicians. And you know what? I’d do it all again -- in a front yard or back yard; at a yard sale, bake sale – you name it.
I love performing in Charlottesville.