Wednesday, January 4, 2017

     No, wait! You don't understand! Don't call the Nashville Fire Department. It's Minton Sparks, spoken-word artist of the finest sort, and she appeared recently at Nashville's funky little bottom-floor entertainment spot called The Basement at the back side of Grimey's Records, located at 1604 8th Avenue, South, just across the street from Reservoir Park. The Basement is smallish, earthy, and unglamorous, and it's packed whenever Minton is in town. To say she has her fans is an understatement! They love her and her quirky style. And they don't care if the place is, um, a little shopworn.
Live Tonight: Minton Sparks

The Basement, bottom floor
She packs 'em in like sardines in a can. Her stories and reflections about life are like nothing you've experienced before, even if you are from the Deep South! Minton knows us well; she has family all over the South. The person who sat next to me was from New Jersey; however, she has the South in her background. She was torn between another spot in town, the one on Hillsboro Road in Green Hills, or The Basement. Good choice, Ma'am! She came to The Basement.
       Minton Sparks and her long-time guitarist, the multi-talented John Jackson, blew into the room  early with equipment and boxes of stuff, and they flew around doing sound checks and getting everything into place. There was a new gentleman standing silently behind his upright bass. Dave Jacques is certainly a force to be reckoned with. He is one fine bass player! His list of credentials on the 'Net is a mile long! Soon, the equipment and instruments and sound checks were to their liking, and the artists were in place so that the show began.
       First to be introduced was Ami Matteson, with whom I was not familiar. Ami is also an artist of the spoken word. Adopted and from Guam, Ami shared stories about herself and her lifestyle, which she described as "butch". She told us about cowboys and Indians. She went on to share an earlier TED talk called "The Incredibly True Adventures of an Old Lady Man".
Ami Matteson challenging us to be true to ourselves 
       She made us laugh and she brought some in the audience to tears. The last, and most poignant piece, was "When You Believe". Ami once taught school in Detroit, MI, where she spoke to sixth and seventh graders about believing, going for it, and showing love above everything else. Strong, powerful words that are in short supply these days.
       So, Minton, John, and Dave take their places and Minton starts singing "If I needed you. . ." and leads into "Fill 'er Up," which is a story about the female gas station attendant named Ethel (get it?). Many of Minton's stories are tinged with a hint of sexuality. Not indecent, not inappropriate, just kinda on the edge. Her gestures and body movements help her tell the story. Ethel is doing the best she can to support her family in hard times. These are school-bus drivers, lunch ladies, and gas station attendants. Life ain't easy for some here in the South.
Minton Sparks
John Jackson at left
Dave Jacques at right
Minton Sparks on "Gold Digger"
with Etta Britt at left
     Minton is full of surprises this night, and up pops Etta Britt, soulful Nashville rhythm and blues singer who brings another dimension to Minton's stories. Etta and Minton sing and speak their way through the familiar story called "Gold Digger". You've likely known a gold digger or two. Minton and Etta lead into the story of "Desperation," the juke joint singer. Desperation's name and her Southern feelings fit well together.      
       Many tall young women in the South played for their local high school basketball teams and aspired to one day play for the winningest coach ever (men or women), the late Pat Summitt, legendary coach at the University of Tennessee. Minton's height brought those thoughts to her 'back then more than right now,' as these days, she proudly claims the titles of wife, mother, and spoken-word artist. No time for basketball these days.
       The aunts in Minton's family used to sneak off down by the barn with their concealed cigarettes and matches. They would smoke and gossip to a fare-thee-well down there. Minton called these hens "Cluck, Cackle, and Peck". She has a great story about those women.
       Other legendary stories are "Fight Club" (family Bible verses and ass-whippin's); "Carnival" (a strip mall tradition) with rides like the Himalaya, the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Bullet, and the Spider, plus the message 'Don't fall in love with the ticket taker'; the family "Streaker" (a close family member, shades of the '70's); and the tender story of her grandmother's purse.
Minton Sparks, purse on right arm
John Jackson at left and Dave Jacques at right
       Minton was awarded "Her Purse" after the funeral and the small things inside it remain in her heart today: A box of Chiclets, bottle of pills, pack of butter rum Life Savers, Chapstick, half a stick of Doublemint, a red rubber change purse that you squeeze to open and get out your change, and the love letter from the farmhand Howard McDaniel. Grandmother admired him from afar (Well, maybe not too far!) and never told Granddaddy. Howard was always in her secret heart and his letter was tucked inside her purse for safe-keeping.
      "Hi, Helen" is what happens when women of a certain age wave at a friend from across the way. There's that jiggle under the arm that just won't go away, regardless of the arm exercises at the gym.
       "Time Flies" says that we will never pass this way again. There are good times, bad times, disappointments, and 'Pass me that rejuvenatin' face cream'. She got in the fast-moving black Cadillac so as not to miss this ride.
       "Where Humans End and Birds Begin" is about Cheryl Lynn, something of a hummingbird, and often it's hard to distinguish where the human ends and the bird begins. There are fleeting thoughts of the high school French teacher..."Silence!" in the appropriate French accent which sounds like 'see lonce'. Hi Maya Angelou, Ani DiFranco, and are those feathers around Cheryl Lynn's ears?  
       Minton Sparks' wonderful Southern stories accompanied by John Jackson on guitar, Dave Jacques on bass, and Etta Britt's soulful voice, all made for wonderful entertainment and flashes of memories about this writer's own youthful experiences in the South. Minton knows us because she is one of us. We cannot get enough of her wonderful stories. Catch her somewhere soon and order her CD's and the DVD.
For more information: 
Minton Sparks  
Etta Britt
Dave Jacques
Ami Matteson   Go to Google for her TEDx Talk
John Jackson  Go to Google
Minton Sparks' CD's: Middlin' Sisters, Sin Sick, This Dress, Gold Digger, 'Live at the Station Inn
Her DVD: Open Casket  
Minton Sparks' 2017 Appearances to Date:
1.21.17  Chattahoochee Hills, GA  Chatt Hills Music
1.28.17  Nashville, TN  Burn Through Your Story 
2.2.17   Houston, TX  McGonigel's Mucky Ducky
2.11-12.17 Nashville, TN  Move Your Story Through the Body
2.17.17  Franklin, TN  Franklin Theatre - Second Story Writers Night w/Matraca Berg, Marshall Chapman, Emily Saliers
3.11.17  Indianapolis, IN  Storytelling Arts of Indiana (Indiana History Center)
4.9.17  Tallahassee, FL  Word of South
4.22.17 Paragould, AR  Collins Theatre
5.16.17 San Antonio, TX  Festival of Homiletics (Masonic Lodge of San Antonio)
5.22.17 Minneapolis, MN  Tender Mercies with Kevin Kling

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

December 14, 2016
Joni and host Richard Sojourner
Quiet, please. Music is about to begin.
YOU HAVE YOUR RECIPE ... and I have mine! Here is what I would put in my bowl: a heaping helping of annual house concert on a crisp, cold night, mix in lots of friends and family, pour in libations and delicious snacks, add some catchin'-up conversation, then gently stir in the fine musicianship of JONI BISHOP. There, right there, is the recipe for kicking off the perfect holiday season!
Joni finger-picking the guitar
       Joni has been invited to perform at the house concert at RICHARD and MARY SOJOURNER'S home for nine straight years! Nine! That must surely be some kind of a record! Richard and Mary are incredibly generous with their home, their food, and their libations! We hope it continues for many more years to come. Nashville folk artist, songwriter, singer, and instrumentalist, Joni Bishop handles her music with ease. She sings in English and also in Latvian. Her parents and grandparents came to America from Latvia, and Joni sings verses to "Silent Night" in Latvian as well as in English. Her fingers fly across the strings of a guitar, a mountain dulcimer, a cigar box banjo (she makes those), and even a tambura, which is an East Indian instrument that produces a very unusual sound.
Joni on mountain dulcimer
Joni made this dulcimer in a workshop
Joni on the East Indian tambura
       Joni Bishop did two lovely sets of seasonal music, and we will share those songs with you.
       Set One: Little Drummer Boy; Endless Christmas; Buzzed (not what you think--written while in Starbucks and drinking lots of coffee); Soul Cake/God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (sung in counterpoint with Joni singing Soul Cake and the audience singing God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen); Go Tell It on the Mountain; Children, Go Where I Send Thee; Christmas in the Trenches (by John McCutcheon); The 12 Days of Christmas (with large cue cards to assist the audience); Grandma's Garden; and Wayfaring Stranger. Brief pause for food, drink, and conversation with friends.
Cue card: 12 Days of Christmas
Joni on cigar box banjo
 Set Two: Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland; Stone by Stone; Joy to the World (on the tambura); The Road to Bethlehem; Amazing Grace; We Three Kings; Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella; Stone by Stone (requested again); Send Yourself Home for Christmas; Sleighride; Away in a Manger; Christmas in the Trenches (requested again); What Child Is This; It's Gonna Be All Right Someday; Mary Had a Baby, My Lord; We Wish You a Merry Christmas; Silent Night (a verse in Latvian with audience singing in English); and I'll Fly Away.
Samples of Joni's folk art which is for sale
       For albums and information:
Some of our favorite albums are "One Wondrous Star: A Christmas Collection", "Endless Christmas", and "Threads". Other fine albums and folk art are available at Joni Bishop's website.
       Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all who came in to read this blog!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Early ISS Mission, not John Glenn's flight
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of -- Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
                                             John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
You and your beloved Annie truly made the world a much better place for your having been in it! May you rest in peace.
S118 Mission, not John Glenn's flight
Sunrise or Sunset
*Bluegrass Content: "Fly like eagles, out among the stars!" (written by Adam Mitchell, covered by country and bluegrass music artists throughout the years)
Photography sent by Jason Helms of the Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX. Thank you Jason!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Blanchard Springs, near Mountain View, AR
December 10, 2016
Santa Claus stops by Pinewood Cabins, Mountain View, AR
     WE ARE EXCITED! Christmas is almost here and we've hardly begun to shop, but we know when to get busy and begin contacting the Mountain View (AR) Area Chamber of Commerce about tickets to CAROLING IN THE CAVERNS. From past wonderful experiences, we contact the Chamber, select a weekend with a performance time slot that we prefer, and we anxiously await our tickets to Caroling. It's just the best feeling!
       Our tickets arrive, we grab our friends, and we're off to Mountain View, Arkansas, and a fine weekend of fellowship, beautiful music in an incredible cave setting that's lighted for the season, and some fine, tasty vittles before we leave the mountain. It's a Christmas gift unto itself!
       We take the elevator down 216 feet in the Blanchard Caverns Visitors Center to the lovely room filled with Mother Nature and Father Time's stalactites and stalagmites.

       Rangers and volunteers with flashlights assist us with our journey, even providing cushions for us to use when sitting in our bleacher seats. We settle in and music begins in the semi-darkness. Carolers descend the stairs near our bleachers, singing as they go. It's pretty dark in there, but this group is a bunch of professionals. They've walked and sung in the darkness many times. They reach their destination in front of the bleachers, and they begin their program.
       The carolers are: IRL HEES (bass and vocals), PAM SETSER (guitar, mountain dulcimer, spoons, and vocals), ROBERT GILLIHAN (mandolin and vocals), MARY GILLIHAN (comedic schtick that we love and vocals), RON HAYNES (guitar and vocals), and ABBY SPINKS (vocals). The musicians are all the finest local performers that one would hope to find. They love what they do, and it's obvious!
L to R: Irl Hees, Ron Haynes, Mary Gillihan, Pam Setser,
Robert Gillihan, and Abby Spinks
wishing concert-goers a Merry Christmas
       We like to include the program of music, and here it is: Angels We Have Heard on High; Beautiful Star of Bethlehem; Do You Hear What I Hear; There's a New Kid in Town; I Wonder as I Wander / Little Drummer Boy; It Came Upon a Midnight Clear; God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; Robert Gillihan's reading, "Seek and You Will Find"; Away in a Manger; Mary, Did You Know; There He Is; Christmas Time's A-Comin'; Winter Wonderland; Let It Snow; Deck the Halls; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; Cowboy Poetry; Ozark Twelve Days of Christmas; Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer; I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas; Go Tell It on the Mountain; Silent Night; and We Wish You a Merry Christmas.
       As we depart the Visitors Center, we are asked to walk across a shallow, squishy pad of water, Woolite (r), and another ingredient. The procedure is brief, painless, and not damaging to shoes or feet. The area is trying to control white-nose syndrome in cave bats. The syndrome is deadly to bat populations, and the staff at Blanchard Caverns hopes to control the spread of the disease.                    
       Following the concert, we make our way back down Arkansas Highway 14 to a world-class catfish dinner at JoJo's Catfish Wharf. We turn in for the night at a local inn, thinking about the wonderful day we just had. After a good night's rest, we must hit the Rainbow Café on the town square for a fine breakfast before heading home. We never tire of the little ritual and we are already looking forward to Caroling in the Caverns 2017.
Special Thanks: The musicians, Dale at the Visitors Center for his assistance, and Jim for the photo of the musicians.
For more information:
Mountain View Area Chamber of Commerce: Phone (Tickets/Info) 870.269.8068 or
Toll Free: 888.679.2859
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!
Pick away!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

December 3, 2016
Tennessee Gentlemen Bluegrass Shack,
Pleasant Ridge Road, Lucy, TN,
JUST WHEN I THINK I'VE HEARD AND SEEN MOST OF IT . . . something comes along that knocks my hat in the creek!
UMA and GIRI PETERS are 9 and 11 years old respectively. Got that?  Born in the twenty-teens! We're talking seriously young and seriously good bluegrass musicians who don't look like most bluegrass musicians. 
While we don't have a photo of this amazing duo, we did have the link to the hometown newspaper in Nashville known as the Tennessean.  Like a current TV commercial says, 'Prepare to be amazed'. Just follow the link below and enjoy!  It will warm your bluegrass music heart!
*Update: It seems that the link below that was in the Tennessean has been removed. Just go to YouTube for Uma and Giri Peters and their bluegrass music.
Click here for the article:
I'm tip-toeing around in this cold creek looking for my hat!  Yonder it goes . . . .
Pick away!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

November 28, 2016
BLUEGRASS MUSIC IS HUGE in Middle America! Many who follow this blog already know that, or you wouldn't be reading this. Bluegrass is seriously huge in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and all other Southern states. We love it! We follow it on radio (AM, FM, and Siruus) and CD, festivals and shows, and even at spontaneous jams. When a fan knows just where to look, bluegrass music is there and players and fans are having a grand old time!
       Such was the case on Monday night, November 28, 2016, when Bluegrass Monday rolled around at the Collins Theatre in Paragould, AR. The event is a 4th Monday tradition except during December. Just too much going on during the Christmas season. KASU-FM 91.9 on the campus of Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, Arkansas, along with eight other local sponsors, hosted the Bluegrass Martins from Jefferson City, Missouri, for an early-Christmas concert. KASU-FM 91.9 Program Director, Marty Scarbrough, conducted introductions and the passing of the Cat-in-the-Hat hat for voluntary audience donations of at least five dollars each, all of which goes toward paying the band's expenses.
Marty Scarbrough with the
Cat-in-the-Hat hat
       The Bluegrass Martins are a family band of six siblings who sing and play the complete variety of bluegrass music instruments: Dobro(r), banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and upright bass. The folks in the band are loaded with instrumental and vocal talent. They have the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (SPBGMA) Midwest awards to back up their credentials.
L to R: Larita, Janice, Jeana,
Dale, Lee, Anne (in back)
Anne clogging, Janice, Jeana, Dale
Larita (in back)
  Dale Martin is the older son. He sings and plays guitar. Janice Martin sings and plays banjo. Jeana Martin-Faris sings and plays fiddle. Jeana is married to Eddie Faris of the Faris Family Bluegrass Band. Larita Martin plays Dobro (r). The younger son is Lee Martin, a singer and showman who plays a hot mandolin. The youngest daughter is Anne Martin, and she clogs and plays upright bass and fiddle. The band has great harmony vocals, and their instrumentation is spot-on!
       Hitting the highlights of the Bluegrass Martins' program, we will share their song selection before storms and power outages move through the Mid-South for the second day in a row:
       Joy to the World; Christmas Day at My House; Thistlehair, the Christmas Bear; Christmas Reunion; Avalina; Papa Played the Dobro(r); In the Sweet By and By; Jingle Bells; That's How Much I Love You; Oh, Christmas Candle; Bah Humbug; 'Til These Dreams Come True; Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer; Fireball Mail; Who Do You Think; Two-Steppin' Around the Christmas Tree; Goodbye, Little Darlin'; Orange Blossom Special; and the encore was a fine rendition of Train 45!
       The microphone settings made it a bit tough to hear words and song titles, but we think we got most of what was sung and said. This is a very talented group of young people who have been performing for at least 15 years. They play all over the United States and they know their stuff when it comes to bluegrass music. Visit their website for CDs, other merch, and tour dates.
       We would be remiss if we failed to mention Terry's Café, which is just down the block (201 South Pruett Street) from the Collins Theatre at 120 West Emerson Street. The café stays open from 4:30 PM until about 6:45 PM on Bluegrass Monday evenings to feed bluegrass fans before the show. The delicious catfish buffet, with tasty vegetables and desserts, is a treat for any hungry bluegrass musician or fan!
For more information:
The Bluegrass Martins
KASU-FM 91.9 Public Radio  or
*Coming up at the Collins Theatre:  Monroe Crossing, January 23, 2017
*Coming up at the Fowler Center, Arkansas State University, Jonesboro:  Dailey & Vincent, April 1, 2017 -- No foolin'! (Tickets on sale now at ASU Central Box Office or Ticketmaster
Happy Holidays!
Pick away!