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 Chicklets, 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
5.16.17 San Antonio, TX  Festival of Homiletics (Masonic Lodge of San Antonio)
5.22.17 Minneapolis, MN  Tender Mercies with Kevin Kling

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