Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Sheep Dip Chorus

You may remember that each fall my hometown of Beloved, Kentucky celebrates Sheep Dip Days at the annual Sheep Dip Festival.  The festival started over 100 years ago when the farmers around the area would bring their sheep and goats to one central location to be dipped.  Of course, there was always time on their hands as they waited their turn, so folks would canned goods, fruit and vegetables to swap or sell along with the occasional quilt, chickens, turkeys or the leftover pups from a good huntin’ dog.

For the last 100 years the festival has been one of the high points of the year around Beloved.  This year is no exception.  The only thing that brings out more civic pride is the annual Watermelon Chorus, now in its seventh year.  The Watermelon Chorus is the pet project of Sister Hazel Nutt Budder.  Sister Hazel is the wife of Brother Woodrow Budder, pastor of the Booger Holler Holiness Church…but that is another story.

Because the Watermelon Chorus has been such a hit, Sister Hazel determined that folks might like to hear some other, less highbrow music as part of Sheep Dip Days.  Bein’ as organized as she is, she had flyers mimeo’ed an’ on every window an’ bulletin board in town.  The Carnegie Library bulletin board had about three notices on it.  The notices told of tryouts on the last Saturday in October.

It was to be a wonderful event, a small group of singers who could read music and could sing 4-part harmony would be banded together to sing a few old hymns like “I’ll Fly Away” that had rousin’ bass repeats an’ high tenor notes that would ring in the twilight of the Sheep Dip Festival.  Some secular favorites, as Sister Hazel put it, would be on the program also.  Especially noted was the song “Elvira” by the Oak Ridge Boys.

When I heard that the group would be singin’ 4-part harmony and would feature some wonderful bass lines in the songs, I determined I would try out for the group.  I have been known to sing a fine bass line, no brag, just fact.

Well, I bought about half a pound of “Fisherman’s Friend” throat lozenges an’ some lemon, a big ol’ quart of sourwood honey an’ a little of my special throat ingredient…some moonshine made by my favorite relative, Cousin Peanut.  I mixed up a batch of Dr. Ironbeard’s Throat Relaxer and Hair Gel an’ began private rehearsals.

What I did was get a tape of the Oak Ridge Boys an’ put ‘er in my tape player as I drove all over three states workin’.  As that bass singer for the Oaks would start with the “Ohmm whappa, Ohm Whappa Mow Mow”, I was right there.  I was hittin’ them low notes so good I sounded like a foghorn sittin’ beside a foggy sea.  I don’t mean to brag, but I was soundin’ good.

Tryouts were wonderful.  Sister Hazel Nutt Budder had the group there for tryouts sing a few lines an’ she would walk around an’ listen.  Now, she learned her lesson years before when she put together the first Watermelon Chorus.  She knew there were times when she needed just singers what could read music AND sing 4-part harmony.  She smiled an’ nodded when she stopped in front of me as we were singin’ “Leanin’ on the Everlastin’ Arms.  I hit the bass line, “Leanin’ on Jesus, Leanin’ on Jesus” as hard as I could.  I just knew I had a part in the group.

Sister Hazel put different folks together to hear how they sounded an’ would sit back an’ listen as we sang alfredo – that is without any piano or anything playin’ along with us.  I was in more than one group as she put the best voices together.

I went on home, thinkin’ I got the part an’ would start rehearsals anytime.  Sister Hazel told us to look at the bulletin board at the Carnegie Library for the list of names.

Over the weekend, I went by to see the list after word went round town that it was up.  I was expectin’ to see my name as lead bass… yet it wasn’t there.  Talk about havin’ a depression flung on you.  Not only was my name NOT there, no guys names was listed as bass singers!

The name listed was once a friend of mine, then a competitor, and recently the bane of my singin’ career.  There it was for the world to see.  I had been beat out for the bass part in the Sheep Dip Days 4-part harmony group by none other than…

Sophie Precious of Precious Smoked Meats.  It weren’t fair an’ I said so.  A bass singer ought to be a man.  It weren’t natural, actually that she could hit them low notes the way she did.

It came from sittin’ day after day smokin’ cigarettes the way she did.  That was her secret weapon.  She had one of the lowest voices ever heard by man or beast.  She had to talk high just to be understood by most folks…that’s how low her voice was.

 Her voice was so low the elephants in the circus that would come to town would hear her talk an’ get to squealin’ an’ carryin’ on, thinkin’ they had a cousin elephant somewhere in Beloved callin’ to them.  She made the mistake of stoppin’ an’ talkin’ to a bull elephant once at a zoo.  That bull elephant fell in love with her an’ her husky, low voice.  It broke out an’ went after her singin’ pachyderm love songs.  Sophie had to promise never to go back to the zoo after that.  I hear her name is on a list of folks around the world what ain’t allowed to go to any zoo.

So, she has been practicin’ with the group an’ singin’ the bass parts I should sing.  They carry on about her like she is the end all.  I hear they had to take the Oak Ridge Boys “Elvira” song off the program after the bass singer heard her an’ realized she could sing lower that him.  He heard about me an’ didn’t want another singin’ career ruined.

I ain’t a poor sport, though.  I sent Sophie a gallon of my special Dr. Ironbeard’s Throat Relaxer and Hair Gel just to keep her in fine voice.  I may have forgot the right mixture of ingredients, though.  They might be a little alum in the mix…don’t know that it will hurt much, I reckon.  I didn’t have enough sourwood honey, so I put a little motor oil in to soother Sophie’s throat.  ‘Course, if sister Hazel Nutt Budder smells Sophie’s breath, she might realize that batch of Throat Relaxer is about three quarts of Cousin Peanut’s best moonshine.  I’m hopin’ Sophie Precious has a snootful one of these rehersals an’ the tea tottlin’ Sister Hazel Nutt Budder, wife of Brother Woodrow Budder, pastor of the Booger Holler Holiness Church, will kick ol’ Sophie right off the community chorus an’ need a replacement.

I’m practicin’ an’ learnin’ all the words…just in case.

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