Come gather ‘round you people Come see this po’ rambler go down -- Dock Boggs *** Never mind what you’ve heard about the Deliberate Strangers. The rumors. The gossip. Setting Porter Wagoner wigs on fire? Former members ending up decapitated, others in Federal Witness Protection Programs? Gigs ending in riots? It’s all a pack of festering lies. The media has painted a false picture of our band. The interviews, the quotes taken out of context, the little bits and pieces, the melted crayons… Now it’s time to set the record straight. So gather ‘round you friends and extrapolate the truth of the Deliberate Strangers beginning with our first installment... Exiles On Mountaintop Twenty-five miles from Alloy City up the ancient Allegheny and off the beaten county road, I am shotgun Deputy Gravy Jones to Shereef D.A. Kotex, who, at the wheel of the van, spits out his toothpick, pulls another cold one from the twelve-pack of tears in the cooler, rolls up his sleeves to expose the neon suit of lights that is his tattoos, and declares, “I reckon I’m stickin’ my head in the lion’s mouth.” Ragged, hungry, torn and tattered, I nod, “I reckon so, D.A,” knowing we must live and die in uncertainty, a band blown by the winds.
It’s a cool sunny sixty degree June Thursday evening and we’ve got opening slot for the 15th Lion’s Mouth Mountaintop Bluegrass Festival “where we can do the least damage.” That’s what Francine said. Today I am an impostor for the old sneak-the- heathen-Gravy-drummer-in-on-acoustic-guitar trick. I peer out the rear-view as Ms Stephanie and Ms HutterButterPeanutButterThighs complete the Deliberate Strangers caravan in separate unmarked cars. D.A. puts the pedal to metal and cuts left at the Stark Feed Store where the sign says, “Bluegrass this a-way.” The van’s tires churn dust and spit gravel up the holes in the floorboard as we fly up the long serpentine road to Ed and Francine’s campground farm. We blow under the busted steerhorn sign over the gate that says, “Enter At Own Risk”, and below that, “No Rude Behavior. No Drugs. No Drums.” Just a bit up the road you can tour Ed’s Mine…if you dare.
For the Deliberate Strangers there is considerable risk. We are bluegrass impostors and there is most definitely something wrong with me to agree to this baptismal-dismal trial by fire—my first gig on rhythm guitar.
We pile out and set up camp, D.A. in his white cowboy hat and gray High Marshall O’ Hell Suit. Stepping from her car, Ms Stephanie’s fresh purple rose tattoo shines brightly on the dangerous surface of her leg. Miss HutterButter steps out of her black ride dressed in black denim and leather with darkly vague fantasies involving whips, pulleys and a certain Pony Man.
The best campsites are along the outer rim where you can see for miles across the steamy primordial river and rolling hills and farms up and down the hazy green Penna. countryside. We walk around Mountaintop passing the Rebel Yell and a six pack of tears taking in the RVs and swapping hellos and how ya doin’s with the campers at the hog roast. We come under the spell of immaculate aluminum camper-machines with bug screens and blue zappers, yawny dogs and old farmer coots with their feet up around fire pits telling boastful tales. We pass crafters and pens full of sheep, pigs and ponies. Children sleep on straw-covered wagon beds, hair full of dust and their fingers black and sticky. We are smack-dab in the middle of homefires burning and mystery meat sizzling and charcoal fumes—a sweet-smelling bustling bluegrass scene. Across the way the funnel cake lady is open for business as a dozen music circles take up and proceed to torture Miss HutterButter—who hates bluegrass—with fiddles, mandos, guitars and high keening voices. There is Jimmy Martin’s merchandise table full of coon hunting videos across from his airconditioned Widowmaker Bus. Everything seems enlarged and the keening voices, winsome fiddles, mandos and guitars mix with the smell of burning fat and woodsmoke.
As we tune up behind the pavilion stage, Floyd, the suspendered Mr. Green Jeans knife-sharpening emcee, greets us warmly. Ed and Francine stop by to say hello.
The dust rolls away over the field and the departing sun sets the scene ablaze with colors. Night comes on, horses whinny and now the children run wildly about lost and lustily crying. We take the stage and begin our ten song set with “How I Found the Lord” (minus the usual “motherfucker”) and from there, do our most down home numbers, the most traditional tricks up our sleeve. When D.A. breaks his finger pick before the rare banjer version of “Trippin’ Trucker,” he lets slip “Fuck!” and the bluehair ladies in their lawnchairs go a paler shade of blue and watch us with feverish eyes. Their dignified, unsettling silence is almost terrifying. We proceed, our broken sounds floating out across the stone faces. They bring to mind the countless figures of men and women before our time who came out of the nothingness of the world, lived their lives and again disappeared into nothingness. They have poured in from the towns and the country around—farmers with their wives and children— and at the end of the third day of this festival, they will return in darkness along lonely country roads to nothingness. I realize looking about that, excepting the children, on all sides of us are ghosts, not of the dead, but of the living. Already we hear death calling, keenly aware of our isolation and insignificance in the scheme of things.
Finally, twenty minutes in, we hit our proper stride and by the last two songs we’re warmed up and ready to get these folks shimmyin’ and wobblin’, but Floyd holds up the two remaining fingers on his right hand. It’s time to make way for the West Virginia Children’s Choir.
At the concession stand after the set I order the gourmet mystery meat pizza pocket. Starved, I woof it down and instantly I am nauseated. I stumble and stagger over to Ed’s Mine and blow mystery chunks in the nearest coal tipple. Then I crawl back the tent, dosed by the pizza pocket, my eyeballs cracking like auggies and ropes of vomit hanging from my mouth and I see folks wilting in their chairs. I am tripping, alright. Then I look over at Shereef D.A., Ms Stephanie and Miss HutterButter sitting at the Deliberate Strangers merchandise table where chubby boys gawk at the black and red serpent t-shirts. We look like dark, sullen vampire gypsies among the old-time squatters at this goodtimey convention. Suddenly, in my fugue state, I see Miss HutterButter jump into the pony pen and vanish into Ed’s Mine on the back of a certain well-endowed pony, bellowing, “Giddyup Pony Man, giddyup-up- and-away!”
And this is only Day One. Tomorrow we’ll have one more chance…
By JON MANNING
Views expressed are those of the author, not Payday Records, etc.
COMING SOON...THE DELIBERATE STRANGERS AT CAHOKIA
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