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Marcia Ball interview appears in July issue of The Alternate Root magazine

7 Jul
Marcia Ball performed for the first time in nearly 40 years at the Broken Spoke March 31 as part of the "Behind the Song" radio program and a benefit for

Marcia Ball performed for the first time in nearly 40 years at the Broken Spoke March 31 as part of the “Behind the Song” radio program and a benefit.

Rhythm and blues singer Marcia Ball put on her first concert at the Broken Spoke in nearly 40 years as part of the radio program, “Behind the Songs,” that airs regularly on Austin’s alternative country radio station KOKE-FM, broadcast on channels 98.5, 99.3 or 105.3. (http://kokefm.com)

Ball performed at the “Behind the Songs” recorded live show that drew more than 400 people March 31, who each paid $20 to attend. After the live show at the Broken Spoke, organizer Joel Gammage and his multi-media crew edited and cut the raw video up into vignettes, which he provided to KOKE-FM radio station to air at different times throughout each month.

Radio station hosts also provide in-studio live interviews with the “Behind the Songs” featured artists prior to each broadcast of the vignette performances. For example, Ball provided phone-in interviews with listeners beginning at 8 a.m. April 4, at KOKE, with radio personalities prior to the pre-recorded broadcast of the “Behind the Songs” program. The live show served as a fundraiser for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, (HAAM,) the local organization that provides affordable health care for the city’s low-income and uninsured musicians.

The show was hosted by bandleader, singer and songwriter for The Wagonners, Monte Warden. Other performers included singers and songwriters Carolyn Wonderland and Shelley King, as well as a former contestant for the television series, The Voice, Brian Pounds.

Ball’s earliest friendships formed with young democrats at the state capitol helped her to gain her first singing gig at the Broken Spoke in 1973.

Ball performed at the Broken Spoke as part a band known as Freda and the Firedogs, who entertained at Sen. Lloyd Doggett’s fundraising campaign the same year he began his first run for the Texas state Senate. Since 2005 Doggett has served in Washington D.C. as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas’ 35th district.

Ball began her own rhythm and blues band in 1975 and became a successful songwriter and singer as well as a local supporter of liberal political causes. More than 500 people packed Doggett’s private party nearly 40 years ago on that Monday night at the Broken Spoke.

Hippies, either barefoot, or wearing moccasins or tennis shoes, made up a large portion of the audience. Few of them knew the traditional Two Step, but improvised by dancing what James White likes to call the “hippie hop.”

“We were a little hippie country band that played at the Split Rail every Sunday night and other college bars and places around town,” Ball said. “We were pure country then, but we just didn’t look the part so much. We were playing some of the most classic country in town of anybody. We weren’t playing radio country even then, we were playing older stuff – Merle Haggard and George Jones and stuff like that.”

Back in those days, Ball sang a lot of Tammy Wynett and Loretta Lynn stuff and she also yodeled a bit.

“We were singing ‘Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ with Lovin’ on Your Mind,’ and stuff like that,” she said. “I remember how happy we were that first night that we played there at the Broken Spoke, standing on the old loading dock hauling our stuff in. We thought we had made it, we really thought we had.”

Playing at the Broken Spoke had been the ultimate goal for Freda and the Firedogs, she said.

“Playing the Broken Spoke legitimized us in a way that we were aiming for and the best way to get in there was to play this fundraiser for Lloyd Doggett,” Ball said. “He was a political candidate who we loved anyway. That university and state house crowd had been followers of ours. We were playing for the protest rallies held for the shuttle bus drivers at the University of Texas who were striking for wages, and we played at the Armadillo (World Headquarters) for whatever cause that anybody could think of. We had always done that and I still do. So the politicos knew about us,” Ball said.

The original members included founder of the band, Bobby Earl Smith who played bass, guitarist John X. Reed, drummer Steve McDaniels, steel player David Cook, and Ball on piano. The band played together from 1972 until 1974 as Freda and the Firedogs before Ball left to start her own band.

“I wasn’t the most experienced musician in that band. The steel player was younger than me and everybody else had been in more bands and had more success than I had,” she said.

Ball had moved to Austin a few years before from Baton Rouge, LA where she had played with a rock and roll band. In Austin she joined a short-lived little rock and roll band for a while.

“A lot of us at that time liked the kind of cross-over music that The Band was playing and the Byrds were playing — people who were mixing country and blues with rock. There was a lot of that Bob Dylan and (his record) Nashville Skyline and the Rolling Stones,” she said.

She arrived in town in 1970 and met Smith in 1972 while he performed in another band who enjoyed performing what Ball calls “a mixed bag of music.”

“Kirby Gupton was a great singer and great guitar player who could play George Jones, Merle Haggard, B.B. King, and Van Morrison and stitch all that together and it was just a wonderful gig. I went to see them one time and I met them and sat in that night. Afterwards, Bobby Earl called me that week and asked me if I wanted to play some gigs and we started,” she said.

Ball comes from a musical family on her paternal side: her grandmother played piano, her great-grandfather composed music and she has an aunt who played piano. Her brothers don’t play music, although she has a younger brother who plays drums a bit.

She has fond and favorite memories at the Broken Spoke as both a performer and a fan, including the night in 1976 that she saw the original Texas Playboys perform there without Bob Wills who died the year before. Sleepy Johnson, Jesse Ashlock and Keith Coleman all played fiddle, Smokey Dacus played drums, while Leon McAulliffe performed on steel guitar, Al Stricklin on piano, Leon Rausch on vocals; with Tommy Allsup and Bob Kiser both on guitars.

“It was the night after the Texas Playboys had performed for an episode of Austin City Limits. That night they played at the Broken Spoke and they used my piano. My son was a baby and I had him with me and I hauled the piano in and set it up and then I had to take him out to his grandmother’s house so I could get to the Spoke to see the gig,” she said.

“I was a little late getting back to the Broken Spoke. The place was full and people were sitting on the dance floor. That was something I had never seen – it was weird to see people sitting on the Broken Spoke dance floor; people usually danced. Everybody had packed in there that night to see the Texas Playboys. As I walked it, they were playing the song, ‘Maiden’s Prayer.’”

Ball had heard all day about how well the Texas Playboys had performed the night before at ACL.

“Earlier that day everyone who had seen the Texas Playboys perform at Austin City Limits just went on and on about them. I thought that perhaps they had exaggerated. When I saw them perform that next night at the Broken Spoke it was just better than I could have imagined. It brought tears to my eyes; it was just wonderful,” she said.

Ball said at the time, James White’s step-dad, Joe Baland and mother, Lena White-Baland, helped to run the Broken Spoke.

“I remember that you couldn’t wear a hat on the dance floor,” Ball said. “Joe would come out and tap you on the shoulder and make you take your hat off. It was like it was impolite to wear a hat on the dance floor, it also started fights,” Ball said.

Unlike other clubs in town, inside the Broken Spoke cowboys could still wear their hats – just not on the dance floor.

“I came to Austin to live in a more liberal place than Baton Rouge. We actually were on our way to San Francisco, but we had a lot of friends who had moved here from Louisiana. We stopped to take a little break in the trip and to visit and then have our car worked on, but we never left,” Ball said.

In Austin and in other cities throughout the United States known as music meccas, the times were changing — fast. During the party at the Broken Spoke for Doggett, hippies and cowboys mingled together and everyone got along.

“There was already a movement in that direction at the time, the Armadillo was already having Willie (Nelson) play regularly. Music everywhere always brings people together and music certainly in Austin was bringing all kinds of people together,” Ball said.

“James White was happy to find somebody else who could fill his club. He really gave us more credit than we were due. He saw us and a big crowd that night and put those two together. Really, we did have a good following, but there was a whole lot of promotion on the part of the politicos that made it look like we were ready to play the Broken Spoke. It was the ‘big show’ for us.”

As Freda and the Firedogs, the band led the way for other crossover bands that played the Broken Spoke.

“I played with that band and loved it. That was not my background. Other bands, like Asleep at the Wheel and Alvin Crow, those guys were completely country and still are. They’ve had a long history with the Broken Spoke,” Ball said. “Although we played through several reincarnations of my band; we became less and less country. We have still always had an open door at the Broken Spoke, which has always been great.”

After the Firedogs broke up in 1974, Ball’s sound began the transition back to her rhythm and blues roots when she started her own band in 1975.

“I just started writing some and I just realized as a piano player and a background as I had, that was just the direction that I was going to be going,” Ball said. “I had a very varied repertoire that ranged from jazz to country and western, to swing and then in 1980 I went to pretty much blues, or R&B.”

She continued to perform at the Broken Spoke well into the 1980s drawing crowds, despite the fact her band no longer performed pure country classics. Over the years, Ball’s music changed, but the Broken Spoke has remained the same.

“I have to say if anybody has held the line on being the same club, doing the same thing he was doing the day he opened his doors, it would have to be James White at the Broken Spoke,” Ball said.

The Broken Spoke has a history inside its walls that cannot be found anywhere else. While multi-story condominiums and commercial real estate has encroached upon the Broken Spoke, it continues to hold its own.

“The Broken Spoke is a little bit like the Alamo now,” Ball said. “The Broken Spoke draws tourists to town, to Texas really.”

Ball’s friendship with James and Annetta White spans more than 40 years.

“James White weathered all of the competition that ever existed in this town. In the late 1970s when Austin was overrun by pre-fab metal buildings pumping out Urban Cowboy type country music, James White just stayed there in his little spot and kept it real,” Ball said. “Now they’re all gone and James is still here and it’s still real.”

The Whites have helped to nurture a generation of musicians, songwriters, and singers who have made their way into the world of professional music. The Broken Spoke stands today as a symbol of Austin’s love for pure country music.

“I love James and Annetta. I’ve always just thought the world of them,” Ball said. “Their hearts are totally in the right place as far as music and community are concerned. He’s helped a lot of musicians. They’re very loyal to their musician friends who have played there all these years. Of course James brought to Austin all of the great country artists. What Clifford Antone was to the blues here, James White is to country music in Austin.”

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Ball’s 2014 tour schedule link: http://www.marciaball.com/schedule.html My article published in the July 2014 issue of The Alternate Root magazine at http://thealternateroot.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2453:marciab-bsat&catid=208:what-s-trending&Itemid=268

Oak Hill’s old-timers tell tales about ‘good ‘ol days’

22 Feb

OakHillFour long-time residents of Oak Hill: James Wier, James White, Archie Enochs and his sister Linda Enochs, remember the golden days of Oak Hill long before the intersection of US HWY 290 and Texas HWY 71 became a snarl of traffic and noise.

James Wier

Seventy-three year-old James Wier and his wife, Carolyn, lived in Oak Hill for more than 20 years while he managed road construction crews for Travis County commissioner Johnny Voudouris and then for Ann Richards.

While the family raised their sons, Mike and David, near Granada Hills subdivision, Wier volunteered both for the Oak Hill Volunteer Fire Department and later for the Oak Hill Volunteer EMS Department.

He retired in 2003 and moved his family’s homestead to Buda. These days he likes to sit and to tell stories about the Oak Hill he remembers, dirt roads and ranchland that stretched for miles.

“Whenever we had to put in a road, we had to do our research to make sure it was a community road. We were not allowed to work on private roads. Back in the 1960s the roads were mostly dirt and residents were paying their taxes, but we couldn’t work on any road unless it was approved by the county,” Wier said.

“We don’t know the history of the area around us anymore. But we can still be neighborly and talk to people and take the time to find out what was here before us.”

When he worked for the county Wier often spent his afternoons either in the basement of the Travis County courthouse digging through survey maps, or out in the community trying to figure out which roads the county owned and which it did not.

“We would sit down and talk to some of the old people who had been living in Oak Hill all their lives. The more I researched, the more I enjoyed the old-timers telling their stories about Oak Hill,” Wier said.

Wier said the Mexican government awarded William Cannon a land grant to own the acres stretching from Williamson Creek to Slaughter Lane, known as Oak Springs in 1835. Soon afterwards, settlers discovered an endless supply of cedar trees and natural limestone in the area.

In the early 1880s, the Austin and Oatmanville Railway Company built six miles of rail to transport quarried limestone downtown to be used in building the foundation and inner walls of the Texas capitol, Wier said.

    The train tracks began at Oatman Quarry, once located at the intersection of William Cannon Street and US HWY 290 West followed a route northeast on Convict Hill where they intersected with the Missouri Pacific (MoPac) railroad.  The local train tracks remained in place from 1884 until 1888, until the company removed the rails.

Only a few of the old railroad mounds still exist in the neighborhood. Set off by chain link fencing, the mounds still remain visible today when looking just to the west along MoPac/Loop 1 South between William Cannon and Davis Lane, Wier said.

“A lot of people just drive by and don’t know what those mounds are,” Wier said.

Oak Springs, soon became known as Oatmanville, as the community grew up around the former site of Oatman Quarry, owned by Buster Thomas. Skeeter Hudson owned the land where the quarry sat. Partners Thomas and Hudson operated the quarry through the 1960s until developers began building homes in the subdivision.

Texas prisoners, worked long hours in the quarry without pay, chained at the ankles nightly in a large cave where Oak Hill Centre shopping center now stands, Wier said.

“There was a cave there where the prisoners stayed at night,” Wier said. “They had wooden bunk beds and straw mattresses. There was a big iron ring embedded in the wall and at night when the prisoners went to bed, the bosses would run a chain through all their leg irons and attached them to the ring in the wall, so they couldn’t get out of bed at night and escape.”

Wier said the prisoners used a “cow dip” style water trough about 4 feet wide by 6 feet deep and 15 feet long for bathing and cleaning their clothes once a week.

“That was used for the prisoners to take their weekly baths and to wash their clothes. The prisoners would go in on one end and they would be handed a bar of lye soap and they would take a bath and wash their clothes at the same time, before coming out on the other end. At the end, they would put their clothes back on,” Wier said.

“When they (Thomas and Hudson) built the shopping center, they dug out the cave. Today there is no cave, no trough; there’s nothing there now. That’s all gone. All that was excavated. Where that cave was located, developers probably cut back that rock 50 or 60 feet deep.”

Wier owns a few artifacts excavated from the site in the early 1970s: a wheelbarrow’s wheel believed to have been used at the quarry and oil-burning lanterns likely used in the prisoners’ cave.

“When Buster Thomas and them were doing the excavation up there by Convict Hill, we were friends,” Wier said. “Digging around through the rocks, rubble and all, we found these things. We found the lanterns that they had used because they didn’t have electricity. They used kerosene lanterns.”

Wier recalls in the old days often eating lunch at a few landmark restaurants that have since disappeared in the area.

The site of the old Convict Hill restaurant once operated by Ralph Moreland, stood directly across the street on the north side of William Cannon and US HWY 290 West.

On the south side of US HWY 290, today where a parking lot serves bus commuters for Capital Metro transportation, stood the former site of the Big Wheel Restaurant, near where McCarthy Lane ends. Adjacent to the restaurant once stood a Phillips 66 gas and service station owned by Richards Oil Company.

Curly Glosson operated the Circleville Inn at 9926 Circle Drive, just off Thomas Springs Road from 1972 until 1998.  The location afterwards served as Kelli’s Up-N-Smoke Bar and Grill before it closed in 2012.

Wier remembers the Circleville Inn was the last place locals or travelers could buy alcohol before heading west either to Spicewood on TX HWY 71or to Johnson City on US HWY 290 West.

Wier regularly showed up at the Oak Hill Downs racetrack Saturdays to race his car, he said.

Wier said at times 50 to 60 teenagers showed up with their cars to race on weekends.

“Any kid who thought he had a fast car or the ‘baddest’ car would run. They were mostly stock cars; a few of them were souped up old cars. They were mostly high school kids having a good time,” Wier said. “It was a straight line track – a traditional weekly drag race.”

Nearby, on Friday nights, more experienced drivers raced on what Wier called “the round arounds,” an adjacent oval track.

Wier recalls that Dick Polk operated Polk’s Feed Store near the arena until Hill sold his property and Polk moved his business across the street. There, in 1992 Polk sold Texas’ first scratch off lotto ticket to then Gov. Ann Richards.

Richards served as Wier’s boss as Travis County commissioner while he managed road construction for TXDoT. The previous incumbent county commissioner, Johnny Voudouris, hired Wier in 1970.

“At that time we only had 33 people working for county staff and we had 353 miles of county roads,” Wier said.

     Voudouris also promoted the construction of MoPac/Loop1 South and Texas state highway Loop 360 even though the majority of Oak Hill residents at the time did not support the plans, Wier said. Voudouris also supported plans to extend MoPac South all the way out to US HWY 290 West and past the “Y” in Oak Hill.

“The (original) plan was to spend only about $15 million to extend MoPac South out to U.S. 290 West past the ‘Y,’ but people didn’t want it,” Wier said. “TXDoT folks said ‘ok, we’ll put that money someplace else,’ and they did.”

Oak Hill at one time used to be called “Cedar Chopper Hill,” Wier said.

“Everybody out here either worked rock, or they sold cedar posts and wood stuff,” Wier said. “They were the nucleus of families that helped get everything going. They worked to clear the land of the cedar and they sold the cedar posts.”

Wier remembers meeting Joe Tanner while he still worked as a blacksmith, but before he had a short-cut street named after him that runs from William Cannon to US HWY 290 West across McCarthy Lane.

“I first met Mr. Tanner in the early 1960s when he was over 80 then,” Wier said. “Tanner was probably there at the turn of the century around 1900. His little building was located at the corner of Joe Tanner and US HWY 290.”

Wier said Tanner Blacksmith Shop remained open until Skeeter Hudson bought the property from Tanner in the early 1970s.

James White

Seventy-four year-old James White has spent most of his life living and working in Oak Hill, as a member of one of the area’s oldest founding families.

White’s great-great-great grandfather once owned the Lazy SL Ranch where Freescale Semiconductors now stands and the historic building today that houses Austin Pizza Garden, at 6266 HWY 290 West.

The building first served as a general store owned and operated by the former Texas Ranger James Andrew Patton, and his wife, Virginia Bishop, from 1879 until 1909.

J.A. Patton helped to change the local subdivision’s name from Oatmanville to Oak Hill and soon became known as the “unofficial mayor of Oak Hill.” He also became the area’s first postmaster, operating a small mail center from inside his store until the U.S. Postal Service began to offer rural delivery service.

In 1970 then Gov. Preston Smith dedicated the official Texas Historical Landmark at the personal request of James and Annetta White and their eldest daughter, Terri Rene White.

“Governor Smith had dinner with us the night before and it was the only night that I ever had dinner with the governor of Texas at the Fortress. He ate a T-bone steak and he took some barbecue with him back to the governor’s mansion,” White said. “The next day he dedicated the historical landmark.”

White’s recalls that his youngest daughter, Ginny White-Peacock, learned how to walk inside the historic building, when the family operated the Fortress restaurant, downstairs.

The Whites started leasing out the building in 1977 to several businesses including The Natural Gardner, owned by John Dromgoole.  Not long afterwards, The Natural Gardner relocated to its current location at 8648 Old Bee Caves Road.

Willie Nelson’s daughter, Lana Nelson, for a time also leased space inside the Patton building, naming her restaurant Cowboy’s Steak House.

“Willie Nelson performed there in the 1980s — right there where the fire place is located inside,” James White said. “Lana told me one day, ‘Daddy wants to buy this place,’ but I said I appreciated the offer, but I didn’t want to sell it; I wasn’t interested in selling it then and I’m still not.”

Several sandwich businesses moved in and out of the Patton building before the early 1990s when Austin Pizza Garden opened.

J.A. Patton donated an acre of his land to build Oak Hill’s first elementary school where Don’s Grass company stands today at 6240 HWY 290 West. Austin Independent School Disrict built a new J.A. Patton Elementary School, at 6001 Westcreek in 1985.  J.A. Patton’s great-great-great grandson, James Lamar White Peacock, currently attends kindergarten there. His mom, Ginny Peacock, is James White’s daughter and she and her husband, Mike Peacock, also manage the Broken Spoke.

In the lobby of the school, a picture of J.A. Patton, donated by James White, hangs.

In 2000, the Whites co-authored and self-published the book, They Came to Texas, written about the Patton, the White and the Campbell families of Oak Hill.

James White remembers that as a teenager, quite a few establishments earned reputations along US HWY 290 West where it met Texas State HWY 71 at the “Y” in Oak Hill. One of those places included, The Moose Head Tavern, where an actual moose head hung on one wall inside the bar, home to a large dance hall.

On Saturday nights Moose Head patrons could count on a fight. As the evenings drew long and serious drinking began at the Moose Head, James White said he learned how to keep away from trouble, if anyone threw a punch or a bottle.

White also recalls that he used to drive his 1959 hard top black and white Chevy onto the parking lot of the Sportsman’s Inn, then a dimly-lit, 30-by 50-foot wooden-shingled building along US HWY 290 West near the “Y” in Oak Hill.

The cover charge at the door of the Sportsman’s Inn on Saturday nights paid for a band to play.

After a few beers, White said he would look for the prettiest girl he could find in the place, to either dance a two-step, a waltz, or the Cotton-Eyed-Joe.

On one particular night in 1961, a pretty blonde-haired girl dancing in a red dress on the dance floor there, caught his eye.

“That girl turned out to be the love of my life and my wife, Annetta Wells,” James White said.

James White and Annetta Wells dated before he enlisted in the U.S. Army and he went overseas during the fall of 1961. He returned home Nov. 10, 1964, and opened the Broken Spoke. The two married on a Thursday, Sept. 15, 1966 and they held their wedding reception there. White celebrates his 75th birthday with a public party at the Broken Spoke April 12, and they will celebrate the Broken Spoke’s 50th anniversary Nov. 10.

“That’s an accomplishment. I’ll be 75 this year that the Broken Spoke turns 50. What I did was kinda’ create a place like some of the places that we used to go to when I was a kid,” James White said. “I looked out over a vast Texas landscape and there wasn’t another building in sight except for a mile down the road on the right, the Austin city limits sign.”

The Broken Spoke stands not only as a 50-year-old landmark in Austin, but represents decades of country music stars who have performed there over the years including: Bob Wills and the original Texas Playboys, Ernest Tubb, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Marcia Ball, Don Walser, George Strait, Ray Benson and the Asleep at the Wheel Band, Alvin Crow, Dale Watson, Bruce Robison, James Hand, Johnny Bush, Johnny Rodriguez, Rosie Flores and more.

Archie Enochs

At 68, Archie Enochs has lived his whole life in Oak Hill and he currently resides in the only house that still faces the highway at 6254 US HWY 290 West. He also sometimes works cattle on a ranch in San Angelo.

Traffic zooms by at speeds beyond 50 mph, just a few steps outside his front door daily, headed west towards Johnson City.

“I don’t have any problem with the traffic anymore than anyone else does. You kind of have to creep your way into the traffic from one signal to the next,” he said.

When he’s home in Oak Hill, he eats breakfast every morning at Jim’s restaurant across Texas HWY 71 or lunch daily at Austin Pizza Garden, his next door neighbor.

Archie Enochs remembers the former Big Wheel restaurant opening as the first 24-hours restaurant in Oak Hill.

“When it opened up, that was a lot of bright lights for Oak Hill. There was always a lot of activity there at the Big Wheel and it was a good place to get a get a cup of coffee,” Archie Enochs said.

He also helped to build Hart Field at the Oak Hill Little League Baseball fields at the corner of McCarthy and US HWY 290 West.

“I drove a dump truck. We cleared all the trees, piled up and burned them. We borrowed a front end loader and some other people brought some other equipment and we cleared out that area to build the ball field. When it opened, it didn’t have bleachers or a concession stand or anything like that. It was built up incrementally as funds became available,” Archie Enochs said.

  Linda Enochs

Archie Enochs’ younger sister, Linda Enochs, remembers as a young girl, buying soda pop and candy at Mrs. Martin’s Store where it operated out of the downstairs level of the Patton building.

She recalls that the upstairs of the Patton building served for years as the regular meeting place for Woodmen of the World organization.

“When I was little, Miss Martin lived in the back and ran that little store at the front of the building downstairs,” Linda Enochs said. “That’s were all of us kids went to buy a nickel Dr. Pepper and penny candy and things like that. I remember being old enough that Mom would send me for a loaf of bread and she would give me a quarter and I brought back 3 cents change.”

Linda Enochs also remembers that as a girl some of the top floor of the Patton building leased out apartments to private individuals.

She also remembers her maternal uncle, Archie Patton, operated three local racetracks nearby. He operated a horse racing track, an oval racetrack and a “straight away” track.

“I remember that little oval jalopy mud track for just old car racing, then he had a quarter mile drag track too,” Linda Enochs said. “Archie’s (Patton’s) idea was, if you had two things you needed to race ‘em – cars and horses. And he could sell beer while everyone was watching.”

Linda Enochs said the cars raced on the oval track well into the 1960s.

“The oval car track was hysterical – it was just a little oval with bank turns and they would just water that black dirt. It just made the greatest mud and the drivers would just spin their tires and throw mud into the air – it was wonderful,” she said.

Linda Enochs said she remembers the horse race track ran about three-tenths of a mile long.

“When I was little I would work the concession stand with my aunt. Of course, I couldn’t sell beer, but I could open the Dr. Peppers and make change,” she said.

The racetracks drew crowds of 200 or 300 people, who sat in stadium style seating.

She recalls that Archie Patton’s wife, Norenah Patton, until the 1970s ran the Oak Hill Steak House, just east of where the Shell Station stands at 8314 State HWY 71.

Linda Enochs also remembers Cecil Hill, a rancher, and his wife, Maxine, who kept a rodeo arena located near where Bank of America sits today at 5725 Highway 290 West. Hill allowed cowboys to rope steers and ride bulls there, but the place also served as a hangout for local children after school let out for the day.

“They built that arena and it was just a fun place to go. They held junior rodeos and Labor Day adult rodeo,” Linda Enochs said. “There was always something going on down there.”

The owners of a local feed store also looked after Oak Hill children after school, she said.

“I would just jump on my horse and ride up to my cousin, Bobby Miller’s and he and his sister would saddle their horses and away we’d go,” she said.

Linda Enochs, the daughter of Alvis “Buster” Enochs, said her father earned his nickname by being a bit of a cowboy in Oak Hill who broke horses and could rope them too.

She also loved riding horses at the former Patton Lazy SL Ranch in Oak Hill, where Freescale Semionductors Co. stands today at 6501 William Cannon. The Enochs knew Tanner well and they might have been some of his best customers.

“I used to ride my horse across 290. I know that’s hard to believe today. He was a big Sorrell horse with white stocking feet, so I called him ‘Socks,’” Linda Enochs said.

Buster Enochs’ wife, Erelene Enochs, worked at the Texas Public Service Company and drove into downtown daily. Linda Enochs recalls that it took her mother only seven minutes to drive from Oak Hill to Fourth and Congress streets daily.

Linda Enochs and her brother Archie Enochs tend to their ancestors’ graves inside Oak Hill Cemetery on Old Bee Caves Road, just a half mile off US HWY 290 West.

Her paternal great-great grandparents, James Maddison Patton and Sarah Jane Smithson-Patton, her great grandparents James “Jim” Andrew Patton and his wife, Virginia Bishop, and her grandparents Andrew Patton and his wife, Webster Grumbles-Patton, are buried there. Linda Enochs’ mother, Erelene Enochs also is buried there.

“It’s ours to take care of now,” Linda Enochs said. “On Mother’s Day we go out there to take flowers to Mom and all the grandmothers.”

Published in the Oak Hill Gazette http://oakhillgazette.com

Don Walser band reunites at the Broken Spoke

22 Feb

QuisenberryatWalserreunionReal estate agent by day, Janie Quisenberry donned a red and gold-fringed western outfit, boots, and a cowgirl hat one cold January night to sing again beneath spotlights on a southwest Austin honky tonk stage.

Quisenberry and other part-time local country stars – all senior citizens – left behind day jobs or retirement Jan. 21 to perform at the Broken Spoke on South Lamar.

Until midnight – on a weeknight – they yodeled and crooned before hundreds of aged fans to honor the late Texas Swing Hall of Fame great Don Walser at his fourth tribute and reunion since he died in 2006 at the age of 72.

Walser didn’t cut his first album, Rolling Stone from Texas, until he was 61 years old and a local talent scout “discovered” the country singer and bit actor who had retired from the National Guard and moved to Austin in 1994. One of Walser’s biggest hits, “John Deer Tractor,” Brennen Leigh sang for him that Tuesday night.

All of the musicians who came out on a week night shared stories or sang some songs Walser once did in the style of Bob Wills and Jimmie Rodgers or other traditional country music stars.

“I didn’t make that the criteria when I invited people – that they had to sing a Don Walser song,” Kalish said. “We sang a lot of standards, but we did those that were his songs too.”

Slaid Cleaves performed a set filled with Walser’s songs.  He also sang one that he wrote about the man who later became his mentor:

“And every soul in that roadhouse

felt the power of his song.

Through life’s joys and sorrows

he brought us together as one.

They called him ‘God’s own yodeler,

The Pavoratti of the plains.’

There’s no bigger voice in Texas.

Don Walser was his name.”

     Cleaves, who also plays guitar, may be the only guy who can yodel anywhere near the Don Walser artistry, Kalish said.

Fiddler Chojo Jacques from Dripping Springs played a duet with Cleaves on stage as part of the tribute.

“Many years ago, when I was just starting out I played an opening set for Don Walser and the Pure Texas Band.  I was just a solo act at the time, and my songs were all of the tragic folk variety.  Don said to me after my set, ‘Slaid, you sure do know how to make ’em cry!  But you need to learn how to make ’em laugh, too.’  Don saw that I was interested in and influenced by the country music of his generation.  And I got the feeling it warmed his heart that someone 30 years younger was keeping a bit of his music and his memory alive,” Cleaves said.

Carl Hutchins sang “Cattle Call,” and “Don’t Worry About Me,” two songs that Walser used to sing often at the Broken Spoke.  The band also performed “Whiskey River” and other classics of country music.

Fiddler Howard Kalish and legendary bassist “Skinny” Don Keeling performed with Walser for more than 14 years and played together at the Broken Spoke for the first time in 1991.

“A lot of these people are those who Don Walser enjoyed, like Janie Quisenberry and Ted Roddy. He (Walser) always liked Ted’s voice and the way he did (the song) ‘Borrowed Angel,’ which we got Ted to do,” Kalish said. “So we covered quite a few of Don’s tunes.”

Quisenberry said she first met Walser in 1984.

“I was managing a BMI Music publishing company called Texas Crude. Our meager little office was located in what was originally the Sheraton Terrace Motel at the corner of South Congress and Academy Drive,” Quisenberry said. “Willie Nelson and Tim O’Conner were also housed there.”

One day Walser walked into Quisenberry’s office with a few cassette recordings of his songs in hand.

“Good thing because all the equipment I had was a small mint green radio/cassette player,” she said.  “He introduced himself and asked if I might have time to listen to a couple of songs he had written. As I recall he was still living in Bastrop and finishing up his National Guard work, but I can’t swear to that. He put on a tape and I fell apart.”

At the time Quisenberry tried to interest her connections in Nashville into buying Walser’s songs.

“I went to Nashville with the intent of pushing Don’s songs to one the coolest swing players I knew. I did and I guess just because of fate and the world of music, it was clear that the only person in the world created to sing Don’s songs was Don Walser.  He had a start early in life and put it on hold for many, many years, but when he took that second chance at his dream he caught the gold ring.”

Kalish said anyone who sings Walser’s songs has a hard act to follow.

“It’s kind of intimidating to tell people, ‘oh here’s a Don Walser song that you need to sing like Don Walser,’ you know. If it’s ‘Waltz Across Texas,’ it can be sort of scary. He was one of the best singers,” Kalish said.

Some Walser fans have been dancing at the Broken Spoke for the past three decades including Marcia Koch and her husband of Bastrop.

“We remember a lot of these performers from years ago when they played with Don Walser,” Koch said. “It’s great to see them all again and to be here dancing – it feels like yesterday.”

A lot of the people in the audience at Walser’s tribute, Kalish remembered seeing 20 years earlier dancing on that same dance floor.

“Going by, I thought ‘oh hey, there they are,’ you know?” Kalish said.

Keeling said seeing those older couples brought back a lot of memories. He said the band members knew regular singles who met on that dance floor and became romantic couples.

“We would see these stag people – independent girls and boys — who would start dancing together and five years later they married,” Keeling said. “Consequently, we played a lot of weddings.”

In the early years, Walser became somewhat of a wedding singer for his large fan-based following.

“So we played a lot of weddings as a result of our gigs, not only at the Broken Spoke, but everywhere,” Kalish said. “We would play a wedding and Don Walser would say ‘If I play your wedding then you can’t ever get divorced.’”

Kalish together with fiddler and singer Jason Roberts Jan. 21 used hand signals to alert  Keeling to chord changes and key signatures for songs they performed; they gestured with two or three fingers held to their chests as the band started songs in each set.

“On songs I don’t know, he (Kalish) gives me the numbers,” Keeling said. “For the big band songs, I know a lot of them, but some of ‘em I don’t. Neither he nor Jason (Roberts) need to say a word. They just turn around and give me the numbers.”

Keeling said he learned to play by ear on both guitar and stand up bass, which he played for 20 years before switching to electric bass.

After graduating McCallum High School Keeling performed as a freelance musician playing bass in various local bands in the late 1950s including Jimmy Martin, considered the king of bluegrass and Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys of Tennessee. Keeling played bass with Charlie and Ira Louvin of the Louvin Brothers band. The Louvin Brothers, opened for late great stars such as George Jones at Hilltop Inn and Elvis Presley first at Dessau Hall in Pflugerville and again in the Louisiana Hayride at Houston City Auditorium in the 1950s. For a short time, Keeling also played with High Noon, a rockabilly trio.

By the time Keeling joined Walser’s band in 1989 he had gained a name for his style of  “walking the bass,” a chord progression that rises and falls in pitch over several bars, in quarter note movement, by holding two, three or four beats. It’s a sound that forms the heartbeat of any good country song.

Kalish and another Walser band member, piano player Floyd Domino, taught Keeling  how to perform a few baseline riffs “back in the day,” Keeling said.

“Kalish said ‘there it is.’ And I said ‘I’ll be darned; this is what I’ve been looking for.’  It’s amazing. It was the grandest thing that ever happened. Floyd or Howard would tell me, ‘that’s three, two short, then two.’ Till then, come to find out I had been leaving it out of half the songs,” Keeling said. “Today I’ve still got it. I can slap it too.”

Walser and the band played at the Broken Spoke regularly until his diabetes made him too ill to perform in 2003.

During the 1960s Walser called his band, The Texas Plainsmen. They didn’t become known as the Pure Texas Band until the 1980s.

“Before I started playing with him, he was kind of regional. He would perform in the areas where he lived,” Kalish said. “Once he gained some national attention, we did some national tours and he did a few on his own without us, with a different group.”

Walser gained attention for the hit “John Deer Tractor,” a song off the Rolling Stone From Texas album produced in Austin by Ray Benson of the Asleep at the Wheel band on independent label, Watermelon Records.

“He (Walser) never got top 40 hit air play or anything, but he got lots of attention and he had a following,” Kalish said. “His songs played on what you call underground stations and college radio – that was really before there was an Internet of any consequence. Somehow, though, people heard about him, however they hear about people who are under the radar.”

The Austin Chronicle voted Walser “Best Performing Country Band” in 1996 and he received a National Association of Recording Artists award in 1997, for his independently produced album. The National Endowment for the Arts bestowed Walser with at lifetime heritage award in 2000 and he performed at the Grand Ole Opry in both 1999 and 2001.

“At the Grand Ole Opry, when we performed ‘Riders in the Sky,’ all the other performers came up to shake Don’s hand and said ‘we’ve never heard yodeling like this,’” Keeling said. “Not since Elton Britt.”

Britt, a native of Arkansas, set the American standard for country yodeling from the 1940s through the 1960s, following a tradition set in the 1930s by late great Jimmie Rodgers. Walser captured their famous yodeling styles and more from Slim Whitman, best remembered for his three-octave falsetto and his tour with Elvis Presley in the 1950s and direct television marketing in the 1970s.  Whitman died in June last year.

“Don had a bunch of different kinds of yodels that were interesting. He had Elton Britt’s kind of turkey yodel. If you listen closely to both, you can tell that Don definitely listened to Elton Britt, who was a protégé’ of Jimmie Rodgers,” Kalish said. “Don liked Slim Whitman a lot because Whitman had a falsetto and Don had an amazing falsetto as well.”

Walser used to often say that he thought of himself as a country singer who could yodel, Kalish said.

“He didn’t think of himself as a yodeler because to him that was like a ‘one trick pony’ you know. When I first heard him sing, he didn’t yodel at all; I was just amazed by his voice. Then he did the yodeling and I thought my god, that knocked it up a couple of notches,” Kalish said.

Whenever Walser performed at the Broken Spoke, close to 400 people would show up to see him. Walser would perform about five songs and then would invite Kalish and Keeling to each sing a few songs. He would introduce the two by saying:  “You get tired of picking up diamonds,” Keeling said.

Keeling performed “Blue House Painted White” and “More and More,” during the Walser tribute performance in January.

“I’m old, but I just keep going,” Keeling said. “My heart runs like a jet airplane.”

Keeling received a Pacemaker that doctors surgically installed in his chest eight years ago that helps his heart keep time, he said.

Walser’s drummer Phil Fajardo recently also received his Pacemaker a few weeks ago.

The Broken Spoke’s owner, James M. White, joined the group’s unofficial Pacemaker club last fall. On the night of the tribute and reunion, White was home preparing for endoscopic sinus surgery scheduled for Jan. 30.

“We would always look forward to James White singing ‘Back in the Saddle Again.’ He would honor us and he did a pretty good job of it,” Keeling said. “Walser loved him and he loves Don.”

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‘Luminations’ light up Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

6 Dec

wfc_luminationsLady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at 4801 La Crosse Avenue will radiate a holiday glow for three hours each evening of Dec. 14 and 15 beginning at dusk as flickering flames from tiny votive or electric candles light 3,000 handmade lanterns.

“Luminations,” a free family-friendly annual event, benefits Capital Area Food Bank on both nights from 6 to 9 p.m. with a donation of two cans of food per person.

Early visitors may park in the center’s parking lot, or along La Crosse Avenue; turnover frequent occurs as guests come and go during the three-hour open house on both nights. Staff also will be available to offer parking assistance.

The lanterns made to look like paper sacks with the tops folded down are cast from plastic and each measure about 10 inches tall and 6 inches wide. The glowing lanterns, called luminarias in Spanish, represent a 300-year-old holiday tradition throughout the Southwest each December. The luminarias will light at ground level the walking pathways for visitors to the Wildflower Center.

Some of the Wildflower Center’s luminarias utilize tiny electric bulbs that feel cool to the touch. However, a warning to parents of small children, other lanterns on the grounds feature glass votive or fire-lit candles. The burning candles will be located at the front entrance of the Wildflower Center closest to La Crosse Avenue and will extend all the way into the courtyard.

The electric luminarias will be situated throughout the themed gardens to include: plants that attract butterflies, plants that prove good at repelling deer, and the cacti garden. Parents with small children and strollers are welcome; pets are prohibited.

“There’s definitely a safer element with the electric candles,” said Amanda Butterfield, events coordinator at the Wildflower Center. “Parents need to keep an eye on their kids and make sure they aren’t putting their hands inside of the fire lit candles, but other than that they should be fine if everyone stays on the paths.”

Beside the center’s cistern, a laser-lit tree and bushes will emit more than 5,000 points of light provided by the Christmas Light Pros. The lighted display draws large crowds of visitors every year. The lasers reflect outward and illuminate solid tiny green and white points of light against any surface, including skin. Because the lights do not disperse, visitors enjoy taking photos of their loved ones seemingly glowing green with an eerie and surreal star-like quality.

“It’s really beautiful. The kids and adults alike are filled with awe when they walk by. I think they are mystified about what it is and how it got there,” Butterfield said.

Butterfield said that visitors walking the paths around the laser-lit trees should avoid walking on the wild plants that grow nearby in the environmentally sensitive habitat. The gardens feature blue, violet, scarlet and gold blooms this time of year from Autumn Sage, Sky Blue Aster, Resinbush, Scarlet Sage, Sunflower Goldeneye, and American Beautyberry.

“The American Beautyberry is gorgeous. It’s like this beautiful purple lilac color. The blooms are these clumps of berries that grow together to form a 2- to 3-inch array of color,” Butterfield said.

    Together the lanterns, laser-lit trees and blooming plants provide a spectacular, one-of-kind visual bonanza of sights accompanied by the sounds of live musical performances by local musicians and choirs.

One of the musical performances will be provided by Southwest Austin’s own Bailey Middle School students who will perform at 7 p.m. Dec. 14. The beginning steel drum group made up of 19 students, will perform a variation of three songs: “Green Sleeves,” “Turtle Town,” and “Nah Going Home.” The students will dress in Hawaiian theme clothing and tie dye T-shirts.

Bailey’s steel band drum band has performed at the Wildflower Center before, but this will be the first time for one of its newest director’s. Alex Ortega, an assistant band director and steel drum director who teaches percussion and trumpet graduated last May from Texas State University in San Marcos with a degree in music education. This semester has been his first job teaching in Texas public schools.

“These are steel drums that are based out of the Caribbean Islands, so it gets you in the mood of being on the beach and relaxing in the sun. They are happy tunes that you would typically hear in the Caribbean,” Ortega said.

The second group of the advanced steel drum band is composed of 17 students who will perform nine songs including: “La Bamba,” “Sarah,” “Jump in the Line,” “Pyxis,” “Pan Christmas medley,” “Oye Como Va,” “Tre Pak” from the “Nutcracker Suite,” “Under the Sea,” from the movie “The Little Mermaid” and “Slaughter Lane,” an original song written by Austin composer Emily Lemmerman for James Bowie High School.

“It will be fun. The kids are really excited about it. We have some Christmas songs and some other songs that show off the songs of the Caribbean,” Ortega said.

Musical performances will be provided outdoors in one of two locations, either the courtyard or in the themed gardens:

Saturday, December 14 performances scheduled:

6 p.m.:                      Austin Mandolin Orchestra performs in the Courtyard

6:30 p.m.:                 Chalumeau Clarinet Quartet performs in the Themed Gardens

7 p.m.:                      Bailey Middle School Steel Drum Band performs in the Courtyard

7:30 p.m.:                 Daisy O’Connor performs in the Themed Gardens

8 p.m.:                      Eanes High School Choir performs in the Courtyard

8:15 p.m.:                 Fiddler Rebecca Patek performs in the Themed Gardens

Sunday, December 15 performances scheduled:

6 p.m.:                      Bossamania performs in the Courtyard

6:30 p.m.:                 Austin Banjo Club performs in the Themed Gardens

7 p.m.:                      Outside Voices, a Youth Choir, performs in the Courtyard

7:30 p.m.:                 Flute Mellifluent performs in the Themed Gardens

8 p.m.:                      The Brass Men performs in the Courtyard

8:15 p.m.:                 The Annie and Kate Band performs in the Themed Gardens

Outside seating on wooden benches will be provided and right off the courtyard, visitors may sit in tiny seats within the Little House during “story time.” Wildflower staff and volunteers will provide story time readings.

In addition to the beautiful holiday lighting and musical performances, children will receive a visit from “Frosty the Snowman.” They may also participate in arts and crafts activities inside the Wildflower Visitors’ Gallery. A snowflake-making craft has proved to be one of the most popular each year.

Lone Star Kettle Corn will also sell freshly popped goods at the entrance to the Courtyard.

The Wildflower Café will be open for business and will sell hot drinks like apple cider and cocoa as well as tasty baked goods. The McDermott Learning Center will display Christmas trees decorated with Texas and wildflower-themed ornaments by local businesses. Both Saturday and Sunday evenings, decorated trees in the MLC will be provided by Mockingbird Domestics, Ana Perkins of Grown Up Shoes, and Breed & Co.

The Wildflower Gift Store will also offer unique items for sale.  The store offers a lot of handmade and artisan gifts – everything from painted flower pots to hand crafted clothing to artisan jewelry and handmade holiday ornaments. Guests may sample Texas Yaupon Tea, the only native one to North America, made from a type of holly bush.

On both nights, local authors and illustrators will personally autograph copies of their works from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Wildflower Store. Saturday night, Alan C. Elliott and Stephanie Ford will sign their book, Willy the Texas Longhorn, a Santa Tale. The story  features a Longhorn who helps Santa navigate a nasty Texas fog one Christmas night.   On Sunday night illustrator Keith Graves will sign his book, Too Many Frogs, written by Sandy Asher. The story features a rabbit and a frog that also turn out to be a humorously odd couple of bookworms.

The festive event impacts the local community by raising charitable donations for a non-profit food bank that serves the entire state of Texas.

“Last year we raised 9,000 pounds of food,” Butterfield said. “We’ve been doing this at least six years. It’s a great way to give back to the community and to help support our hungry central Texas neighbors.”

The 9,000 pounds of food amounts to 7,500 meals, said Sara LeStrange, communications director for CAFB.

Currently the website for the food bank states that the organization serves about 48,000 central Texans each week. However, that number only reflects a portion of the actual people served weekly over the past year, LeStrange said.

“It is really hard to get a good measure about the number of people we serve. The National Hunger Study every four years details the number of people served by CAFB. We expect that number to be hirer when the study is released this next spring. We know that we have distributed over 29 million pounds of food over the last 12 months and that is up 7 million over the year before.”

CAFB is working hard to meet a growing need in Central Texas. Not only do events like Luminations raise food donations, but they raise overall awareness as well, she said.

“Over 40 percent of the people we serve are children and a majority of our clients are made up of families with at least one working adult, the elderly and the disabled. Something in Central Texas we don’t realize is that for a lot of us, hunger lives next door. Hunger is everywhere,” LeStrange said.

“With one in five Texans facing hunger, we do not need to look far. It’s a big issue and it’s hard because it is a big thing. But every meal counts; 7,500 meals may not seem like a lot when compared to the 29 million pounds distributed in the past year, but every one (meal) is important.”

The most-requested items at CAFB include:

  • canned meats like tuna, stew and chili (pop-tops preferred)
  • canned vegetables
  • pasta & pasta sauce
  • beans
  • healthy cereals
  • peanut butter

   What should I donate?

  • healthy, non-perishable food
  • items with intact, un-opened, consumer or commercial packaging
  • items with non-breakable packaging (no glass, please)
  • food within the expiration date on the packaging.

For more information, please see http://www.austinfoodbank.org/how-to-help/donate-food.html

Beekeepers sponsor Tour De Hives Aug. 17

8 Aug

by Donna Marie Miller

Thousands of bees buzz just inches away from Tanya Phillips’ face on a recent hot August afternoon. They carry golden pollen from native wildflowers to hives located on her property just off U.S. Highway 290 in Oak Hill.

She peers into an observation hive that her husband, Chuck Reburn created. It allows Phillips to watch her bees safely from behind a sheet of clear glass as they reproduce and make honey in their human-made habitat.

Still, other bees exit and roam from the hive, zipping and zizzing through the air around Phillips’ head.

Phillips and Reburn, who own Bee Friendly Austin, a certified naturally grown apiary in Oak Hill, will co-sponsor Tour De Hives Saturday Aug. 17, beginning at 8 a.m. on their property located at 9874 Wier Loop Circle in Oak Hill. The Facebook address is: http://www.TourdeHives.org.

The event will kick off with honey and mead tasting, beehive tours and basic introduction classes to beekeeping. Self-guided participants will sign waivers to visit bee yards within a 20-mile radius of the state’s Capitol until 2 p.m. using flyers with maps and directions. This is not a pet-friendly event and Phillips advises participants to leave them at home.

Phillips will provide some training presentations and a few vendors will also provide equipment used for harvesting and will allow tasting of honey products. The event will also serve as a fundraiser for The Bee Friendly Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports scientific education, public awareness, humane treatment of bees, sustainability, and the collection of honey from bees.

The Phillips-Reburn business web address is: http://www.beefriendlyaustin.com. Information about the classes Phillips teaches and the hives that Reburn sells can be found at: http://www.teeceebeez.com.

Phillips and Reburn represent just two Austinites who enjoy beekeeping. They plan to introduce others to nine other local beekeepers as part of the Tour De Hives. Participants will caravan to various homes in Austin to observe backyard beekeeping.

“I started this whole vision of The Tour De Hives. We like being on the leading edge of ‘cool.’ We did ‘back yard chickens’ (farming)  in the city before it got trendy and now back yard bees are the next Austin ‘funky thing’ and we think it’s time to get folks started because the bees need us,” Phillips says.

The Tour De Hives will also coincide Aug. 17 with “National Honey Bee Day.” Phillips hopes people will be inspired. Future beekeepers can order their bees in December, receive them by March and build up a strong colony by next summer.

“We hope this first annual Tour De Hives will lead to a bigger and better one next year,” Phillips says. “The trend is happening. We know this because we participate in all kinds of groups and organizations connected to beekeeping through Facebook.com and Yahoo.com.”

Some of the groups are Austin Area Beekeepers, San Marcos Bee Wranglers, Central Texas Beekeepers and FayCo Beekeepers of Fayette County.

Some of the focus groups hope to alter the global-wide decline of honeybees. Scientific researchers have blamed genetically modified seeds, environmental influences, and pests such as the varroa mite, according to Brit Amos, author of “Death of the Bees. Genetically Modified Crops and the Decline of Bee Colonies in North America,” published Aug. 9, 2011 on http://www.globalresearch.ca.

“Our goal with the Bee Friendly Foundation is to create a grant that a college student of entomology can receive to study bees and that research will benefit bees,” Phillips says. “Like an assistant professor of apiculture in the department of entomology at Texas A&M University.”

The foundation’s website address is: http://www.beefriendlyfoundation.org.

Other beekeepers, like Phillips and Reburn, farm honey as a sustainable food source as well. The couple hopes to move to their farmland near Big Bend National Park within three years and start living “off the grid,” she says. Their future mountainous desert home has solar energy, a rainwater collection system, and area to plant a large garden and to care for bees.

At Phillips’ current home in Oak Hill, bees fly towards a metal water tank, like those reserved for cattle. The bees land on top of a concrete hexagonal-shaped island designed specifically for bees in the pond’s center surrounded by water.

“They’ve left the hive. They’re foragers, they’re female. We don’t really have any male bees right now. It’s not drone season yet. So you probably won’t see the boys,” Phillips says chuckling a bit.

“This floats in our pond for the bees, so they won’t drown. Unlike the wasps –

they will fly down and can land on the water and they can take off, but bees can’t do that.”

Phillips doesn’t run nor hide from the bees. She’s affectionately given all five of her personal beehives names – such as “Bee-yonce,” “Bee-onca,” “Ona-bee,” “Bee-atrice,” and “May-bee.”

The exits on hives face the very same direction forming a parallel line, northeast along a barbed wire fence that surrounds the Phillips-Reburn property. Phillips gets inches away from one hive with two holes in it that bees enter and exit.

When she’s simply observing the bees, she wears just shorts and a T-shirt, no protective bee farming gear. The largest of her hives has three additional holes, currently plugged with corks.

“If you get enough bees, you can open more holes,” she says. “But you don’t want to open more holes than they (the bees) have the ability to guard.”

Since she started keeping beehives in May, the numbers of bees living in each her colonies has remained small – less than 30,000 per hive.

“I was supposed to be the only bee keeper,” Phillips says. “But as soon as Chuck started studying bees, he was like ‘I’m gonna’ do bees too.’  And he kinda goes crazy; when Chuck does something, he does it all the way.”

In the last three months, Reburn has built 12 Langstroth style hives, large rectangle-shaped wood boxes that stack vertically to provide eight frames each for bees to create combs.

According to Oscar H. Will III, author of  “The 2011 Guide To Backyard Bees and Honey,” published on http://www.grit.com, the Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth designed the modular structures in the mid 1800s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Though Langstroth never profited from his patent, apiarists still consider him “the Father of bee keeping.

Reburn also built nuc hives, smaller starter wooden ones shaped like hat boxes. He will more than likely combine the bees living in his nucs with his other hives to strengthen them for the winter, Phillips says.

“What I build or what we are using are these eight-frame ‘mediums,’ so it’s a little narrower than the old-school ones, which make them a little lighter,” Reburn says. “They’ve got aluminum tops that I’ve built on all of mine and I’ve got an inner cover that is set up so I can actually feed through the top of them in the dearth when I’m first starting out a hive and feeding them sugar water. And I do all cedar construction on my boxes. Hopefully they’ll last quite a while that way.”

Reburn built Phillips’ top bar hives, modeled after a centuries-old form of human-made beehives that originated in Greece, according to Peter Sieling, who wrote “A Brief History of the Top Bar Hive,” published on http://www.makingbeehives.com.

The top bar hives consist of a series of 1 and 3/8-inch wooden slats laid horizontally on top of a wood box to allow bees to build combs separately inside.

“The bees are calmer and easier. You’re lifting just one bar at a time when you’re opening the hive, so it’s really light; it’s not heavy like lifting a whole box,” Phillips says.

In order to open and close the handmade wooden hives Phillips sometimes subdues the bees using a smoker. The hand-held device burns wood and pieces of raw cotton to create a flameless, cool smoke.

“People think that the smoke calms the bees, but I always say ‘I don’t think it calms the bees.’ One, they don’t have eyelids, so it hurts the bees; and two, they release a pheromone called an ‘alarm pheromone’ and it masks the alarm scent, so the bees can’t smell (and say) – ‘oh my god, there’s danger, danger around.’ So it kind of confuses them. So it hurts their eyes and it confuses them,” Phillips says.

Reburn often uses propane lighter to light the smoker.

“There’s these wood pellets that we use: I think it’s almost like an animal bedding that they sell in a compressed wood pellet with a little bit of wood scraps,” Reburn says. “And then I add a little bit of cotton in there. There’s raw cotton you can use as well. But the wood scraps work real well, if you can get ‘em lit. That’s the trick. You don’t use much and we don’t use it if we don’t have to.”

When opening up the hives, Phillips uses a protective suit.

“I don’t like to get stung,” she says. “So I researched a little bit about what is the best suit to buy and decided for Texas I wanted an Ultra Breeze® (suit.) It does let a little bit of air in, but it’s sandwiched waffle material – it has an inner layer, a waffle layer, and another layer so the bees can’t get through. And if they did sting one, it still wouldn’t get through all three places.”

She likes the Ultra Breeze® bee suit because zippers run from hip to ankle, making it easy to get in and out of quickly. The gear also allows easy access to pockets, with Velcro snap closures at the wrists and ankles. Phillips usually wears boots and long socks underneath the suit, to prohibit bees from attempting to enter her suit from the ground. The spacious suit also features a special zipper-sealed hood with a form-fitted enclosure or mask kept away from the face.

“The other thing I like about this suit that I haven’t found anywhere else is the face mask has a bottom stiffener. Most of them have this one (the stiffening arc brace around the head,) but they don’t have this one, (the one across the chin,)” Phillips says.

“Unfortunately, it sells for $259 and you cannot find it cheaper. But it’s the best and I’ve never been stung through my suit.”

She thinks that she has been stung on the back of her hand through the gloves, she says.

“When they sting you through the gloves, it’s not sticking the stinger (in) real deep, so it doesn’t hurt. When they sting you, their whole abdomen detaches and that leaves it in your skin. That’s why if you leave it in there, it’s still pumping the liquid in you,” Phillips says.

“So you just want to real carefully, grab the abdomen and pull it back out, or slide it out like with a credit card, or your fingernail and pull the stinger out and it (the pain) goes away right away. Honey bee stings hardly hurt at all and they hurt for a very short time.”

She says the pain one feels from a honeybee sting is nothing like any received from a wasp or hornet. The less a beekeeper disturbs a hive, the better. Most hives require little maintenance after the first year, about one visit every two months.

Phillips says that when opening up a hive, she immediately locates the queen, the largest bee, the one with a large golden-colored abdomen usually found closest to the larvae, or bee “babies.” The life span of a female honeybee from egg to adult ready to leave the cells of a honeycomb spans 21 days, she says.

“For three days it’s an egg, then a larva, then it starts out as a white bee – it’s so cool and then it changes into the bee that we see now,” Phillips says.

“They (other bees) start shaking her, (a queen) and stop feeding her and pushing her out around the hive. And she’ll start to lose weight. And when she gets thin enough that she can fly, her and half of the bees will take off. It’s called a swarm. They’ll land up in a tree or on a building somewhere and they’ll all hover up like a football or a giant basketball of bees. Then, they’ll sit there and they’ll wait and they’ll send out some scouts. As soon as the scouts find a place to live, they’ll put some pheromone out and then they’ll go and do their little bee dance and tell all the other bees where they’ve found some place to life.”

The swarm of bees will move as one in a formation similar to a tornado in the air until the bees fly into their new location. Once relocated, the bees will sit and fan their wings and spread more pheromones so the rest of the bees can find their way. The rest of the bees will begin feeding a few of the larvae (left by the exiting queen) extra royal jelly to make queen cells. Typically the first or strongest queen born will kill the rest of the queens and take over as the new queen of the hive.  The life cycle of a queen honeybee is 16 days; drones, the male bees, take 24 days and are much larger.

Phillips says she and Reburn will take calls from people to remove a swarm of bees and relocate them safely. She says she and Reburn cannot offer “cutout” services or remove established bee colonies from their hives – such as the inside walls of structures. That takes a special professional removal team.

“We like to pick up swarms,” Phillips says. “But we don’t do cutouts. We don’t do that. Some places do that, but we are more about beekeeping for the bees than us. We’re not beekeeping as a life-supporting business. If we make enough money to help the bees, that’s all we care about.”

Phillips says that most people who are afraid of bees don’t know enough about them. Those who learn about them, often end up wanting to help the bees. At the Tour De Hives, Phillips plans to offer some classes in an air-conditioned building led by PowerPoint.

 

Bees depend upon human relationships

“Bees are about relationships and working together to achieve sustainability. I think the world will need a lot more of that to survive and thrive for future generations,” Phillips says.

Phillips and Reburn introduced their neighbors Bill and Sharon Stanberry to bee keeping recently. The Stanberrys keep two hives just down the road.

“Tanya and Chuck raise bees and we’ve talking about it for some time. I wanted to put some in my back yard in Western Oaks and thought we’d try a couple of hives over here first,” Bill Stanberry says.

“Tanya and Chuck have been very, very supportive and helpful – good trainers. So it has been a good learning experience; it looks like we’re going to have honey.”

Phillips says both she and the Stanberrys will allow their bees to keep their honey for the first year, but will harvest the hives during their second year. She plans to take as much as 20 to 30 pounds of honey from each of her hives after their second year of production.

Phillips and Reburn will co-sponsor Tour De Hives with BeeWeavers Apiary of Dripping Springs; owners Danny and Laura Weaver plan to add their new bee farm, mercantile, and learning center to one of the stops on the tour.

Before Phillips invested in her apiary and started her non-profit organization, she took some classes hosted by Dean Cook at Rohan Meadery, one of the vendors who will offer mead tasting as part of Tour De Hives.

VENDORS

to present at Tour De Hives Austin

Rohan Meadery

  6002 Farm to Market 2981La Grange, TX 78945(979) 249-5652http://www.rohanmeadery.com

John and Wendy Rohan, owners of Rohan Meadery just outside of LaGrange, represents the first its generation of meaderies to process Texas honey into wine. Since the Rohans opened in 2009, four other meaderies have followed and soon a fifth will open in Austin.

The Rohans formed the Texas Mead Association and also sponsor a Mead Fest in Sequin during the month of September as part of National Honey Bee Month. They also are members of the Fayette County Beekeeper (FayCoBeeks) Association.

The Rohans built a tasting room in 2010 nestled between Round Top and LaGrange. The company produces 12 different mead varieties; including traditional mead fermented from honey alone and 11 other fermented fruit meads that include:

The Rohans make their meads from Texas Wildflower honey and Texas Huajilla honey. They also collect honey from hives on their own property and some from the Reed Family Honey farm in Montgomery County. Otherwise, the Rohans use only a small portion of an orange-blend honey from Florida mixed in the peach-flavored mead they make.

When the Rohans attend the Tour De Hives Aug. 17 they won’t bring all 12 varieties of mead with them. The company can’t keep all varieties in stock long enough to have more than five or six types of meads on hand at any one time. Right now, the Rohans plan to bring five types of mead with them to town next week, Wendy Rohan says.

Fermented honey, considered a wine in the state of Texas, takes anywhere from six months to a year to process. In terms of quantity, the Rohans’ production varies every year because it depends upon the honey supply. They processed about 500 cases last year – or 12 bottles per case, at about 750 ml per standard wine bottle.

“We’re tiny. We’re the tiniest winery you can imagine, very tiny for a winery,” Rohan says. “In the past couple of decades, there has been this resurgence in craft brew, crafted alcohols – artisanal handmade alcohol, whether it’s spirits, or grains and beers. We need to thank of the craft brewers; they have expanded the palates of what people consider flavorful. They’ve pushed people to try things that have flavor and complexity.”

The Rohans use either one of two processes to create their mead. The honey is fermented first by itself for a couple of months and then they add fruit juice or they ferment fruit juice and the honey together. The process just depends upon the type of mead that the Rohans choose to make at any time, she says.

“Honey is the number one show-stealer — by volume or weight — it is the number one ingredient in all our meads,” she says.  “I think the Tour De Hives is a great idea. I’ve met Tanya and Chuck on a number of occasions. John and I think they’re great people. We hope to support the event anyway that we can.”

BeeWeaver Apiaries – Hill Country location

3700 McGregor Lane

Dripping Springs, Texas 78620

http://www.beeweaver.com

(866) 547-3376

Bee Goods Mercantile –

6301 Highland Hills DriveAustin, TX  78731http://beegoodsmercantile.com(866) 547-3376

Danny and Laura Weaver represent fourth generation beekeepers that own three locations in Texas associated with both BeeWeaver Apiaries and Bee Goods Mercantile: one in Dripping Springs, another in Navasota near College Station, and still another non-retail Austin location where they house bees. The Weaver children will likely become the family’s fifth generation bee farmers.

The Dripping Springs location is currently being renovated. The family has hives and equipment on the land, but it is not completed. Eventually the family plans to teach lessons, said Central Texas beekeeper, Andrew Shahan.

He manages the bees at Dripping Springs and teaches one-on-one beekeeping courses on client properties or at the BeeWeaver facilities.

The BeeWeaver company also sells equipment on its website and will ship it to bee farmers.

When Shahan received his bachelors degree in entomology from University of Florida in 2012 he contacted the Weavers in Texas because they are internationally known for their queen breeding. He’s 24 years old and the first beekeeper in his family.

“My family thought I was a little bit crazy when I told them that I was really into bugs, but they all love it now,” Shahan says.

One of the largest facets of the BeeWeaver family business involves selling bees. Shahan and the Weavers ship queen bees around the world. Most of their clients – about 50 percent – are based only in Texas and the company also serves beekeepers around the world, he says.

Typically, beekeeping has been passed down from generation to generation within families, but that’s changing in Texas, especially.

Shahan said the company ships “a lot of bees” – alive each week by U.S. Postal Service or UPS. Each box has 3 pounds of bees and a queen along sugar water when it arrives. It’s a tricky feat; but people need to think months ahead in this business.

“Spring time is when people should start new colonies. If someone wants to start a new colony with BeeWeaver queens, they need to order their bees in September. The way beekeeping works, bees don’t start building up their colonies until springtime. So you pre-order in September, saving your spot to get some bees, but we don’t ship until the first week of April,” Shahan says.

“People are getting on board with beekeeping. That’s why my job was created. There are so many beekeepers in Central Texas and there are only a few courses. I’m not aware of anyone else who offers one-on-one courses like I do. There is a movement towards beekeeping in Central Texas.”

Younger people seem to be taking an keen interest in beekeeping, what used to be considered an older person’s vocation. While owning one’s own queen bee may be causing a buzz worldwide, in Austin overall interests in growing and crafting ones own food sources reign supreme, he says.

“At one time, all the beekeepers were older, farming men who had been beekeepers for decades and owned thousands of hives. Today, the new beekeeper is your middle-aged or young person who has heard about the loss of all the bees around the country and in the world and typically keep just a few hives. They’re interested in helping keep the bee population healthy,” Shahan says. “And in Austin, more young people are interested in growing and sustaining their own food supplies.”

Beekeeper terminology:

  • Apiary – a bee yard that includes bees, hives and equipment used for their sustainability
  • Beehive – a place where a colony of bees live and thrive, human made or nature made
  • Beeswax – secretions from a worker bee’s body used to build a comb
  • Brood – a name for immature bees who live inside the cells of a comb
  • Comb – a mass of six-sided sells that contains the brood, as well as stored honey
  • Drone – the male honey bee
  • Dearth – a feeder containing a 1:1 ratio of sugar water for bees in a human-made bee hive
  • Honey – a sweet material produced by bees from the nectar of flowers that contains both minerals, vitamins, proteins and enzymes
  • Hive beetle – a destructive pest of honey bee colonies, they cause damage to the comb, pollen, and honey
  • Langstroth hive –a style of human-made bee hive only a few centuries old that features a box designed from wood with a series of ten removable frames inside it, all covered by a canopy or roof with one entrance in or out.
  • Larva – a white, legless, grub-like insect and the second stage of a bee’s metamorphosis
  • Life cycle – the development of a bee from an egg to an adult, when it leaves its cell, takes a total of 21 days including: a) hatching = 3 days, b) larva = 5 days, c) pupa = 13 days.
  • Nuc hive – a smaller size human-made bee hive made from a wooden box with only five frames inside it,  built Langstroth style.
  • Scouts – worker bees that search for a new home hive
  • Smoker – a device that produces a flameless, cool smoke that subdues bees in a hive by masking the scent of a beekeeper as well as the alarm pheromones of the colony’s bees
  • Stinger – the barb at the end of the abdomen of a bee that contains the apitoxin and results in the release of “alarm pheromones” and the insect’s fatality
  • Swarm – a collection of a single queen, drones and worker bees that leave a colony to await a new home hive to be discovered by scouts
  • Top-bar hive – a several thousand years-old style of human-made hive created from wood or other materials for the purpose of beekeeping, designed with a series of removable wood slats each anywhere from 1.25 to 1.38 inches wide placed on top.
  • Queen – a female bee with a complete reproductive system that lays all of the fertilized eggs in a hive
A beekeeper pulls a comb filled with honey as well as larva ("bee babies" for viewing.

A beekeeper pulls a comb filled with honey as well as larva (“bee babies” for viewing.

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The Broken Spoke hosts The Blazing Bows ‘Fiddle Fest 2013’

19 Jul

by Donna Marie Miller

About 30 elementary age boys and girls and a half dozen adults – all fiddlers – tucked their instruments under their chins to perform some good old time string classics of folk and country music July 15 at The Broken Spoke.

Little girls, some as young as 5 years old, with braids pulled up on top of their heads and dressed in their best embroidered dresses or ruffle skirts and lacy tops, stood beside little boys wearing plaid shirts and Wrangler jeans. Most all wore cowboy boots.

They donned Texas Resistol straw hats in white and red and a few wore western scarves tied around their necks Lonesome Dove style. Meanwhile, parents shot video from the side porches along either side of the bandstand or upon the dance floor, with their digital camcorders, cameras, and smart phones.

Beneath the glow of neon signs advertising well-known beer labels, dozens of families came together inside one of Texas’ oldest — if not Austin’s most well known honky tonk. Without drinking a drop of alcohol, adults clapped and raised some revelry for their children. Mothers with infants in their laps and fathers with babies on top of their shoulders turned The Broken Spoke into a romper room of “G”-rated fun.

Mary Hattersley and her Blazing Bows Suzuki-style music students performed within just a week from the day that she underwent cancer surgery. “Sweet Mary,” as folks call her, smiled, sang, danced and played fiddle like nobody’s business from a set list that read an awful like a music history lesson.  “Fiddle Fest” provided the finale to a Blazing Bows two-week summer camp that has culminated at The Broken Spoke annually for nearly 20 years.

However, for the first time in as long as some fans can remember, one of The Broken Spoke’s original owners, James White, did not attend the performance.  Instead, White rested at home following surgery July 3. Doctors have placed a Defibrillator inside the left side of White’s chest to regulate irregular heart rhythms. He also broke his foot recently walking on the Town Lake trail.  White has worn an orthopedic “boot” or removable cast since mid-June and he has a few weeks to go before his bones heal.

Mary Hattersley’s husband, Cleve Hattersley, accompanied the group on guitar, and fiddler Kay Mueller helped lead the fiddle performance along with another fiddler, Catherine Van Zanten.  Together the four Suzuki teachers have represented “Fiddle Fest” since around 1994.

“It is important that we do the show at The Spoke because it is a show about the history of fiddle in Texas and all the songs we play have been played and danced to right there for years,” Mary Hattersley said. “And it’s where the famous Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys often performed.”

The Hattersleys along with Mueller and Van Zanten also bring their students together at the Austin Suzuki Academy on Saturday mornings for group and theory lessons.

Blazing Bows’ former campers have returned every year to perform their finale at The Broken Spoke as part of the Hattersley family tradition.

“It gives me so much joy to play music. You can get all bollixed up in music with the practicing and the playing, but it’s all about the joy,” Mary Hattersley said.

The Blazing Bows perform at the Old Settler’s Bluegrass Festival in Dripping Springs each April and at the Austin Art Festival in July and previously performed at the Pioneer Farm May Pole celebration. They cancelled all other summer shows when doctors diagnosed Mary Hattersley with vulvar cancer last June.  In December every year they perform at the Austin Armadillo Bazaar. They plan to also take their Blazing Bows shows to local celebrations, nursing homes, and schools as well in 2014.

“It’s so important to me and the Blazing Bows to play at The Broken Spoke because of the music history. People remember going to The Broken Spoke when they were kids. A lot of times, it was a family place,” Mary Hattersley said.

Ironically, while their Blazing Bows have played The Broken Spoke regularly for nearly two decades, while the band, Greezy Wheels, never performed there.

The Greezy Wheels – 2013 Texas Music Hall of Fame

The Hattersleys reunited the band, Greezy Wheels in 2001 and it became the first in town to sign to a major label. The band has since formed its own label, Mahatma Records, and made The Austin Chronicle’s top ten list in 2011 for their album, Gone Greezy. 

Some might label the past few years as Greezy Wheels “heydays,” but the band’s fan base knew the group’s sound as one ahead of its time – once referred to as “progressive country” 40 years ago. The Greezy Wheels created the sound as an amalgamation of country and western, blues and jazz music.

Cleve Hattersley played mostly solo one-night gigs around Austin before forming the Greezy Wheels band in the 1970s.  Its members convinced Mary Egan to leave Kenneth Threadgill’s band, the Hootenanny Hoots, and to join the Greezy Wheels. Not long afterwards, Threadgill’s restaurant proprietor Eddie Wilson and co-founders of the old live music venue, Austin Armadillo World Headquarters, caught their show.  Wilson jumped at the chance to book the Greezy Wheels as a back up band for the Flying Burritto Brothers and the band’s reputation just took off after that.

The Greezy Wheels played the Armadillo World Headquarters more often than any other band and backed up the most national music stars regularly.

“We backed up ‘the Boss,’ Bruce Springsteen at Armadillo World  Headquarters when he was doing his first tour of the United States. He had just played Houston and a bunch of people followed him down here to Austin. He was young and nobody really knew who he was,” Mary Hattersley said.

The Greezy Wheels backed up other regular acts at the Armadillo World Headquarters at the time, including Willie Nelson, Marcia Ball, Alvin Crow, Asleep at the Wheel, and Doug Sahm before the group disbanded in 1978.

Twenty-five years later, Mary and Cleve, and his sister, Lissa Hattersley, reunited the Greezy Wheels in 2001.

Currently, their newest album, Kitty Cat Jesus, which released in May features two songs: “I Cry Myself to Sleep,” and “I’ll Get Away With It,” that have received lots of local radio station air play.

Other Greezy Wheels members include: lead vocalist Lissa Hattersley and other band members: vocalist Penny Jo Pullus, drummer Johnny Bush, bassist Brad Houser, and trombone and harp player, Matt Hubbard. Both Bush and Houser previously played with Edie Brickell and The New Bohemians in the 1980s. Hubbard also performs with Willie Nelson.

The Greezy Wheels will perform again Oct. 11 at the Starlight Theater Restaurant and Saloon in Terlingua and Oct. 12 at Padres Bar and Grill in Marfa as part of the Chinati Foundation Open House there. The event includes two days of art, music and lectures and brings in visitors from all around the world.

The Hattersley hippie years

Mary’s dad, Oscar Butler, represents somewhat of a legend in West Texas music circles as he worked as a choir professor at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M. Butler put a violin under his daughter’s chin when she turned ten. Years later, she attended NMSU, but only from 1961 through 1962, before running off to San Francisco with two hippies, artist friend Chet Helms and her first husband, Leonard Soforo.

“Chet, Lenny and I all decided to go to San Francisco. We had this old Chevy, but it broke down right outside Las Cruces. So Chet hitchhiked to Dallas and was picked up by the police. In those days, it was difficult to stay out of jail looking like a hippie,” Mary said.

Mary and Leo Soforo made it as far as San Francisco where her husband took a job as a disc jockey that didn’t last long.

“I was a hippie for a long time,” Mary Hattersley said. “I had a wild spirit.”

Helms ended up in Dallas City Jail the same day that police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald for shooting President John F. Kennedy, Nov. 22, 1963.

“We were all worried about Chet. Here he was sitting in the same jail as Oswald,” Mary said.

Coincidentally, Dallas police eventually released Helms from jail sometime after Jack Ruby shot Oswald. Helms later met up with the couple in San Francisco, but Mary Soforo’s problems grew bigger.

Leo Soforo, had mental problems that stemmed from years of heavy drug use, she said.

“He was one of those people who took acid and had a bad trip – he just never recovered,” she said. “He ended up committing suicide.”

Mary moved to Santa Fe, NM and married and divorced two more times after Soforo’s death and before she met Cleve Hattersley in Austin.

This past June marked the couple’s 39th anniversary, as common law husband and wife, legally registered in Travis County. Cleve is  66 and Mary just celebrated her 70th birthday June 8. Doctors diagnosed her with vulvar cancer and removed all the affected tissue July 2.

“They found out I had it right when we were in the middle of (Blazing Bows) summer camp. I decided we would do camp anyway. The doctors went in and found the cancer all in one place and got it out. The surgery went well. There’s nothing else required,” she said.

A Little Fiddle Song History

Fiddle history resounds within the Blazing Bows as much as their music. Mary Hattersley introduces each song to their audiences with a brief history.

Interestingly, “Bile em Cabbage Down” often translated to “Boil them Cabbage Down,” for Mary Hattersley’s students has been renamed “Violin Cabbage Down.” The fiddle breakdown features seven variations.

“One year we were playing this song and the electricity went out (at The Broken Spoke,) and we just kept playing it in the dark.  We were still playing when the lights came back on.  It was so cool,” Mary said.

“The other reason for playing at The Broken Spoke is that the great Texas fiddler Bob Wills played there.”

The first song the group performed, “Lil’ Liza Jane,” enjoys a long history that dates back to the early 1900s with roots in standard, jazz and bluegrass music. First recorded by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys in 1947, Nina Simone performed it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960, then David Bowie and his King Bees performed it in 1964, and The Band recorded a version of it in 1968. Finally, it appeared on an album recorded by Alison Krauss and Union Station, which earned a 1998 Grammy Award.

The Blazing Bow’s third song, “Rubber Dolly” made famous by Appalachian string bands in the 1920s and 1930s became a favorite performed by 1960s folk singer Woody Guthrie and then 1970s country singer Ray Price.

Next the group performed an Irish jig written in the early nineteenth century called “Swallowtail.”

“That’s one of the most beautiful songs ever to become a fiddle song,” Mary Hattersley said. “ Every fiddle tune should contain a jig.”

For their fourth piece, local fiddle player Billie Curtis performed the American classic entitled “Soldier’s Joy,” a 200-year-old song recognized as the oldest and most widely distributed tune in the English speaking language. Curtis, who plays with Lone Star Swing, formerly played with Houston’s popular Wild River Band, as well as Western Swing legends such as Johnny Gimble and Herb Remington. He has a daughter who plays with the Blazing Bows. His band performs at El Mercado in Austin most Thursday nights.

The Blazing Bows also performed “Drowsy Maggie,” featuring Anna Wicker on the fiddle, followed by a medley of “Turkey in the Straw”/”Arkansas Traveler”/”Devil’s Dream,” – a fiddler’s all-time greatest hits list.

Performing “The Orange Blossom Special” with the Blazing Bows holds particular significance to Mary Hattersley.  She remembers once teaching fiddler Jean Luc Ponty to play the song backstage at the Armadillo World Headquarters while they waited to perform back up to Frank Zappa and his band, The Mother’s of Invention.

“It was just a few chords, but Ponty picked it right up,” she said. “Then he performed it on stage.”

She and the children also performed “La Culebra,” translated “The Rattlesnake,” a mariachi standard. Its origins reach back as far as 1944 when Ruben Fuentes Gasson played it with Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan as the group’s violinist and composer. Later his reputation grew when he performed on Linda Ronstadt’s multi-Platinum album, Canciones De Mi Padre.  

The Blazing Bows performed Cotton Collins’ version of “Westphalia Waltz,” about Polish immigrants during the Great Depression who worked in the coalmines of the Alleghenies and in the mills of Massachusetts. Collins and his Lone Star Playboys renamed the folk song after the Texas town by the same name and performed it often as part of their lunchtime broadcast on radio station, WACO in Waco.

And the Blazing Bows rendered Glen Miller’s big band song, “In the Mood” a fiddle version at The Broken Spoke. The song once considered “racy” and originally written about Tin Pan Alley later became part of The Beatles’ recording of “All You Need is Love,” thanks to producer George Martin.

The Blazing Bows performed one of 129 versions of the often misspelled Irish folk song about a bar maid, “Drowsy Maggie,” as well. The song became internationally known after the band Jethro Tull first performed the song in concert in 1989 at the Apollo Theater in Manchester, England.

The favorite of the night, “The Cotton-Eye Joe” had family members dancing on the dance floor in front of The Broken Spoke bandstand. The Moody Brothers’ version of the song won a Grammy Award nomination for best country instrumental in 1985. Then The Chieftains received a Grammy Award nomination for their album, Another Country, with Ricky Skaggs in 1992.

The group closed the night with “Ashokan Farewell,’’ named after a camp in the Catskill Mountains not far from Woodstock, New York, once run by Jay Unger and Molly Mason. Written originally as an instrumental Scottish lament, called “Fiddle Fever” Ashokan campers later wrote lyrics. Two 16-year old girl members of the Blazing Bows, offered their own words to the song July 15.  The song once served as the opening track to a PBS special about the Civil War, created by filmmaker Ken Burns. Twenty-five other versions of the song played in the 11-hour series produced and broadcast on television in 1984.

The song’s poignant lyrics focus on the emotions young musicians feel about leaving fiddle camp. It served as an appropriate closing performance for the Blazing Bows’ program finale at The Broken Spoke.

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