If you missed the Walt Whitman Birthday Bash at the Pittsburg Public Library on May 31st, there’s another chance to hear the good gray poet’s words spoken aloud next weekend.

If you missed the Walt Whitman Birthday Bash at the Pittsburg Public Library on May 31st, there’s another chance to hear the good gray poet’s words spoken aloud next weekend.
Arma resident and literature lover Bill Sollner will join me in reading aloud from Whitman’s “Song of Myself” in the shade of the Prichett Pavilion at Second and Broadway in Pittsburg. The 12:15 p.m. poetry reading will be bookended by fiddle tunes played by Paul Carlson, PSU music professor emeritus.
The poem is fitting for a Labor Day weekend celebration of the working man as Whitman worked as a journalist, a teacher, a government clerk, and a volunteer nurse during the Civil War in addition to publishing his poetry.  Much of his writing praises the common man and woman: “I am the poet of the woman the same as the man, / And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man, / And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men.”
Sollner, Carlson and myself won’t be the only entertainers at the Miners’ Hall Opera House show — so named in memory of the turn of the century opera houses and air dome theaters that were scattered across the Little Balkans at the turn of the century.
The program kicks off at 10 a.m. with the syncopated rhythms and improvisations of The Blu Tang Clan, featuring Matt Bennett on the big kazoo (AKA saxophone), Chase Hunter as hide hitter (drummer), Kyle Ogle playing doghouse (bass), and, last but not least, Cooper Neil on jazz box (guitar). Word is they’re really bad (good).
At 11:00 a.m. Joy Leeper takes the stage. Leeper, who performs widely in churches throughout the four states, as well as plays washboard with her husband Scott in Fayetteville clubs, sings everything from work songs, to classic folk, to 60s favorites, to spirituals, many of which she wrote herself.
Johnnie Zibert, who performs at 11:45, needs no introduction to local residents, but, in case you just arrived, he’s the finest accordion player in the area. Playing and singing solo, while sitting on a stool (or his accordion case), he’ll take us back to the days when live Saturday night entertainment in opera houses, fellowship halls and polka joints helped miners and their families to feel the joy of music and carried them through another week of drudgery.
Johnny Kendrick & Sons will take the stage at 12:45. Kendrick lives and works on the stock farm near the Kansas-Missouri border where he was born and raised. He's involved in organizing "Echoes of the Trails: A Western History Conference and Cowboy Poetry Gathering" held annually in Fort Scott and he co-founded and managed the Fort Scott Country Music Jubilee, a country music stage show now in its eighth year.  Fans everywhere enjoy his renditions of classic songs by Bob Wills, Jimmy Rodgers, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. His sons will join him to play traditional bluegrass tunes.
At 1:45 p.m. Holly Reed will play original ballads of the Balkans. Reed has studied music and written songs since childhood. For the past few years, she has focused on bringing to life the writings of her great-great-great uncle, Ben Gunn, who published a newspaper in Arcadia 100 years ago. Holly is currently performing locally and working on a tour of Kansas that will include every county.
If you like old-timey music of the sort you might hear on porches in the Ozark hills, make sure to be on hand at 2:45 for Baled Green and Wired Tight, a group that features two couples: Lee Ann and Jack Sours and Brandy and Brandon Wooden. They finished off the program last year and really tore it up.
As you might have already guessed, I will, as in years past, serve as emcee, lead sing-a-longs between acts, and invite audience members to play the “Who Wants To Win A Loaf Of Hard Crust Bread” trivia game between acts.
So, ladies and gentlemen, young men and maidens, next Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m., you’re invited to join us for a day of live entertainment of the sort our ancestors would have experienced here in the Little Balkans a century ago. You’ll be glad you did. I give you my absolute, high-test, anti-knock, and tailor-made guarantee.
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net