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  • TRUE STORIES: Little Balkans Days Folklife Playbill

  • One of my favorite bits on the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was when he would say, in his opening monologue, “It was really hot today.” and the audience would ask en masse, “How hot was it?” He’d smile, fumble with his tie, purse his lips and say something like, “It w...
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  • One of my favorite bits on the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was when he would say, in his opening monologue, “It was really hot today.” and the audience would ask en masse, “How hot was it?” He’d smile, fumble with his tie, purse his lips and say something like, “It was so hot today …. I saw a robin dipping his worm in Nestea. It was so hot today … I saw a pigeon walking in the shadow of Orson Welles. It was so hot today … Burger King was singing ‘If you want it your way, cook it yourself’”
    A couple of weeks ago, an email from my neighbor, Bob Laushman, that contained observations on the Kansas heat wave, put me immediately in mind of Carson. Here’s a few of them.
    It was so hot in Kansas today … the birds are using potholders to pull the worms out of the ground. It was so hot in Kansas today … hot water was coming from both taps. It was so hot in Kansas today … I saw asphalt has a liquid stage. It was so hot in Kansas today … the cows were giving evaporated milk. It was so hot in Kansas today … farmers were feeding their chickens crushed ice to keep them from laying boiled eggs.
    Though it’s cooled off to near normal, it’s likely to still be plenty warm for Little Balkans Days. Lucky we’ll have some shade in the open-air Pritchett Pavilion in Immigrant Park, where I will again be master of ceremonies on the Folklife music stage and play the “Who Wants to Win A Loaf of Hard Crust Bread” trivia game between acts.
    Here’s this year’s playbill — along with some observations in italics.
    Hometown blues artist Lem Sheppard will kick things off with a half hour set at 10 a.m. (he returns at 2 p.m. with White Buffalo). Known simply as “Lem” hereabouts, he’s played concerts at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the U.S. Embassy. He can plug his guitar into most any kind of amp. He calls it an eclectic guitar.
    At 10:30, 12-year-old acoustic rocker Julian Davis takes the stage. Yes, you read that right, 12. I haven’t heard him live but have seen him on YouTube. Too young to go to PG-13 movies alone and rocking on stage. Reminds me of local boy made good, Stevie “Lightnin’ Boy” Malcolm who took a break from the blues circuit to visit Pittsburg last Friday to riff some blues and sing for his mama’s surprise 60th birthday party at the Holiday Inn. Sweet.
    Lovers of gospel music will want to be in the audience at 11 a.m. for Lisa & Steve Mahnken. You may have heard them play in the area as members of “Prairie Moon,” a superb country and gospel group, but, if you haven’t heard them perform as couple, with Steve on guitar and Lisa on vocals, you’ve missed something very special. When deciding what songs to sing, no doubt Lisa asks Steve. Being a guitarist, he knows how to pick.
    Page 2 of 2 - We’ll hearken back to the days when live polka music reigned in the immigrant fellowship halls and assorted joints in the area when Johnnie Zibert and his son Johnnie Joe, take the stage with their accordions at 12 noon. As Garrison Keillor says, “Polka is Prozac without the prescription.”
    At 1 p.m. we have a new act; a heavy metal band. Very heavy. According to band member Kam Konek, Beta Delta Brass Band will perform both old band standards and classic rock songs. Can’t wait to hear “Stairway To Heaven” and “Johnnie B. Goode” on tuba, trumpet and sax, mellophone.
    At 2 p.m., there’s blues, poetry and storytelling by White Buffalo. Al Ortolani with read from the latest issue of the “Little Balkans Review” (which will be available for sale), I’ll tell stories from the Republic of Frontenac and beyond, and Lem Shepard will return to play folk / blues. Depending on his schedule, Young Jack Kerouac, aka Adam Jameson, may join the group to share his poems as well. Q: How is a book of poetry like O.J. Simpson’s testimony? A: Nobody buys either one of them.
    John Kendrick, co-founder of the Fort Scott Country Music Jubilee, takes the stage at 3 p.m. to share his clear-voiced renditions of classic cowboy songs. John’s sons will again join him to play traditional bluegrass tunes as well. Johnny’s also active in promoting cowboy poetry gatherings, which is why he’s sometimes known hereabouts as the Rhymestone Cowboy.
    Clean Slate, a country and rock group led by Mike Yoger, will finish off the afternoon at 4 p.m. Plenty of hot rockin’ goin’ on. I’ve noticed that when electric currents go through them, guitars start making very loud sounds. So would anybody I expect.
    So come see us at the pavilion next Saturday and bring your dancin’ shoes. You might want to bring a lawn chair also, as the seating is limited. Everyone’s welcome, no matter their ability, to join me for an audience sing-a-long between acts. If you don’t join in, I’ll have to duet myself.
    And don’t forget the big Street Dance that night at the Main Stage, 7th & Broadway. There’s Pittsburg’s own classic rockers, AREA 51, at 5:30, followed by LiveWire, a hot, edgy, country / southern rock group from Joplin at 8:00. Back at Pritchett Pavilion, the John Yoger Polka Band will play 7:00 -10:00. I’ve heard they play waltzes ¾ of the time.
    J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net.

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