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One Woman's Opinion

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Guitars, Cadillacs & Hillbilly Music

Urbanna, Va.— The question for today is will a Mozart-Vivaldi gal from Ohio ever go for hillbilly music? The answer is YES!

So last month when Middlesex attorney via Richmond, Carl Bowmer, invited me to the 3rd annual gathering of “Guitars, Cadillacs and Hillbilly Music,” I donned blue denim and headed for his home on Montague Island.

It was one of those strange and stormy kind of autumn days, the kind that quickens the heart rate and excites the back corners of the brain; a cold wind blowing off the river and whistling through the trees . . . periods of heavy rain, rumbles of thunder, and then, suddenly out would pop the inexplicable sun, only to disappear for another round of storm.

by Mary Wakefield Buxton
To get to Montague Island from Urbanna, one takes Route 17. I connected via the Route 602 shortcut that passed Dan Gill’s extraordinary “Something Different.” About 8 or 9 miles down the road, I passed the Virginia Speedway on the left and turned right on Canoe House Road. Passersby know they are in the country by the names of the roads. My next turn was at Nesting Bay and Bay Point Road, and soon I was passing over the marshes for Montague Island and the gorgeous river-front home of Carl Bowmer.

I like honky tonk, country-western music because it is as honest as a cornfield. It expresses genuine human passion belted straight from the heart. Real emotion is always beautiful to me, and I am not one of those classical music lovers who turn up their noses at honky tonk. I am thankful that people such as Carl Bowmer and Brad Spivey, lead singer of the “Honky Tonk Experience Band” of Richmond, are so dedicated to keeping such musical tradition alive.

I pulled up to Carl’s house, which I remembered from seeing as it was being built about five years ago. His lovely wife Betty, a Newport News native, had passed away soon after the house was completed, but there is much of her personality evident in the house, such as the Staffordshire dogs on the mantel, a china, full-sized cat scratching the living room sofa, glistening copper counters and matching cabinet hardware in the kitchen, and legions of photos of children and grandchildren everywhere.

But the best adornment, besides an old white Cadillac parked in the driveway, was a Scottish wolfhound with a Brillo Pad coat strolling throughout the revelers. A neighbor’s dog, he was truly lovely, although a bit stand-offish, like a Scotsman, and would only approach me when I offered food. I met Carl’s neighbors, family, business associates and Richmond friends.

A steaming plate full of homemade barbecued pork was soon dished up by son John, along with smashed potato salad, slaw and butterscotch chocolate chunk brownies—perfect food for an afternoon of hillbilly music. Then I headed for a front row seat to hear the band and what a treat was in store for me.

Five musicians dressed in cowboy hats stood up on a makeshift stage dressed in blue jeans or Bermuda shorts and played three electric guitars, drums and a steel guitar. I took notes of the rich song lyrics as I sat amongst pots of mums and geraniums that were in vivid bloom.The songs were about life and trouble. “I’m a workin’ man . . . no welfare for me,” “I toe the line” and “Folsum Prison Blues” were belted out with fierce passion. “Mama told me to be a good boy and don’t ever play with guns, but I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die. . . .”

“Is it that I’m not lookin’ too good today or do the buzzards just fly extra low along the river?” Brad Spivey stopped to ask the group at the end of the first round, obviously warming us up to hillbilly humor. We laughed. Then, songs about love that goes wrong: “I can’t be bothered to miss you any more . . . love gone wrong.”

“There’s a woman that you know, you gave her only broken dreams, I am the cold-hearted truth . . . takin’ more than you gave, movin’ on when you are done, you could have had it all, if only you had any sense, you are nothing but a fool, time is runnin’ out, cold hearted truth.”

A Del Watson song told the story of America’s truck driver. “Tag along with old Drag Along Engine. The “Hillbilly Highway . . . it goes on and on. My granddaddy rolled over in his grave, the day I quit school, you know where I’m bound . . . Hillbilly Highway.”

Alcohol is also an issue in many honky tonk songs. “Unhappy love, goin’ down to the local watering house,” and “There stands the glass that will drown all my fears, I’m wonderin’ where you are tonight. I’m wonderin’ if you’re all right.”

Honky tonk celebrates the “wretched access of degradation,” said Brad Spivey between songs. Then he crooned, “Please Mr. Bartender, a 6-pack to go” followed by a Merle Haggard tune that stated, “At the end of every road is a city on the run, the highway is my home. The distance between you and me, take a map of the world and hold it in your hand.”

The program ended with a Derailers song, “I’m takin’ a bar exam, goin’ graduate when you’re off my mind, from the Honky Tonk School.” Followed by a Charley Pride song, “Is anyone goin’ to San Antone?”

Someone in the crowd requested “Who’s Goin’ to Chop your Wood now that I’m Gone?” Laughter. Brad Spivey’s group can be hired to liven up any party by contacting him at He warned us that he was not cheap.

We left as it was growing dark. The last rays of the sun were spilling red over the horizon. Tall scrub pines intermingled with deciduous trees that stood guard over fields of soybeans, grazing horses and cattle. The smell of rain on grass and a sudden flutter of a bird at dusk were reminders of rural Virginia at its best; the palatial summer homes intermingling amongst more humble native cottages; a variety of social and economic classes blended together. Everyone good neighbors.  ©2008

posted 12.03.2008

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