OK, it’s a day late, AND you’ve probably had enough lists, but there was a lot of year to sort through. And there was a fair amount of year that I’d just had soon never happened but may have held some silver linings. So, with due diligence and without further fanfare, some of the things I am thankful for in 2015:
I am thankful for…
-My Mom and my brothers.
-My Dad passing along his love for and knowledge about Bohemian old-time music. In the ’65 Ford Country Sedan, if the radio was on it was either Baseball or old time.
-My gal, here as we try to stay warm at a San Fran Giants night game.
-Seven years clean. Spending Thanksgiving ’08 in treatment is something I don’t ever want to do again.
-Forestburg musk melons not only bigger than your head, but bigger than MY head.
-Steve and Katia and all their loving hospitality in beautiful Sonoma.
-The thousands of days I got to be on radio. This is the last picture of me on-air, raising dollars for public broadcasting. Despite the opinions of the powers that be, I am very good at this.
-My friend and collaborator Dave Foote. I will miss making stuff like this together: My Promo Reel
-Working for and with people who “get” you.
-The unique comic stylings of Williams & Ree…
…well, perhaps not. Moving right along…
-Amoeba Records, Haight Street and Golden Gate Park, San Francisco for having Ska on tap and to go.
-The friends who are still your friends AFTER you can no longer give them access to an audience.
-Joan’s original Wild Rice Tater Tot Hot Dish, which I get once a year on my birthday.
-My brother Bruce for somehow coming up with one of the last “Trail Drive” pinball machines left on the planet. The only thing better would be adding a chocolate shake, fries, and my old pal Jer on right flipper.
-Field lunch during an afternoon of chasing pheasants in Sanborn County.
-The ancestral house and grounds in Forestburg on a lovely June day.
-Three cancer surgeries on my vocal cords instead of radiation, having 80% of my voice instead of no voice at all, and a streak with ONE clean screen in a row (going for two in December).
-The wisdom to know the difference. Have a great holiday season.
If you live in a city, a town say 10,000+, or something in between, you probably drive, walk or bike past dozens of “convenience stores” every day. Other than the one or two you may frequent for gas, or a coffee, you probably don’t give them much notice. That’s not to say they aren’t important. On the contrary. According to a January 2015 story at FierceRetail.com , convenience stores make up 34% of all retail locations in the US. Other than the two stores where I stop regularly for gas (one if I’m headed south, the other if I’m headed west), about the only attention I give most convenience stores is a quick comparison of gas prices (I am my father’s son). What you and I likely DON’T think about when passing one is Community.
I was born to a farm a couple miles east of Forestburg, a small, unincorporated village in east central South Dakota where State Highway 34 and the James River intersect. I am at least 4th generation on each side. All of my grandparents went to school together, with three graduating high school together in a class of nine (1928). If you’ve heard of Forestburg at all, you probably know it as the Melon Capitol of South Dakota, which in fact it IS (sorry Woonsocket). The musk melons, pumpkins and cavalcade of squash varieties are wonderful, but it’s the watermelons that are king. Kelly Larson of Larson’s Melons on the Curve, my go-to guy for all things melons, says what makes it all work is a very small band of three feet of sand on the west side of the Jim River dumped on a clay base by the last glacier.““` Both sides of my family farmed on the east side of the river where the glacier dumped billions of tons of granite boulders. Picking melons and picking rocks are both hard work, but both pickers would agree enjoying a cold melon after picking rocks beats the visa-versa.
Like many small South Dakota villages, Forestburg was never the same after the Stock Market crash of 1929. The bank failed, which started a multi-decade retail decline, closing hardware stores, lumber yards, a grocery and many others. The population of Sanborn County peaked around 4500 in the mid-late 40’s, about the time my parents started dating, and today is half that number.
I didn’t grow up in Forestburg. My Dad was a school superintendent and teacher, and with a wife and three boys to support had to move to Minnesota in 1963 to make a living wage…proving there is little new under the sun. However, with all of the extended family back in Sanborn County, we went back all the time. My memories of Forestburg businesses are limited to Ike’s Pool Hall on Main Street, and Nelson’s Service and Cafe up on the highway. Together they were important community centers where you could get a meal, burger, coffee or cocktail; milk and bread to take home, a haircut (Ike’s had a chair, the barber came one day a week), a Euchre game (likely with one or both of my grandfathers participating) and most importantly, community news. Who was born/sick/married/arrested/deceased/visiting, etc? Ike’s and Nelson’s are both long gone, with no physical remains to show they ever existed.
I live in Sioux Falls, and I need two hands to count all the places I could go for coffee or lunch in less than five minutes. I’m meeting friends, business associates…and now potential employers…at any of dozens of establishments. If you’re under 45 and have lived around Forestburg, you’ve probably never driven less than 7-10 miles to another townto have lunch, 20-30 minute to have some choice for a place to eat, or sit down and have coffee with friends, assuming your friends want to make the same trip at the same time as you. Other than a bar, or church (if you’re Lutheran-Presbyterians have to drive 15 miles to Fedora to get together), your chances of running into a friend or neighbor at lunch are very slim unless you can pass as a sophomore at Sanborn Central School. Communities DIE when you cannot commune with your friends and neighbors. I am proud to say the people of my little home town are doing something about it.
Louise and Richard Alt live on the farm where my Mom grew up, about three miles east and a mile and half north of Forestburg. They’ve expanded the place considerably, and have business concerns there ranging from Richard’s accounting business to custom trucking and combining. Early in 2015 Louise purchased the Country Pumper, a serviceable convenience and gas place where you could buy a paper, milk, a soft drink, etc. However, unless you had nowhere to go and it was 20 below zero, or were casing the joint for a stick-up, there were few if any reasons to stick around The Pumper and… commune. That all changed in March. The place was spiffed up considerably. The bathrooms were fixed up. There’s a little Forestburg memorabilia up on the wall (which, I hope, is just a start). And, most importantly, there are tables and booths and…a hot lunch five days a week. In the history of mankind there is nothing more simple or effective in bringing people together than breaking bread. You KNOW that from 11am-2pm you can just show up and odds are you’ll run into a neighbor, friend or relative. And they’ll have some kind of news for you, like what did your rain gauge read after yesterday’s storm, or did you hear Dorothy was under the weather, or that FIVE, count ’em, FIVE different people hit deer last week, and all were driving Chevy’s! If you want, you have a place now where you can meet for coffee, cards and one of those home-made mammoth carmel rolls that are just like the ones your grandma made back when you were a kid. I was in there Saturday, and although there’s no lunch special on weekends (hint: maybe next fall just during hunting season: cheese burgers. Just sayin’…), but there’s enough hot pizza to feed three adults and two growing boys and a comfortable place to sit down and lots of people you know making a purchase and…sticking around for a little chat, and maybe a hot coffee.
All this happens because someone in the community made the effort and commitment to take the common gas/convenient store and with a few homey touches and home cooking made it a community. And, I hear, it maybe rubbing off. Rumor has it the Forestburg Lutherans, while short a pastor, are taking turns running church services on their own, keeping the service to 20 minutes, and leaving the extra 40 minutes for…a hot lunch and some chatter. I smell a trend…
Friend, hunting partner and fellow Sanborn Co. native Leigh Talley talking with Pumper employee Dylan Senska. Dylan loves to hunt, but volunteered to work during the deer opener. Future employers, you’re going to want to have this guy on your team!
Just one of many spiffed up spots inside the Country Pumper
In the city, convenience stores pride themselves for their ability to get you in, get you what you want, and get you back on the road FAST. However, if you find yourself traveling across South Dakota on Hwy 34, look for the Country Pumper east of Forestburg. Time your trip so you’re there at lunchtime, because I hear the Beef Stroganoff on Friday is to die for. If Louise is there, ask her to share a little area history. If they aren’t sold out, grab two Carmel rolls. One for lunch, and one for the road, as it’s a long drive to Pierre. Ask ’em how the Blackhawks basketball team is playing. How’s the pheasant hunting this fall? And do you know where a fella could get in on a little Euchre game?
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It’s called the shout-out, the chatter made by a stage performer to the audience between songs. While often a sincere thank you, performers have been known to engage in everything from aggravated puffery (“You are the BEST audience EVER!”) to outright confusion (“Hello Rapid City! It’s great to be back in North Dakota!”). Things are different tonight. Burlap Wolf King is on stage at ICON Lounge in Sioux Falls. When he says Sioux Falls is THE place to be at that moment, he’s not only sincere. He also may be right.
Wolf King, sporting a snappy stockman’s hat and a smart, Eisenhower-cut jean jacket, is the on stage persona of Sioux Falls musician Thomas Hentges. He and his crisp combo (bass, female backup vocalist and a great old-school tremolo Telecaster) are one of five performers playing live and releasing brand-new vinyl recordings on Different Folk Records, a new record label based in Sioux Falls. Sure, the big room is full and it’s a party. But even a jaded recluse like me can tell there’s something exciting, authentic and downright…joyous…going on here. The music, the on-stage banter and even the engaging smiles and chatter at the impressively stocked merch tables are refreshingly absent of the kind of corporately-trained friendliness you get from the cookie-cutter server at the chain restaurant who warns you about the hot plate fresh out of the microwave before ending his/her memorized spiel with “ENJOY!” Something uniquely special is going down here tonight, and everyone in attendance seems to know it.
I enjoy a fun cover band as much as the next guy, but this night’s menu was like a farmer’s market with fresh and homegrown singers, players and songs. Ryan Kickland, story-telling Sioux Falls native now basing out of Rapid City, opened on stage with only a hollow-body electric, his equal parts mournful and rye voice, and collection of smart, engaging and at times mesmerizing new tunes. Next up was the spellbinding Jami Lynn, whose playing, singing and songwriting continues to grow like sunflowers in July. The depth of her songwriting has always belied her girl-next-door appearance, but something’s clicked over the past couple of years revealing pain and feeling you just don’t often hear. Also, her pairing with do-everything pro bassist Andrew Reinartz and Dalton Coffey’s shockingly great slide dobro play makes an extremely engaging package.
Later, The Union Grove Pickers are onstage, overflowing with one great player and singer after another. The Pickers are arguably the most “ready for prime time” performers on Different Folks. It’s always easy to go to this kind of show as a “homer”, cheering your local favorites but forgiving them if their singing, playing or songwriting isn’t quite up to snuff. No such apologies here, as the Pickers bring virtuosity, polish and confidence to their evening’s work and their new record. Even if rootsy, traditional bluegrass is not your thing, there’s no denying these guys are REALLY good.
Perhaps Burlap Wolf King best exemplifies what Different Folks Records and this batch of hometown performers are all about. For years you clap and whoop because they’re your local kids. Then one day you wake up and realize that through hard work, maturing talent, life’s hard knocks and simple time, you’re not just cheering because they’re yours, your whoopin’ because they’re yours AND really good by anyone’s standards. A friend once told me it’s not enough to just be local. You have to be local AND good. BWK is local AND good.
37 years in the radio business meant I was a peripheral player around the music business for several decades. I know how hard it is and how lucky you have to be to make a record label or a music career survive. Many more fail than succeed long term. Do I know for certain Different Folk Records is going to survive? No. Will they ever see dollar one of profit with this business? Don’t know. Am I 100% certain one or more of these local label mates will make it to the “big time”? Of course not. However, just sayin’…there was a serious vibe in that room that you don’t often feel in the increasingly superficial world of music and recording. Perhaps the perfect metaphor for the evening? The first releases sold on Saturday were all vinyl. Yes, the current vinyl revival is part fashion trend. But it’s also part attitude: Old school, authentic, tangible, a bit rebellious. Some might call starting a new local record label releasing vinyl a sucker bet. However, with sucker bets like vinyl, mid-century furniture design, living downtown, recycling/upcycling, the Ford Mustang, gardening and bacon beating the odds, you just never know for sure. I’ve found quality content wins out in the end. If Saturday night is any indication, listen before you bet against these performers or Different Folk Records.