Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Grammy Dee the Groupie...NOT!

            In the lingo of the entertainment industry, I consider myself more of a “seat-filler” than a “plant.” More of a person designated to occupy a seat and make the place look full rather than someone situated in the audience to drum up excitement. It’s not that I don’t enjoy being entertained. But be it a lecture or a rock concert, I tend to internalize my enjoyment rather than joining in enthusiastic audience participation. I mean, go beyond a little hand-clapping, head-nodding, or foot tapping, and I’m waaay out of my comfort zone. So what are the odds that last week a seat-filler like me would find herself filling a seat right under the noses—literally—of the entertainers in a popular Nashville restaurant?
            I should’ve been suspicious when my daughter Kristin and I were told there’d be a forty-five-minute-to-an hour wait and then our name was called within ten minutes. And when the two of us were seated at a table for six, a foot from the stage, I should’ve declined. But I’d perused the menu during the previous ten minutes, and my mouth was already watering for chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes with gravy, and home-made cobbler. I couldn’t risk an actual hour-long wait. And the stage was bare, so maybe, I thought, we could eat our meal and make a quick exit before the show began.
            Nope. We’d barely scooted our chairs under the table when two performers—let’s call them Jim and Bob—appeared on the stage. They tuned their guitars, adjusted the mics, and checked the sound system. Satisfied that all was well, they stepped down. I breathed a sigh of relief. Still time to eat and make our get-away. But rather than go do whatever else he needed to do, Jim decided to visit with Kristin and me...well, mainly Kristin. Go figure. But even after she informed him she had a husband and two kids and she was there with her mother, he hung around to tell us about his career playing with TimMcGraw and give us a free, autographed CD. Okay, something was definitely up.
            About the time our food arrived, Jim and Bob returned to the stage and cranked up the music. And about the time I’d sweetened my tea, the waitress came over and asked if we minded if a few of Jim’s family and friends joined us at our table. And so it was I found myself right in the middle of a mini mosh pot pit.
            The pressure was on. Front and center, in full view of the entertainers who were stomping and strumming their hearts out, and surrounded by Jim’s partying friends and family, I couldn’t have felt more awkward if I'd been seated on the stage. I did the only thing a hungry seat-filler could do: I dug into my food.
            To be fair, Jim was a nice guy and an accomplished musician. As it turns out, he was also the writer of several hit country songs which he performed and I enjoyed. And while I might not be the most rambunctious of fans, I’m a polite one. I didn’t heckle, I applauded when appropriate, and I chewed my food quietly. Kristin and I stayed for the entire program, and I tipped generously—at least enough to cover the cost of the CD. What more could a performer want from a fan? Had Tim McGraw himself been on the stage, I might have been a bit more rowdy. But I doubt it.
Performers in background were closer than they appear.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Not Your Ordinary Madonna

            The winter months in Oklahoma always present a conumdrum for me. Minus the yardwork and outside activities of summer, I have plenty of time to write, but the post-holiday letdown and the bleak and bleary landscape don’t provide much in the way of inspiration or ideas.  It’s sort of like when you’re working, you have money but no time to shop. Then when you’re not working, you have time but no money. 
            But this past weekend, friend Nancy rescued me from my winter malaise with the suggestion we take in the “Madonnas of the Prairie” Exhibit at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. I found plenty to write about there.
            The exhibit was organized and curated by Michael R. Grauer at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas. The more than one hundred works are tributes to the women of the American West—both native and transplanted—from the late 19th century through the present. They depict a wide range of artistic styles as well as varied notions about the women, either past or present, who embody the western spirit. They also elicit an array of emotions.
            I was amused by the renditions of the “Cow-Boy Girl,” a popular image in the early 1900s and a by-product of the rise of Western fiction. No longer a passive object of pity or adoration, this woman could plow, ride, shoot, and bring outlaws to justice with the best of men. And as the paintings suggest, she could do it all with flawless hair and make-up. Talk about “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan”! Eventually, at the hands of advertisers and commercial artists, these rough and ready women evolved into a sort of Western “pin-up” girl. Found on calendars and in ads, this booted beauty with her denim short-shorts, cinched waist, and perfectly coifed hair was clearly more fantasy than fact. But she still proved herself extremely competent in boosting sales of just about anything.
Madonna, framed by a windmill
"halo," keeps a vigilant watch.

            Many of the paintings inspired me, especially the “Madonnas,” for which the exhibit was named. Borrowing from Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite paintings, artists such as William S. Jewett, George Caleb Bingham, and Emanuel Leutze depicted pioneer women in a holy light, often framed by “halos” of real world objects such as the blades of a windmill or the opening in a  wagon cover. In many of these works, the women strike poses of either determined strength or of patient waiting.
            For me, the paintings by far the most moving were those that reflected the hardships western women endured. You have to look at only a few to grasp the severity of the challenges these women faced day in and day out. In one particular work, a woman stands hunch-backed in front of her sod house tending a withering garden. Around her stretches miles and miles of prairie, with no sign of another human being. I thought that of all the trials the women faced—relentless toil, sickness, hunger, uncertainty—isolation might have been the most devastating. And I might not be too far off the mark with that conjecture. As one of the placards in the exhibit explained, that era of history accounted for an unusually high rate of suicides and mental illnesses.
            As you can probably tell from this post, I’m no art critic. I can’t comment on style or technique or medium with any degree of expertise. But I know what moves me, and this exhibit did. If pressed to name the emotion I experienced most from it, I would say gratitude. Gratitude for women who were survivors; women who faced danger with courage and fortitude; women who carved out a better life for themselves, their families, and their descendants.
            The exhibit will be on display until May 10. If you want to be amused, inspired, moved, and infused with gratitude all within a matter of a few hours, be sure to take it in.

No Cow-Boy Girl here. If this side saddle had been
on a real horse, I would've never stayed on!