"Family Oriented, Concession Stand, Alcohol Free, Smoke Free, Drug Free"
Live from Bainbridge, Ohio, it's Saturday night. So the show--whose motto might be the phrase above which comes from the jamboree's website--starts at 7:00 and long before the curtain's up, the place already feels like a time capsule. The building looks like a Grange Hall with tattered, theatre-style seats. In the lobby, pies in plastic wrap sell for six dollars and big sacks of popcorn for fifty cents. The seats fill with senior citizens as well as a few families and, oddly, four high school kids. Mostly folks from Bainbridge and surrounding villages in the crowd, but I've traveled from Oxford, two hours west of here, with my visiting parents.
Bainbridge sits in the middle of southern Ohio, hours east of Cinci, hours south of Columbus, a good ways north of the river. The town is home to the Paint Valley Jamboree. Nine dollars gets you three hours of entertainment. Curtain goes up at seven and the show is kind of like what I imagine the Carter Family's traveling show was like in the 1930s. At Paint Valley, a house band provides back-up all night and a series of singers (mostly singer-guitarists actually) takes the mic one-by-one and performs two songs each. First, the house band. Steel guitar, bass and drums, a multi-instrumenalist who mostly does piano duties, a fiddler, and an electric guitar player who might be well into his 80s. Just unbelievable musicianship.
Most of the singers are older guys, though a few women of various ages take their turns too. Some old-time gospel. A little rockabilly (the band's mostly electric) and a little bluegrass. A LOT of old country standards. Mostly the kind of songs that have been in the public domain for generations. It's like a punk rock show in that the band races through song after song after song and not a one goes on for more than three minutes, tops. One of the high school kids gets up and heads backstage. I figure she's probably one of the band member's grandkids but she walks out onto the stage and belts out a few numbers, including "Stand By Your Man" (certainly the only song performed that was written in my parents' lifetimes).
One singer--one of the older gentlemen--refers to being eight months cancer-free. The emcee joshes afterward that he thought the guy was going to say he was eight months pregnant, and then immediately apologizes for using a word that would have gotten him slapped by his mama when he was growing up. One of the singers immediately exits the backstage area after her set and tells my dad there's a hot dog with her name on it back at the concession stand. During intermission (a quick affair during which fifty-fifty raffle tickets are sold), the emcee reminds everyone that the concession stand offers "miracle salve" (good for "new hips, joint trouble, and the carpal tunnel").
After intermission, the same line-up. This time, one song only. Not a sour note all night. Not a single weak or even average musician in the house band. Not a bad song all night. I know I'm going back before the end of this summer. It makes the most sense to go there while I'm in Oxford for the Writing Project, but it's well worth the drive from Detroit (and farther). If you saw Walk the Line and thought about how cool it would have been to see those tours with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, miscelaneous Carters, etc., then get you to Bainbridge.