On the northeastern side of the region you've got the music, accents, and peculiarities of the Appalachian Mountains. On the other side, the southwestern side, you've got the cowboys and their particular way of talking, not to mention their spicy brand of music and food. And we small-town city slickers, Nashville cats, and Georgia country boys fall somewhere in between. This issue of Southern Reader, with its range of topics and authors, reflects that same diversity. One of this issue's articles is a piece I received from Texas publisher Andy Hardin about his journey to the infamous Chili Cookoff in Terlingua, Texas a few years back. Although I've never had the privilege to experience the actual cookoff myself, Andy's journal account set off some interesting flashbacks to my checkered past.
In the mid-'70s I was quite taken with Jerry Jeff Walker's album, "Viva Terlingua," not only because of the songs, but also because of the laid-back way the music had been recorded – live, in front of a non-studio audience in a little town called Luckenbach, Texas. The album's cover even reflected the casualness of the music with a cowboy’s hand pointing to a concert poster nailed to some weathered timbers next to a "Viva Terlingua" bumper sticker pasted at an angle on a reinforcing two-by-four.

In 1976 I was writing songs with Nashville songwriter Lee Owens, and early that bicentennial year we were invited to play at San Antonio's River Festival (Lee's father was famed country songwriter Doodle Owens, and he knew everyone in the world, not to mention everyone in Texas). One of the festival's officials that year was Hondo Crouch, an amusing and eclectic cowboy poet and chili aficionado.

After the festival, Hondo invited us to visit him in his "little town," Luckenbach, population three. "Hondo owns the place," Doodle said as we drove into the informal city limits. Most of our visit was centered around the main building in town, what Hondo called "the post office/general store/beer joint." There were several songwriters that had gathered, and we took down the chairs that were hanging on the wall of the beer joint part of the place and sat by the woodstove passing the guitar around and trying out new songs. Some of the songs that were floated that afternoon ended up on country radio stations a few months later.

As the sun began to set on Luckenbach, and a full moon began to rise, Lee, Hondo and I took a walk around the little town. "I wanted to show you my buffalo," Hondo said, "But it's gonna be too dark."

"That's okay, Hondo," we said, trying to feign disappointment.

"Actually," he said, "He's a bison, not a buffalo." Lee and I looked at each other and shrugged.

A few minutes later, on the side of one of the buildings, I discovered the "Viva Terlingua" bumper sticker on the angled two-by-four, glowing in the Texas moonlight. "Hey," I said, not even trying to contain my excitement, "That’s on Jerry Jeff Walker's album cover!"

"Yep," said Hondo holding up his right hand, "So is this!" But before we could respond, Hondo posed his finger like he had for the album cover and spun around and pointed to the rising full moon.

"Look at that moon," he said, pausing for impact, "Pretty big moon for such a small town."

An hour later we said our goodbyes and drove off with the big moon in our rearview mirror. A few weeks after we got back to Nashville, I got a package from Luckenbach. Inside was a book of Hondo's poetry along with a picture of a buffalo. The inscription read: "This is my bison, Tennial – Hondo Crouch, March, 1976."

That following September, Doodle and Lee called with the sad news that Hondo had died of a heart attack.

A dozen or so years later, I heard about a new TexMex restaurant chain called "Chili's," and when my friends and I dropped in to check it out, Hondo's smiling face beamed from a framed eight-by-ten on one of the walls. "Viva Terlingua!" I thought, "Hondo lives!"

On the other end of this issue's spectrum we have an interesting (yet factual!) article written by Joe and Karen Holbert about an old style of music that is still sung in parts of Appalachia called Shape Note Singing. Joe and I were in rival folk bands in college (I used to tease him about playing his mountain dulcimer with his teeth), and we later joined forces, in the late '70s and early '80s, to perform together when I lived in New York and he lived just down the track in Philadelphia. One night when we were playing the Bothy Club in downtown Philly, Karen (the article's co-writer and Joe's wife-to-be) showed up backstage, introduced herself and asked if she could add some harmonies. They've been singing and writing together ever since. But that's another story for another SouthernReader.

This issue also features a look at Nashville's historic Edgefield along with two different perspectives on thrills...David Clark's poignant look back at once-in-a-lifetime moments and Ron Burch's walk down Atlanta's sideroads and memory lanes.


David Ray Skinner

The Road to Terlingua Texas publisher Andrew Hardin shares an excerpt from his diary about his adventures on the road to the famous chili cookoff in Terlingua a few years back.

Tracker Georgia writer/musician David Clark looks back on a bittersweet memory of his dog, Tracker and one fine snow-covered downhill run with some of his best friends.

Nashville's Risen Phoenix A look at historic Edgefield and some of its history (good and bad) and what's ahead for this quirky but beautiful intown Nashville neighborhood.

An American Musical Treasure Joe and Karen Holbert, North Carolina teachers and folk musicians, tell the story of shape note music, where it came from, what it means to our musical history and where it lives in 2004.

In Search of the Ultimate Thrill Atlanta writer Ron Burch takes a stroll down Atlanta's memory lane with a leisurely walk on the beach and side trips to a Tennessee county fair.

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