In 1947 Woody Guthrie wrote the following lyric, entitled “Heaven.” It was recently put to music by the Klezmatics. Paradise has always been for us our own context washed clean and made new.



Turkey Trot

July 26, 2007

I grew up in Pyatt, Arkansas, a hamlet ten miles to the west of Yellville, the county seat of Marion County. Every October, Yellville hosts, and has hosted for over 50 years, a festival called the Turkey Trot. It’s a fall event–cool air and leaves–and is typical of these small town celebrations: fair food, a parade with homemade floats and local high school marching bands. But the Turkey Trot is special, too.

What makes it special? Well, there’s a turkey calling contest where some ol’ boys ( and girls) sound just like turkeys, with and without mechanical assistance. I’d have to say that my own brother can imitate the turkey’s song pretty well. And there’s a Miss Turkey Trot contest, but I suppose that’s not so unique.

The Turkey Trot is particular and notable and strange and wonderful because small airplanes fly over Yellville’s town square and drop live turkeys onto the crowd below. You catch one, you get to keep it to do with it as you want. In my travels around, I’ve told a lot of people about the turkey drop, and many have turned bald-faced disbelief my way. Then I tell them, “Wait! That’s not all. One year, the animal rights people protested and so they decided to drop frozen turkeys instead. They were like Butterball bombs!” Even more disbelief.

Once when I was in college in New York City (so far from Pyatt), I saw a nice hipster girl wearing a tight green t-shirt that read “Turkey Trot, Yellville, Arkansas.” Normally bashful around girls, I ran right over to her and gushed, “You’ve been to the Turkey Trot?!” She looked at me with confusion and maybe a little fear then remembered her t-shirt. She smirked and said, “No. I got this at a thrift shop.” Ironic t-shirt bites true experience in the ego. I skulked off.

Anyhow, I’ve done some looking into the frozen turkey bombs, as I don’t actually remember the buildings exploding. I’ve come to the conclusion that the frozen turkey drop was a rumor started from someone making a knowing joke against those “crazy animal rights people,” though it may also be some kind of permutation from this scene from WKRP in Cincinnati:

I did some more reading and found the following on Wikipedia concerning the Turkey Trot:

One of the longest traditions in Yellville is the annual Turkey Trot festival. Beginning in 1945 with the first turkey dropped from the roof of the Marion County Courthouse, the festival continues today. It is held every second weekend of October with the best-known attraction being live turkeys that are dropped from airplanes over the town square. October 2005 marked the 60th anniversary of this festival. The 1970s television show, WKRP in Cincinnati, parodied the turkey drop on one of their best-known episodes. Yellville and the Turkey Trot Festival were also included in the American supermarket tabloid The National Enquirer in 1989 with photographs of the festival and commentary on animal cruelty. Due to the bad press, the turkey drop ceased for a few years. It has since resumed. The Turkey Trot festival also includes a Miss Turkey Trot Pageant, a Miss Drumstickz Competition (best legs), dinners, musical entertainment, a 5 kilometer run, a parade (which has included former Arkansas governor and current presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and a nationally recognized turkey calling contest sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation. Crafts and tools related to the hunting of wild turkeys are also sold in streetside booths along the town square. Entertainment at Turkey Trot has ranged in recent years from famous acts like John Conlee singer of “Rose Colored Glasses” and Jeannie Kendall from the Grammy-award winning group The Kendalls, to more local entertainment by area groups such as The Muddles, Joe Sasser and Friends, and Carnes McCormack.

Joe Sasser was my 6th grade teacher and taught me a song I love to sing called “Down in the Arkansas.” I found a clip of an old timer singing the song with verses that I didn’t know before. Click here to listen.

Before we moved here, friends gave me a CD by Sufjan Stevens entitled “Illinois.” I have obsessed over this CD in a way that I thought I had left behind in my teenage years. I listen to it over and over. The lyrics are fine and narrative, with honest and sometimes cerebral introspection about events and place. The music is varied, soft, and accessible. Stevens’s voice is better than mine, but not so much better; his voice is inviting to me because it suggests simplicity and intimacy.  “Illinois” is the second of Stevens’s proposed CD series on all fifty states (the first was entitled “Michigan”). 

Apparently, two radio producers invited Stevens to Brinkley, Arkansas, to explore how he would write music about the people and events that are unique to that place. As you may know, Brinkley is where the ivory-billed woodpecker was sighted after years of being considered extinct. It was first seen on my son’s first birthday, February 11, 2004.

Sufjan Stevens wrote a song and appropriately entitled it “The Lord God Bird,” a common nickname for the ivory-billed woodpecker. The song is available online for free–click here to listen, right-click and save to download. As a semi-Arkansan, I hope this means that Stevens is planning an “Arkansas” follow-up to “Illinois” very soon.


May 25, 2007

Why Elvis, my beloved Elvis, was it this? Why did you choose shilling for Lexus to be your feet of clay (assuming we forget the whole Burt Bacharach debacle)?  In this, your aim is decidedly not true.

John Fahey

February 28, 2007

I came across some information about John Fahey on wood s lot today. I know very little about him, but I gather that Fahey was a folk guitarist who also worked on experimental musical forms.

In the summer of my discontent, 1998, neither I nor my best friend Johanna could get a job. It was hot and humid in New York City, we had very little cash, and the odd jobs we did just got odder and odder. For a weekend, we both were employed to sell programs at a multi-stage music festival hosted by Guinness. After we sold out of our programs, we were free to stay at the festival and watch the bands and spend our new money on expensive beer.

For some reason we ended up at one of the minor stages where John Fahey was playing a set. He was fat, and his white hair had not been combed in many weeks. His wore ratty jeans and a greasy T-shirt. His stage act consisted of sitting in a metal folding chair with his guitar, trying to keep his long and disgusting beard from getting caught in the strings. We had never heard of him and wondered how someone like this rated a berth on any stage, much less at a major NYC festival. He mumbled into a microphone as he played; the guitar music itself was forgettable–at least I don’t remember it. We figured he was either stoned beyond belief or so avant-garde that we mere mortals could not follow his art.

That’s why the following clip surprised me so much. It’s a video of him in 1969, and it’s absolutely lovely.

The Wailin’ Jennys

November 3, 2006

The Wailin’ Jennys are my new favorite band. Heard them first on Prairie Home Companion and have lately been listening to their last album, “Firecracker.”