When the Bust It Like A Mule crew was asked to do our show at the 15th annual Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival, I had no idea what to expect in the way of a response from the audience. I mean, we were sharing the stage with such musical luminaries as John Reischman, Fireball Mail, Rob Ickes, blah blah blah blah. And I was going to be reading. To an audience. From a book. My book. READING to an audience that was used to and or expecting to hear amazingly talented musicians, not some yokel hollering at them about a crazy Okie from a bygone day.
Before our set, I was rubbing shoulders backstage with musicians warming up their well worn instruments, I with a well worn book in my hand ("Hey, Harmonic Tone Revealers, you're sounding awesome, wish me luck, I'm going to go read the hell out of this book. High fivesies?"). And it dawned on me - WHAT HAD I DONE. But dear reader, it was too late, and I, and therefore the show, must go on.
And go on it did, like a backslidden holy roller on a runaway tent revival.
I was not surprised that my musical crew killed it - brother Jacob 'The Kid' Mannan, my beautiful wife/creative partner/southpaw fiddle champ Jenny Anne Mannan, and the Baritone Bawler himself, Kevin Morgan, were amazing playing their original Bust It songs, as usual. From the very first rich bellow of Kevin Morgan's 'When The Mountains Call My Name': "I was born an Okie, and when I was a BOOOOOOoooooyyyy..." I was reminded that we do indeed have something special here, and those in attendance seemed to agree.
All in all, it went well, and people seemed to like it - we even received high praise from Spokane's newspaper the Spokesman Review as 'the oddest quartet to grace the stage'. (Read the story here: "Beneath gray skies, Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival rolls on")
It has always been my vision to make Bust It Like A Mule larger than life, a living, moving, breathing thing, Cotton Kingfisher walking off the pages of the book and hitching it up to Glacier Park where people still spot him and tell stories about him fighting wildfires and bears and befriending children and Indians and making peace with the earth in general. And it seems like this is happening - one guy who bought the book asked 'Who is Cotton Kingfisher?", pointing at the cover, and I beamed with pride as a I replied 'I made him up'. A couple I chatted with after the show was headed to Glacier Park later that day. I told them, 'Say hi to Cotton for me', and I do believe they did.
There have been times when I have told the Bust It crew that it might be time to hang up our rucksacks and pack up our pulaskis, but every time we do, we get another chance to tell the tale of Cotton, of my family, of America again in story and song. And I've gotten to thinking - why move on? Why not settle in, do an album of the songs (Anyone who would like to donate to this cause send me some money)? Cotton is larger than life, and is 'mean enough to take on the whole West bygod', and he's got a million stories to tell and be told about him. So I have decided I don't think we'll ever stop playing this bygod show( I should probably tell the band). I think we'll continue to play it on public radio and at bars and Women's Clubs and libraries and bookstores and churches and the Bartlett and wherever people are looking to make peace with the earth, as long as they're looking to hear this peace preached by the oddest quartet to grace the stage.
See you at the next show,