CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: LAUNIU

HED:Tony Launius: One man's music is another man's hamburger

Music has always been a very important part of my life.

When I was just a little boy I was destined to master the 88 black and white keys on the piano following in my two grandmothers' and two older sisters' footsteps (or should I say finger patterns).

When I began taking piano lessons at the tender age of 8, I always dreamed of playing for a big-name Southern Gospel quartet.

Each and every Sunday morning I was glued to our family's black and white television set watching "The Happy Jubilee." My ears were mesmerized beyond measure by the tight four-part harmony of The Speer Family, The Happy Goodman Family, The Florida Boys, The Dixie Echoes, The Statesmen Quartet and all the other singing groups that appeared on the popular weekly television show during the '60s.

I always paid close attention to the great piano players of that era such as Rosa Nell Speer Powell, Joe Roper, Wally Varner, Henry Slaughter and Howard Goodman. I was fascinated by the way they maneuvered around the keyboard. They became some of my heroes.

Thirty years later my dream is still alive and somewhat well even though my fat, stubby fingers don't skim across the ebony and ivory keys as fast as they once did.

Even though Southern Gospel is my first love when it comes to music, I have always considered my musical tastes rather eclectic.

I enjoy blues to barbershop, classical to country, pop to polka, rock to rap. I still pat my feet to the disco beat of my high school years. I'll even admit listening to Broadway showtunes and Sousa marches.

When it comes to music, I love it all - except bluegrass.

I have never really understood one of America's original forms of music featuring unamplified stringed instruments such as a banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and upright bass accompanying vocalists singing high-pitched harmony.

I sometimes think my true aversion to bluegrass music began more than 18 years ago when one evening my parents simply asked me if I wanted to go get a hamburger.

Being one never to turn down a free meal, I said, "Sure, I'll go. A hamburger sounds pretty good to me."

We were living in Bastrop, La., at the time and my parents invited some friends to go with us to "get a hamburger."

Well, about 45 minutes later I found myself sitting in a lawn chair in the middle of a huge cow pasture surrounded by RVs and lots and lots of senior citizens.

I caught myself looking around for a pair of golden arches.

I kept thinking someone would come up to me and tell me to have it my way.

For a fleeting second, I thought I had spied a little red-haired girl with braided pigtails and freckles.

Getting a little anxious, I leaned over to my mother and said, "I thought you said we were going to get a hamburger?"

A puzzled look came across her face.

"No, Tony," she snickered. "I asked you if you wanted to go with us to Hamburg, Arkansas, to a bluegrass festival."

Hamburger, Hamburg, Ark., bluegrass festival - how could I have made such a gross mistake?

So, there I was, held captive in Hamburg, Ark., for hours and hours on a hot Friday night during the summer of 1980, in the middle of a smelly cow pasture, swatting mosquitoes as big as crows, perspiration (no, sweat) running down my face as if a pitcher of water was being poured over my head, listening to group after group after group after group come on stage and "make bluegrass music."

And the worst part of the this maddening musical mishap?

I never even got my hamburger.

Tony Launius is a Daily Journal copy editor.

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