On the Road Again
Willie Nelson’s 1980 hit “On the Road Again” has been an inspiration for me many times at my blog here at wsaz.com. While the song reached No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100
and became his biggest pop hit to that time, it wasn’t until a year later that the affable Nelson won a Grammy Award for Best Country S
Metaphorically, I use this blog title to tell of my travels, far and wide, to the four corners of the WSAZ viewing area.
So it was that I hit the road on Saturday for a day long journey along the Country Music Highway.
My day started early as I wanted to beat the main rain band south to Pikeville. The attraction was Hillbilly Days and the Grand Hillbilly Parade.
Rain had spilled into the Ohio Valley at dawn but a break on Josh’s 9 AM HD Doppler 3 radar scope gave me hope that I could drive much of the 2 hour trip dry. No such luck as no sooner had I hooked onto Route 23 near the Ashland refinery that light rain began to fall again. In effect, the break on radar was being eaten away by new rains that were forming behind the passing cold front.
As I drove south I hoped that the rain would not scare away the crowds from Hambly Boulevard where the parade would start at 2pm. Of course if you have ever been to Hillbilly Days you know that the Shriners come to party hardy every year, rain or shine, with one thing in mind; namely, crippled children. You see the Shriners are a dedicated bunch who live to make sure kids around the world, truly, get the medical care and assistance they need.
As I rode into Pikeville, Jesse Bowling was there to greet me. Jesse is the parade coordinator and a tireless promoter of Pikeville. As I parked the WSAZ van, I thanked Jesse then set out with camera in hand and an empty stomach, always an “interesting” combination.
After walking the festival grounds for 15 minutes, I took my first pictures of the Mule Band playing at City Park. These rural acoustical string musicians have been together longer than any other local band. Their combination Scott Irish-African melodies played to the wet crowd that had gathered.
Just down the road, I stopped by”super” craftsman Chip Dyer’s sign shop. Chip was busy buffing a hand made sign titled “Man Cave” for one of his many patrons. A Muncie Indiana native, Chip told me business was good this year at Hillbilly Days. Jeff Tanselle, a patron of Chip’s from Grapevine, Kentucky echoed that sentiment. “I bought 2 signs yesterday. There is always a line so I know he is good”.
As I shot the matting throng walking the “midway”, I was getting hungrier and thirstier by the second. Since I am on a health kick these days, I opted for the grand Greek chicken salad from my buddy Spiros of Illinois. His motherly sidekick has been cooking Greek delicacies for “60 years” , at least that’s what he told me.
As she dished out the salad I said “and plenty of chicken”! She winked then asked me if I wanted the special dressing. “I am on a diet”, I said. “But it tastes better with it”, she forewarned me!
To wash the salad down, I stopped at Wild Bill’s Old Fashioned saloon and ordered a pint! No not beer, but home brewed soda pop. A young lady named Delores from Pikeville recommended a concoction of orange and vanilla. “It tastes like a creamsicle”, she alerted me!
As I scarfed down the last piece of chicken, it was time to head to Hambly for the parade. Passing me on the left, the gang from the AS RICH AS LIFE studio came singing past me. Dressed in their Rydel High 1950s outfits, these young thespians marched the streets in song and dance promoting their May performance of Grease.
Another ten yards closer to Hambly and still another side show to enjoy. A man named Brewster from Orlando was riding a unicycle while juggling 3,4,5 balls at once. The crowd, especially the kids, loved his antics. Once off the bike he juggled 7 balls at once. AMAZING!
Did I mention it was raining in downtown Pikeville? Sure, but the thousands who had gathered were not going to let it rain on their parade!
Since the parade culminates the 3 day celebration, it is traditional for Hillbillies from across the state, country and world to line Hambly. With a rather small parade route, they pack the street 5 and 10 deep to watch the Shriners and their invited guests pass. Trust me when I say, all the Shriners are accorded “rock star” status.
With El Hasa lodges from several states behind him, Grand Marshall Braiden Adkins, a kid in need being helped by the Shriners, led the parade route to the blare of a police escort.
One by one the El Hasa bands strutted their way down the boulevard flanked by the loudest horn honking, moonshine toting jalopies you ever laid your eyes on. As I shot video for my story, I interviewed several Shriners as they passed. One told me, “we care for kids around the world”, another from the Ben Kedem Shriners of Charleston told me, “we won’t sleep as long as there is a crippled child to help”.
Soon it was time to take my place in the parade route to take the mile trip down the boulevard. Along the way, I heard so many cheers, most for the state champion 1st and 2nd grade John’s Creek basketball team whom I followed. But dare I admit that there were a few screams for WSAZ and Tony? After all we are all Hillbillies when we gather in Pikeville in April every year.
My stop in Pikeville was just my first of the day. Later this week I will tell you about my trip to Salyersville on the way home as I visited the tornado zone for a first hand look at what was left behind from the March 2nd whirlwind.