I’ve been blessed through the years, especially the last few, to have enjoyed many unique and varied experiences. Last week I may have reached the pinnacle of wildly unrelated experinces.
Let me start by saying this – I am a fifty-five-year-old engineer with a small business spread across Baldwyn, Guntown and Booneville. Quail Ridge Engineering builds conveyors and other fabricated steel products. It’s the industry I’ve been involved with all of my working life, including the last twenty-six years based right here with QRE on Main Street Baldwyn. I have a seventeen-year-old son at home – Maddux – who’s a junior football player and golfer at BHS (student, too). He keeps me pretty busy. I also have three older sons who, with their wives, are already out in the world, steadily growing the Richey brand with five grandsons and a granddaughter on the way. Christmas is coming, and I’ve decorated and bought presents. I have a yellow cat that a friend and I found in the alley behind my house – named him Tony, like the tiger. He’s mostly tame now and sits in my lap when I watch television at night.
I’m a normal person, and the things I just mentioned are essentially normal things, but then there is the other stuff.
Last weekend, I went to a dude ranch near Natchez, Mississippi, and spent the night in a bunkhouse with four guys I barely know, including an independent film director who has cast me in his upcoming western feature film.
At the invitation of the director, I went to the dude ranch (Brushy Creek Ranch) to practice riding a horse, which I haven’t done since I was a teenager, because it’s required of my character in the movie. I’m known as “The Lone Rider.” I like to say it like that because it makes it sound like “The Lone Ranger,” but in my case it’s more of a character description, as in I am a nameless “lone rider” arriving upon the scene in this movie. Still, The Lone Rider has a cool ring. It’d be cooler if I could actually ride a horse.
The movie I’m going to be in is called Bastard’s Crossing (my mother isn’t especially happy with the title).
The lead actor in another movie – Cedric Burnside – was staying in the next bunkhouse beside ours. I met and talked with Cedric quite a bit the evening I was there. Cedric is a two-time Grammy nominee, the grandson of Blues Hall of Famer R.L. Burnside, and a would-be actor. He’ll star in a film called Texas Red, which shoots in Brookhaven immediately following Bastard’s Crossing. He had never ridden a horse before, but he did a pretty good job for a first time. I spoke to him about doing a music show at The Claude Gentry Theatre. He gave me the number for his booking agent. Interestingly, he lives very close, in Ashland. I think we might be able to make a Cedric Burnside show in Baldwyn happen.
I found out at the dude ranch that I don’t mount a horse too well. My leg strength isn’t what it was thirty years ago. So, even after the crash course at Brushy Creek last weekend, I figured I still needed more work. When I got back home, I asked around and quickly connected with one of my Facebook friends, James Bullock, a man of similar interests to mine. James lives on an historic plot of ground north of Baldwyn just off Highway 30. The old Geeville Mercantile sits in his horse pasture, facing Highway 30.
James helped me saddle up “Goldie,” a Palomino mare of his, and I rode a couple hours one afternoon during the week. For me, the riding isn’t the issue. Smoothly getting on the horse is the issue. I’m still working on it.
While I was out with James, he filled my ears with the history about the spot where he lived. His home sits on what was once the “Lomenick Plantation.” He showed me where the various functions of the antebellum property had existed – the grist mill, servant quarters, main house, etc. And he showed me where the “plantation store” had once been located. And then he showed me where it was now – he pointed to the Geeville Mercantile. According to James, the Lomenick Plantation store became the Geeville Mercantile at some time in the ancient past, and the building still exists, right there off Highway 30. That’s an important thing to know, and one I certainly didn’t … until James told me.
We went inside and talked about what it would take to restore it. Ironically, my friend Jak Smith and I had discussed the very same endeavor not more than a month before, without any inclination that my path was about to cross with James, who literally holds the key to the property. Funny how things like that work out when something is supposed to happen.
When I was done riding, James even took me on a little truck tour of old Geeville, showing me where the small town had once been located. The little community trickled away to Baldwyn over the last century and a half, and now it exists only as a grouping of homes. I’m going riding with James again soon. I bet I learn something else.
Meanwhile back in town, Six Shooters General Manager Amye Gousset was wrapping up preparations for a concert at our theater called “An Evening with Guy Hovis.”
Saturday came, and at 2 pm, Guy Hovis, a 78-year-old former star of The Lawrence Welk Show and the former chief of staff for U.S. Senator Trent Lott, showed up at the Claude Gentry Theatre to do a sound check. The man, who had been a featured performer for Lawrence Welk for twenty years, hopped right up on our stage. Amye and I listened to his sound mix and then showed him our lighting ideas. He said, “looks good to me.” And we were off and running.
I had seen the seating reservations and I knew people would be coming in from far and wide for the show. With a big contingent of out-of-towners, I invited Mayor Michael James (and his wife Sheila) to join us for the show and to welcome our guests. The mayor graciously greeted the full house, and then I introduced Guy Hovis. Amye Gousset, a big fan of the Lawrence Welk Show, had been telling me for years that we should have the Tupelo native come and do a concert. Finally, we pulled the trigger, and she worked diligently for about a year to get it all organized and coordinated.
Guy Hovis, at 78, delivered probably the best musical performance we’ve ever had at the theater. He played guitar and smoothly sang high notes that are frankly impossible for most singers of any age. When Guy Hovis became a television star there were only three television networks. In that exclusive environment, a person had to have immense talent to “break in.” He had it in those days, and he still has it today.
After the show, the whole crowd went to Alley Cat Art gallery for a reception. Gallery artist Linda Peters, an Oxford native whose work has been featured on the NBC television show Bluff City Law, was on hand. Everyone met and ate and laughed and had a big ol’ time in Baldwyn.
When the party dwindled, Amye and I helped Guy Hovis and his wife Sis pack up his gear and then took a selfie outside the theater.
Completely unrelated, the following Sunday morning, I got up and sang “Mary, Did You Know” and “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” at Calvary Baptist Church in Booneville at the invitation of my friend Susie Allen, their music minister. I played guitar in their Christmas program, “O, Christmas Tree.” Amye sang, too. And we ate lunch in their fellowship hall after the service. It was very nice.
Then Sunday afternoon, Maddux and I plopped on my couch and watched the Cowboys beat the Rams. Tony sat in my lap.
I look at it all, and I wonder, in all sincerity, how I ever got so blessed as to cross paths with so many interesting people, to be a part of so many outlandish endeavors, and yet still be able to enjoy the good stuff of normal life.
Besides taking care of my cat, riding a horse at some point, and watching football with Maddux, just what could next week possibly hold for me? I wonder, and I look forward to it.
“Yesterday (Dec 14th, 2019) my daughter Jana and I headed out for Baldwyn MS (90 miles away) to see Guy Hovis in a Christmas Concert. This was held in the Claude Gentry Theater in a beautiful venue, smaller than what we are used to, but nonetheless perfect in every other way. Guy sang many Christmas songs (list to come soon) plus one or two that were not Christmas-y. He was well-received by the audience. We were glad to see that Sis was with him as was his sister Joye and a cousin. After the performance, a lovely reception/autograph signing/picture taking was held in the Alley Cat Gallery, just about a half a block away. This was in an Art Gallery which also provided tasty goodies for us. The small town of Baldwyn was a well-kept secret for me. It is a lovely little area that was so clean it looked like they had broom-swept the streets. The locals were very welcoming and so rightfully proud of their town. I hope Guy will have an opportunity to appear there again in the not too distant future. Picture info: Guy’s sister Joye is behind Jana and Judy, everyone knows Sis, and the last picture is Shelaine Pennington. She lives in Baldwyn and her Dad and Guy’s Dad were both Mississippi Highway Patrolmen that protected Elvis at the Tupelo Fair in 1956. Guy enjoyed seeing Shelaine’s picture at that event showing both of their Dads as well as Elvis in the front.” – Judy Vanderstay Shaw, posted to Welknotes (a Lawrence Welk Fan Club group site)
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