One of our long-time friends is the lovely, talented, popular and vivacious singer, dancer and playwright Laurie Jo Upchurch. We’ve been working together with Laurie and her handsome hubby Kenneth for over twenty years in revivals, homecomings, anniversaries, birthdays, concerts and other special events and she just keeps on going. She never slows down.
This year Laurie is doing triple time. On January 12, Laurie was involved the Arts Council of Appling County in presenting the third Annual Classical Arts Showcase at the First Baptist Church in Baxley. The program featured local musicians performing music by major composers. In addition to vocal solos, some of the featured instruments were violin, piano, classical guitar, mandolin, saxophone and pipe organ. The night of Classical Arts was a great night in Baxley! B. J. and I fully intended to be there but the flu bug kept us on St. Simons.
One of the outstanding yearly events at the St. Simons United Methodist Church is the Annual Valentine Banquet (some call it the “Sweetheart Banquet”). The church decorates in all the colorful, fancy finery of the St. Valentine’s occasion. The sweethearts deck out in their vibrant attire and get into the Valentine mood. This year, the entrée is Prime Rib and Charming Chicken. And, of course, the entertainment for this entrancing event will be the exciting Laurie Jo Upchurch.
However, that’s not all, Laurie Jo, director and scriptwriter for perhaps Georgia’s most popular live stage presentation, Tales of the Altamaha, is involved with this year’s production from the soles of her dancing shoes to the tips of her long black hair.
The Tales of the Altamaha first appeared as a series of occasional articles published over a period of about 10 years (mid 1950’s – mid 1960’s) in the Lyons Progress, weekly newspaper of Lyons/Toombs County, Ga. (I wrote for this paper for a number of years.)
At first, the Tales bore a headlined title with “Anonymous” beneath instead of a byline. Next, some were labeled Tales from the Altamaha. Then the format was changed to Tales of the Altamaha. The name for the series probably was borrowed from Tales of the South Pacific, the Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories which launched the career of James A. Michener.
As Editor Harry Rhoden of the Lyons Progress wrote, the Tales deal with “humorous happenings of bygone days,” or at least most of them do. But they are much more than funny stories. The author, attorney T. Ross Sharpe, was steeped in local history and complexly linked to the local populace. Literate (a University of Georgia Law School graduate) and observant, he was particularly well prepared to tell the Tales which inform readers about local history, social relations, folk life, folk lore and biography. They are akin to and fully as funny as the Appalachian humor collections edited by Loyal Jones and Billy Edd Wheeler: Laughter in Appalachia and Curing the Cross-eyed Mule. They also are rich resource material for historians and social scientists who want to push past stereotypes to study the rural south.
The Tales also reflect change: free rural mail delivery, rural electrification, and especially agricultural change. From a pattern of subsistence farming with free range livestock and limited scale timbering, the region moved to intensive cotton culture (later mixed with tobacco) then modern livestock and mechanized cultivation of various row crops.
The author was a champion of agricultural change, perhaps because he saw that old-style cotton culture destroyed the land and farmers in a spiral of poverty.
The author and Attorney Col. T. Ross Sharpe would squeeze playwright Laurie Jo Upchurch and the entire cast of the play with a great big southern hospitality embrace if he knew what a magnificent job they are doing in putting the heart and soul of the Tales into real flesh and blood enactments that bring to life the events and spirit of that era.
This year’s production, “Legends, Lures, and Corn Likker” begins at the Blue Marquee begins 4-4-13 (Thursday, Friday, two shows Saturday; and the following Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for two shows.
This show delivers a lot of laughter and a lot of unexpected turns. Many of your favorite actors are reappearing, as well as some first-timers. Mules, horses, corn likker, fishin’ and tellin’ Tales make for an enjoyable show. The River Rat Revue Band is at its best, pickin’ and grinnin’ all through the night.