Brown County Christmas
with Slats Klug and Friends

by bill Weaver

This Christmas season sees the release of A Brown County Christmas Volume Two, the fourth CD by Slats Klug and friends of songs that explore the myth and lore of Brown County, Indiana. It’s some of their finest work to date.

If you’ve been following Slats and company’s previous releases—A Brown County Christmas, My Brown County Home, (winner of the prestigious 2000 Crossroads Music Award in the Folk-Contemporary category) and the initial Liars’ Bench—this will be a welcome addition. If not, this will make a fine place to start.

The “friends,” as everyone should know by now, include some of the Brown County area’s finest musicians: Robbie Bowden, Dave Gore, Doug Harden, John Franz, Kara Barnard, Dan Dolan, Lauren Robert, Jack Helsley, Bob Cheevers, Beth Lodge-Rigal, Brandt Smith, Libby Parrish, Gordon Lowry, Ray Fellman, Dave Weber, M. Scott Robinson, and Carolyn Dutton.

In addition to the CD, a booklet of original Christmas song lyrics, recipes, and short stories can be purchased. It features art by Margie VanAuken, who created the insouciant Christmas raccoon gracing the cover of Volume Two. “Margie has been doing Christmas cards for her friends for years,” says Slats. “A lot of them fit in and then she drew new ones for some of the songs.”

Klug brings fresh arrangements to eight traditional Christmas songs including Silent Night, Winter Wonderland, and Good King Wenceslaus, which features Nashville street singer John Franz and Lauren Robert. “I like John as the king. He sounds kind of out of his mind. And I like Lauren as the page. It sounds like she has no mind but it’s really appealing.”

Slats has written some crackerjack Christmas songs of his own. Slow as Molasses on Christmas and Slow Sleigh Ride are standout tunes that you’ll find yourself humming at all hours. He also contributes to his Brown County oeuvre with Bury Me in a Tulip Tree. “I was glad to do the John Allcorn story.”

Allcorn was an early Brown County settler who died when the tree he was cutting fell on him. Lacking a coffin, his friends hollowed out the tree and buried him in it. The next spring they were surprised to discover that each end of the coffin had sprouted. The saplings grew into two large trees. “It’s like an O. Henry story,” Klug enthuses.

Slats thinks he has one more Brown County CD in him. “You can walk into the Nashville House and look up on the wall, and pick six or eight of those photos and do a story on each one of them. Onya LaTour interests me,” he adds. “She brought modern art to Brown County, which was an odd and brave thing to do.”

He’s also trying to root out the story of Chief Eaglefeather. “I think he was an Irishman, a big time bootlegger. Hohenberger did a couple photos of him in full Indian dress. He kept a giraffe and circus animals and he did shows, like barn dances. He had Princess Silverheels, his wife, and there are a lot of stories about him. He would definitely be good for song.”

Slats and friends will be performing three live shows this holiday season. On Saturday, November 10, they’ll be at the Brown County Playhouse benefiting Brown County Big Brothers Big Sisters. “There’ll be Liars’ Bench and Brown County Home stuff as well,” Slats promises.

November 24 sees the troupe at the Brown County Inn and on December 15 they’ll be in Bloomington at the Waldron Arts Center for a show to benefit Housing Solutions, Inc. Shows begin at 8 p.m. Ticket information can be found at the end of this article. On November 17, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. there will be a CD and booklet-signing event at Lexington House (46 Main Street West) in Nashville.

“I’ll enjoy these Christmas shows,” says Klug. “There’s a lot of work in setting them up. It’s details,” he adds. “A lot of details.”

When I first received a copy of A Brown County Christmas while preparing this article I immediately put it on the stereo at work and got some “Why are you playing Christmas songs in August?” looks. I relented after that first day but I guarantee that come December Volume Two will be back in play.

Tickets for November 10 can be found at the Brown County Convention & Visitors Bureau (988-7303) and Lexington House (988-6610). For November 24 call the Brown County Inn (988-2291), Roadworthy Guitar & Amp (332-2145), and Viewpoint Books at the Columbus Commons Mall. For December 15 call Housing Solutions, Inc (334-8385) or Lexington House.