The Bean Blossom
Country Music’s Birth Place (Almost) ~ A Two-Part Report
by Mark Blackwell
After taking notice of the success of Doc and Diner Beisel on the Vaudeville circuit, Brown County Boosters organized a talent contest at Bean Blossom (formerly Georgetown). They aimed to discover new talent to be exploited for the benefit of Brown County pride and tourism. Talent show applicants included: Miss Leticia Flossnagle, the Brumble Brothers, Elmer Snavely and his musical whipsaw, the Scarce O’ Fat Skunk Jumpers and a mystery entry, Uncle Bunk. Ralph Peer of Victor Records was designated as a special judge on the condition of receiving good directions out of the county at the show’s conclusion.
The bell rang and it was time to start.
The crowd milled into the tent and settled into the folding chairs. The township judges and Mr. Peer sat front row center. Things quieted down and Arvil Flossnagle, of the Flossnagle Funeral Parlor, strode solemnly to the stage to emcee the proceedings. Arvil was chosen for the job due to his sonorous voice, his good looking suit, and because he supplied the folding chairs.
“Laaaaaadies and gentlemen, friends and neighbors, fellow Brown Countians, and future customers, we are met here today to celebrate our community’s bounteous reservoir of hitherto untapped talent,” he began. “We have come to witness the lifting of the proverbial bushel from the light of our fair and happy…” but before Arvil could finish his sentence the first of several ripe tomatoes came winging his direction. Weaving and ducking, he continued, “And now without further delay I present Miss Leticia Flossnagle.” The audience cheered as Arvil left the stage.
Miss Leticia offered her interpretation of an old ballad recounting the fate of an orphan child, lost in the dark and dreary woods on a freezing winter night, rescued in the nick of time by a childless couple who inadvertently poison the orphan with an overdose of tonic. Although Miss Flossnagle acquitted herself quite ably, the song put the crowd in a rather morose humor. The talent contest organizers met “stage-left” and instructed Arvil to shuffle the program and introduce Uncle Bunk.
As Arvil sauntered to the stage, tomatoes were retrieved from under seats and readied. The emcee, not wishing to present a stationary target, stepped quickly across the stage announcing as he went, “Our next act, Uncle Bunk.” The assemblage applauded but Uncle Bunk did not appear. The judges looked to the organizing committee, the committee looked to Arvil. Arvil shrugged and then took the stage. He called up the Scarce O’ Fat Skunk Jumpers jug band.
The Skunk Jumpers’ act involved a jug player, Willard, who played progressively lower octaves as the tune progressed. Willard would start the song with a half-full jug and take sips at certain intervals to lower the liquid level and the corresponding octave level. The crowd hooted, whistled, and clapped their approval but the Skunk Jumpers were not ready. They hollered back that they were tunin’.
Arvil returned to the stage even faster this time. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Elmer Snavely and his musical whipsaw.”
Elmer Snavely, a bachelor from over at Possum Waller, had seen other folks play a musical handsaw. The saw gives a high quavering tone when played with a violin bow. Elmer’s whipsaw, being twice as big as a regular saw, gave off tones like a cello. Elmer took the stage, pulled up his saw to its full height and planted his feet on the handle. He sat down, drawing a graceful “S” curve in the saw. As he let go with one hand to pick up his bow the saw threatened to spring out of control. The judges flinched in unison but Elmer got the saw back in hand and drew forth the first notes. The sound was like nothing anybody had ever heard—or ever wanted to.
Those in the audience who were armed (most of the crowd), pulled out their goods and started heaving missiles of fruit and vegetables toward Elmer. Elmer ducked the incoming produce and subsequently let go of the whipsaw which sprang like a big league slugger to hit a fast-pitched rotten potato. The potato sailed across the tent and hit Willard, the jug player, in mid sip, causing him to drop his jug. The Skunk Jumpers waded into the audience. The crowd stood up except for the judges taking cover under their seats.
A sound described as a cross between a calliope and bagpipes was heard outside the tent. As the wailing approached some folks thought it was a sign of the Second Coming. Everybody withdrew toward the stage.
The source was Uncle Bunk and a half-dozen, tuned coon hounds. This was Uncle Bunk’s “mystery” entry in the talent contest—six dogs, each with his own pitch and note. He had spent years trading, selecting and training his dogs, to achieve a barbershop harmony of coon hounds. Unfortunately, Uncle Bunk was tone deaf. What was music to him was an earful of the end-times for everybody else. When Bunk pulled open the tent flap, folks fainted, ran to ground, slipped on tomatoes, and tripped over each other in efforts to escape the tent.
And that was the first and last talent contest held in Bean Blossom. By tacit agreement, neither participants nor attendees ever spoke of it. The big event became a lost weekend. Ralph Peer, the record talent scout, crawled out of the tent when the rest of the judges hunkered down under their seats. He did a Tom Mix flying mount into the seat of his Ford and flew down the highway toward Nashville. Map or no map, he was out of Brown County by sundown. He fetched up in Bristol, Tennessee a few weeks later and auditioned Jimmy Rodgers and the Carter Family. If things had gone a little different it coulda been Miss Leticia and the Scarce O’ Fat Skunk Jumpers. Or maybe not.