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In a Sow’s Ear

Small town customs and traditions ” don’t you love ’em? Every small town has tons of talented people. There’s that kid in high school who can play terrific piano; another who sings with such clear tones you wonder how she does it. There’s old man Jones who, at 92, can make a harmonica sound like a whole orchestra. And what about Gladys, the retired teacher who loves to recite poetry? Or how about the grade school kids who are writing and acting in their own playlet: “King Arthur and his Knights and Ladies.” The boys have made their own wooden “swords”, the girls have created “gowns” and cone-shaped head-dresses.

Mark Twain said it best. Customs are not enacted, they grow gradually up, imperceptibly and unconsciously, like an oak from its seed. In the fullness of their strength they can stand up straight in front of a world of argument and reason, and yield not an inch.

One of the best of American customs/tradition was the Chautauqua which is beginning to make a comeback around the country.

“Chautauqua ” a gathering that is typically American in that it is typical of America at its best.” -Theodore Roosevelt.

Chautauqua: pronounced “shuh-TAWK-wuh. Named for a lake in upstate New York, Chautauqua is a community-based cultural and social movement that started in the 1870s. From that early beginning, Chautauqua broadened into hundreds of touring “tent-show” Chautauquas that fanned out across the country presenting lectures, dance, music, theater and a variety of other “culturally enriching” pursuits. Their goal: to delight, educate, amaze and provoke the imagination of adults and children alike.

Down-home, small-town, rural customs and traditions, what can be better? Here in my town, we’re launching a new take on an old custom.

The Big Timber Creative Arts Center, following the original Chautauqua principals–to delight, educate, amaze and provoke the imagination of adults and children alike–plans to offer a rich variety of workshops, plays, lectures, music, cowboy poetry, art and quilt exhibits and more. We’re starting with an Open House and Open Mike Show featuring local performers.

Home-grown talent is a bottomless resource pool. Nobody has to “measure up” to the Hollywood or Broadway hotshots.

Rowena, the manager in a local restaurant, has decided she wants to be Calamity Jane and sing/recite a song while stomping back and forth and snapping a bull whip. (Can’t you picture that?)

Loretta, a massage therapist, sings like the proverbial lark, (though she can’t fly).

She’s going to present a medley of ’30s, ’40s, ’50s songs. She’s asking around for a couple of dresses from those decades so she can be “in character.”

A local retired Doctor plans to recite Lazarus and the Baptist Preacher, a poem handed down from his Granddad to his Dad to him.

Big Timber Creative Arts Center is kicking off with Yellowstone Crazy Mountains Chautauqua ” an Open House and an Open Mike Show on June 24.

Of course the show will feature local talent ” down-home entertainment with plenty of laughter, music and old-fashioned fun.

The home-grown talent pool is bottomless. When are you going to host a Chautauqua in your town?


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