AS I have been doing nearly every Easter week for the last 40 years, I attended the annual meeting of the Texas Folklore Society — its 92nd. The pilgrimage this year brought Texans from all parts of the state to Lubbock, where from Thursday to Saturday I was reminded about the striking differences between our East and West.
Reading material iin my Holiday Inn Park Plaza room described the city’s many attractions, including the American Wind Power Center, a museum with 120 rare and restored windmills. One story touted Lubbock as a retirement center that’s attracting more and more people looking for a better climate and escape from the “humid and toxic” air in eastern parts.
Also touted was the Buddy Holly Center in the Depot District, both a cultural arts facility and a museum that attraacts many fans of Lubbock’s musical favorite son.
WHAT I hadn’t realized before was how many other musicians Lubbock lays claim to. Two of the papers presented to the TFS gathering enlightened me.
Paul Carlson of Lubbock spoke on “Buddy Holly, Beethoven, and Lubbock in the 1950s” and Larry Willoughby of Austin had the topic, “Tornadoes, Tumbleweeds and Troubadours: Lubbock’s Musical Legacy.”
Carlson asserted that both Buddy Holly and Beethoven were composers who celebrated hard working, plain folks. “Buddy and Beethoven do not play well at the Country Club,” he said.
When Buddy Holly bore down on “That’ll Be the Day” and Roy Orbison tuned up his rich voice it could give you goose bumps, like Beethoven, he said in describing the “cultural milieu” that contributed much to the American musical cannon.
BUDDY HOLLY had been influenced by Bob Wills’ western swing from the 1930s and gospel music early on, but when Elvis Presley burst on the scene, music on the South Plains was changed, Carlson explained.
Holly joined the trend to rhythm and blues race music mixed with jazz that led to modern rock and roll. That change was just putting down roots when Buddy Holly formed The Crickets as a high school student, Carlson recalled.
Asserting that few regions can claim so much musical talent as Lubbock’s South Plains. he listed, among others, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock and Joe Ely, collectively known as The Flatlanders; Waylon Jennings, Mac Davis, Tanya Tucker, Terry Allen, Lloyd Maines and his daughter, Natalie Manes of the Dixie Chicks.
AS TO THE culture this musical explosion came from, Carlson mentioned a book I happen to be familiar with, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America.
These included the Puritans from East Anglia who established a religious community in Massachusetts in 1629; the royalist cavaliers and their indentured servants from the south and west of England who built a farming way of life in Virginia starting in 1640; the Quakers from the North Midlands who settled the Delaware Valley in that same era; and the fourth, largest migration, 1717-75; “poor borderland families of English, Scots and Irish [who] fled a violent environment to seek a better life in a similarly uncertain American backcountry.”
Clearly, as cultural biographers have established, it was that fourth group that made its way through the deep South over the years and began filling up the South plains after the Comanches were subdued.
Larry Willoughby, expanding on the idea of where Lubbock’s musical legacy came from, said that West Texas rhythm came by way of West Africa, citing Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue” as an example.
AT ITS Friday night banquet the Folklore Society installed Lou Halsell Rodenberger as a Fellow of the society, a high honor. Dr. Rodenberger is retired from her work as an English professor at McMurry University in Abilene, and is an authority on Texas women writers.
She has edited Her Work: Stories by Texas Women; co-edited Texas Women Writers: A Tradition of Their Own, and Let’s Hear It: Stories by Texas Women. Stuck in between copies of these on my bookshelf is a clipping from the May 7, 2006 Dallas Morning News book page in which Judy Alter of the TCU Press writes about Lou Rodenberger’s interest in Texas women writers.
Lou Rodenberger “doesn’t bellieve that Texas literature has historically been masculine, in spite of J. Frank Dobie’s insistence that large ranches, cowmen and vaqueros characterized Texas,” Ms. Alter wrote, and, “Ms. Rodenberger insists that superior female writers in our state are not being recognized.”
The column concluded:
“As long as Ms. Rodenberger is mining the field of Texas lliterature, our women have a spokesperson and an advocate.” Dr. Rodenberger is a past president of both the Folklore Society and the West Texas Historical Association and has been a regent of Texas Woman’s University, in addition to many other offices and honors.
THE MEETING concluded, as always, before noon on the day before Easter so those attending could get back home in time for Easter Sunday.
We signed off with the traditional singing of “Beautiful, Beautiful Texas,” perhaps the greatest work of the late flour salesman, Texas governor and U. S. senator, W. Lee (Pappy) O’Daniel.
The lunch I had at the Lubbock airport while waiting for my Southwest Airlines flight back to Dallas seemed liked a metaphor for today’s West Texas.
I got a Burger King hamburger for $1.29, but a small bottle of water cost $2.50.