The mayoral election seemed a million miles away on Friday night at the Spring County Fair. With "Silver Tongue" firmly entrenched in his role as leader of the Valley for two more years, it was as if the good folks breathed a collective sigh as they caravanned en masse to participate in the most anticipated county fair performance in memory.
I somehow managed to get up the nerve to invite Mary Ann Tinkersley to attend the show with me. I wasn’t sure if she was as excited as I was about our first official date. We had been exercising sheep together for the better part of four months, and in my thinking it was just a matter of time before we became "official."
Although Springfield, the county seat, had a much larger population than our town, it seemed as if almost half the crowd was from the Valley. Perhaps the bigger city folks didn’t understand the star power of Tangi Blevins.
Springfield radio stations had been playing Tangi’s biggest hit, "Turn Your Radio On," several times each day during County Fair week. Even Raymond Cooper, firmly entrenched in the battle of his life, made it a habit to begin each day by playing the song as his station came on the air.
Husbands in their flannel shirts and boots, and wives in their finest jean skirts were dressed for a night on the town. It was probably the biggest date night in years for the folks of my hometown. Even my mom and dad got dressed up for the occasion.
Not everyone had a date. I noticed Juliet Stoughton walking through the fair gate alone as I stood in line to buy a funnel cake for Mary Ann. I figured she was meeting someone, or perhaps she needed a night on her own after the long campaign.
Being new to the area, my guess was Ms. Stoughton probably didn’t understand she was participating in one of the biggest nights in Valley history.
Like every big-time concert, the warm-up act preceded the main event. Little Lori Tolliver wowed the crowd with her banjo playing and pitch-perfect voice. When she belted out "Stand By Your Man," her 12-year-old voice filled the outdoor arena. Her triology of sentimental favorites, including "Roses for Mama," "10-4 Teddybear," and "Blind Man in the Bleachers," left barely a dry eye among the audience sitting in the folding metal stadium seats.
Being the true show-person she was, she lifted those same spirits with the finest banjo version of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" heard to this day.
The audience was beside itself as Tangi Blevins and the Heavenly Hosts made their way to the stage. It was years before I realized the irony as she kicked off her performance with a song made famous by the father-daughter duo, The Kendalls:
"Heaven’s just a sin away,
Oh whoa, just a sin away,
I can’t wait another day,
I think I’m giving in.
Though I’d love to hold you tight,
Oh whoa, be with you tonight,
But that still won’t make it right,
‘Cause I belong to him."
In true gospel fashion, the Heavenly Hosts, two 20-something backup singers in mid-length denim skirts with chevron patterns and yellow boots, pointed toward the heavens as they sang, "‘cause I belong to Him."
Tangi knew how to put on a show, and there was no way she was going to sing her biggest hit until late in her performance, possibly as an encore.
Midway through the show, I felt Mary Ann lay her head against my shoulder as Tangi sang the Dolly Parton classic, "I Will Always Love You."
As I looked over toward Mary Ann, I saw Juliet Stoughton from the corner of my eye. It looked like she might be crying. I suppose a love song, sang by a true artist like Tangi Blevins, can do that.
A moment later I looked back and she was gone. I figured she’d gone to the concession stand to get a funnel cake. It was several years before I realized how wrong I was.
Slimp makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. Contact him at email@example.com.