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James Gordon returns to Jackson, MI

Already a singer-songwriter, author, musical theatre performer and politician, James Gordon can add one more item to his resume: Roots Music Canada columnist.  He’s graciously offered to share some entertaining stories with us from his lengthy career in the arts. We brought you the story of his first attempt to play Jackson, MI last week.  Here is the sequel. 

It’s a year later. I can’t believe I’m back in Jackson with Sandy Horne, and I can’t believe it’s the balloon festival again.

I’m just a guy who can’t say no.

I knew that something was going to be a little odd about playing at the “Hot Air Jamboree” as we approached the airport where the event was being held this time.

My cellphone rang. ( Mine actually rings. It doesn’t know any songs. It’s an antique, like me. Also like me, it’s analog and a bit heftier than current models).

It was the promoter of the show, explaining where to find the stage where Sandy and I were to perform.

“Just drive along the runway past the main gate. You’ll be in the Clogger’s Tent between the giant Bud Light Bottle and an elephant,” she said, as if she said this sort of thing all the time.

As I hung up (OK, I guess you can’t “hang up” a cell phone. What DO you call it?), we saw the Hot Air Jamboree sign shimmering in the July haze.

The “Hot Air” part was accurate. It was really really hot. How hot was it? Well, while we were performing, I left the faxed contract on the dashboard of the lovely Miss Subaru.

It was burned to a crisp (the contract, not Miss Sue, silly!), by the time we returned to the car, though somehow nothing else caught fire.

The “Jamboree” part of the wingding was debatable. It was really an old-fashioned cheesy midway with ancient carnival rides, games of hardly-a-chance, a petting zoo, and booths offering velvet Elvis paintings, motorcycle  paraphernalia, confederate flags and lots of questionable food that had been sitting in the sun too long.

We thought we had died and gone to “Trailer Park Heaven.”

One thing we DIDN’T see anywhere was any evidence of Hot Air Balloons.

Later on in the proceedings a Jamboree official explained that it was too hot for balloons, and that rain had been threatening, and besides, the title of the event didn’t TECHNICALLY say “balloons” in it. Fair enough. There certainly was enough hot air for everyone – and since the proceedings all took place on the shimmering concrete runway of the airport, things were at a pretty good broil when we cleared security and started to look for our stage.

We got off to a false start when we headed past a cotton candy stand and a skateboarding demonstration towards a giant inflated CAN of Budweiser; (who knew there would be a giant Bottle AND Can of beer?).

Besides, we should have known, the CAN was beside a large child-swallowing dragon, not an elephant.

Eventually we found the Clogger’s Stage, and I’ll be darned if it wasn’t parked between that giant bottle and a REAL elephant named Laura, whose unfortunate fate was to give rides to any kids who had yet to succumb to heat prostration or food poisoning.

Laura looked up briefly as Miss Sue Baru pulled up beside her and returned to her endless toil.

The cloggers, despite the heat, were going all out. A group of six wholesome Jackson ladies in their polyester finery were hoofing to the hits.

Not the hits you’d expect though. No sirree. These gals were stomping to the Bee Gees “Staying Alive,” Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” and a medley of other incongruous favourites cranked at full volume. The crowd showed as much enthusiasm as they were able to muster while sitting on plastic chairs in a frying pan under a tent, which succeeded in trapping in the heat while keeping out the breeze.

It was tiring work, watching cloggers clog, so most of the crowd dispersed when it came to be our turn on the oven, er, stage.

We pressed on though. There were a lot of distractions, so I didn’t blame the audience for not sticking around, though some appeared stuck to their chairs in the heat.

Laura and her handler were quite interested though.

They would pause when their circular path came closest to the stage and would listen for a bit before continuing.

Turns out that folksingers have to work in the heat for longer than elephants. Laura retreated to her motor home and headed to her next gig while we were still playing our second set, leaving a large pungent review of our show behind.

We played as long as we thought we ought to, though we weren’t sure exactly how long that was since our contract had fried.

As I played the last note and started to wring the sweat out of my guitar, a lady who actually had been listening came up and asked me if I knew about Jesus Christ. She introduced herself as “the Queen of Philadelphia” and gave me a printed sheet that contained some of her favourite biblical quotes and a dandy recipe for spaghetti salad.

It was time to leave.

We packed up Miss Sue, collected our box of melted CDs (without selling a single one) and headed down the runway towards our next gig in Bad Axe, which, despite the name, somehow promised to be better.

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