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  • Festival to benefit special needs camp this weekend

    Shinyribs102220PHOTO COURTESY OF SHINYRIBS.ORG Kevin Russell of the popular Austin-based roots rockers Shinyribs will headline the annual Hogs and Strings event.

    By Chris Edwards

    TYLER COUNTY –This Saturday will provide area residents starved of entertainment and fun as of late (no thanks to COVID) a chance to have just those two things.

    The third annual Hogs and Strings cook-off and music festival is scheduled for this Saturday at the Indian Springs Camp, located near Kountze. The festival will feature a variety of sounds from some of the most popular musical acts across the state, and some from the region, as well as a barbecue cook-off.

    The gates will open at 10:30 a.m., and the price of admission for the event is $10 at the gate. Each ticket, according to the event website, enters the holder into a raffle with five chances to win some great prizes.

    The Indian Springs Campground is home to a special-needs camp, which allows children, wounded veterans and their families the chance to get back to nature through events such as hunting, camping and fishing.

    The origins of the came go back to 1985, when a dream was hatched to build a camp where inner city and underprivileged children could go and enjoy nature, according to the website, and it was built in 1987. In 1998, it was expanded to include programs for disabled children and veterans, and along with the help of Texas Parks and Wildlife, the camp began offering a hunting program.The event features a hog cook-off, and food sampler tickets will be available for festival goers.The music lineup features a variety of acts guaranteed to appeal to lovers of great tunes.

    Legendary singer/songwriter Walt Wilkins, who has blazed a path as an influential solo artist through the years, and led the band the Mystequeros, will perform.The popular roots rockers Shinyribs, led by Kevin Russell, will headline the event. Shinyribs’ fusion of cosmic American roots music has endeared them to audiences across the state, and beyond, and their energetic stage show is always a treat for listeners of all ages.The music schedule will also include a group of singer-songwriters playing in the round to kick off the entertainment at 11 a.m., and consists of Courtney Mock, Pug Johnson, Southpaw Smitty and David Pool. Regional favorite and guitar guru Tim Burge will also perform.

    The camp is located at 6106 Holland Cemetery Road in Kountze. Indian Springs Camp is a 501 c/3 non-profit organization, and all proceeds raised from the event will go toward the outreach the camp offers.

  • Great gourds: Warren man grows giant pumpkins

    1CHRIS EDWARDS | TCB Rusty West poses with one of his giant pumpkins. Several average-sized pumpkins lend an interesting comparison.

    By Chris Edwards

    WARREN – It all begins with a seed. From the mightiest oak to a pine sapling out in a field, they all started as a single seed. Humans and their endeavors are like that, too.

    It’s a concept that Rusty West has learned in both his calling as a preacher and with his hobby of farming.

    West, who calls farming “therapeutic,” grows various crops on a five-acre spread right up the road from where he grew up. The fourth-generation Tyler Countian, who pastors the Hillister Assembly of God church, was known at one time for growing watermelons that grew in excess of 100 lbs. apiece.

    He recalled fondly the truckers who would stop as they headed from Houston, and how they would look at the fruits of his labor he sold on the roadside with a degree of shock and surprise.

    Although West said he stopped growing his watermelons a year ago (“You learn to not grow anything you can’t pick up,” he joked) he brought the same “go big or go home” mentality to his next endeavor in growing a different kind of gourds.

    West has moved on to giant pumpkins, and although the exercise in Murphy’s Law that 2020 has been tried to derail this goal, he still grew several that weighed nearly 400 lbs. or more.

    “They’re just really fun to grow. It takes a lot of tender-loving care, and you’ve pretty much got to mess with ‘em every day,” he said.

    He planted his pumpkin seeds on June 3 and picked them on Sept. 13. His goal was to grow a pumpkin that weighed 500 lbs., and although he did not meet that mighty weight, three of them weighed 395 lbs., 420 lbs. and 434 lbs.

    It’s all the more impressive when one considers that an unwelcome guest named Hurricane Laura decimated most of his pumpkin patch.

    2PHOTO COURTESY OF RUSTY WEST Rusty West poses with one of his 400+pound pumpkins prior to picking it in September.

    Next year, West said, he will plant them a little later, and instead of setting the goal at 500 lbs., he’s aiming for 700.

    The pumpkins he’s grown, thus far, are quite a bit larger than the watermelons he once grew, and deemed too heavy to lift, however, with his tractor and some straps, he came up with a way to transport them after harvesting.

    While most common pumpkins range in size from a few ounces to the plump 15-20-pounders (yes, West grows those too) Giant pumpkins are generally described as any that weigh more than 150 lbs.

    West said the growth cycle for the giant pumpkins is 120-130 days, and in the last week of growth, they can grow up to 50 pounds per day.

    While he was growing his patch of giants, he fertilized them every week, and gave them plenty of attention. He used pesticides to keep the bugs away, and used both a commercial fertilizer, as well as one of his own formulation.

    He said the giant pumpkins he grows are edible, and there have been some reactions of disbelief. West told a story about a passerby who saw one of the pumpkins and West outside his home. The traveler stopped to talk to West, and asked him where he’d bought the giant plastic pumpkin prop, or what he’d thought was a giant piece of plastic from some seasonal decor emporium.

    One of his goals for next year is to load up a giant pumpkin on a flatbed trailer and get it to the Tyler County Fair, where he’d like to showcase it as a prop for people to pose for photos in front of.

    Growing things, whether one is raising small fruit or giant gourds, is a gift. West is blessed with the knowledge, patience and attention to detail to pull it off. West credits help from the Lord above, as well.

    With all those traits and his mindset, he’ll go above and beyond next year’s lofty goal for the gourds.

  • Interview with Covid survivors (VIDEO)

    covid interviewCALEB FORTENBERRY | PCPC Livingston Volunteer Fire Chief, Corky Cochran and Livingston Junior High Coach, John Taylor speak on their experience of surviving Covid-19 in the exclusive East Texas News interview.


  • The Tao of Billy Joe Shaver

    billy joe shaverBilly Joe Shaver, legendary singer/songwriter/poet/Texan. 1939-2020. IMAGE COURTESY OF BILLY JOE SHAVER.COM

    Country music legend Billy Joe Shaver died Oct. 28, 2020, at the age of 81. This column, by Chris Edwards was originally published in the Oct. 16, 2014 edition of the Tyler County Booster. It celebrates the earthy quality of Shaver and the need for heartfelt artistic expression in contemporary culture.
    By Chris Edwards

    Sing it with me, for I know you know the tune: “I’m just an old chunk of coal…”

    The man who wrote that famous line (and countless others) just released a new record. Some say it’s his best work yet in a career that’s spanned several decades of highs, lows, in-betweens and episodes in which common sense would’ve dictated his demise several times. Drugs couldn’t kill the man. Financial ruin couldn’t kill him. He survived things the music industry did to him and of all things, a sawmill accident in which he lost parts of several fingers gave him the gusto to play guitar and become a songwriter.

    Billy Joe Shaver may not be a household name, but those with household names sold boatloads of records by singing his songs. He’s outlived many of his “outlaw” peers, and like his fellow Texan and songwriting colleague/country music survivor Guy Clark, he only gets better with age. Sure, there’s the tired adage about fine wine, but do me a favor and check out Shaver’s new record and see if you can’t add his name to the list of things that fit that description.

    He is anything but his album title suggests (“Long in the Tooth”). He’s an outsider in the world of what they call “country music” for reasons owing only to style and politics, instead of substance and life experience. Even at age 70-something, Billy Joe Shaver could probably out-play and out-fight 99% of the wusses who win CMA Awards and pack stadiums these days.

    In a time when so-called “country” music singers wear their $500 blue jeans and blindingly bleached teeth like some sort of crown and badge, Billy Joe is a breath of fresh air. The self-proclaimed “wacko from Waco” with his denim-on-denim atop well-worn workboots reminds me of another Lone Star maverick in his mode of dress, the late poet of the piney deep, Cyd Adams.

    Like the improbably brilliant Adams, Shaver is certainly one who, beyond his appearance, is infinitely “more than the measure of what…others [think he] could be,” to paraphrase a line from his classic “Old Five and Dimers Like Me.” The man who looks all the world like a redneck who wouldn’t know Shakespeare from Schlitz is also the man capable of penning a beautiful anthem like “Live Forever” and making such an endeavor look effortless in the process.

    His lyrics do a rare thing in the world of popular song, like those of his deceased close friend, Townes Van Zandt: hold up as pure poetry. There’s soul, there’s grit, grace and the joys and pains that come with this life we’re given within his words.

    Billy Joe Shaver’s music is art. It’s incredible work that makes the listener think, as well as jump for joy to be alive. In a world full of facsimile, Shaver is the real deal and real people “get” Billy Joe Shaver. If only there were more Billy Joe Shavers in the world and fewer Jason Aldeans, then there just might be hope for those of us who enjoy food for thought along with a scoot across a sawdust-strewn floor, but then again if that were the case, the very thing making Billy Joe Shaver special (as well as Guy Clark, Townes, Robert Earl Keen, Turnpike Troubadours, Walt Wilkins, etc.) wouldn’t come across as special.

    That “it” which separates real art from product, whatever “it” is, allows artists like those mentioned in the same breath as Shaver to make their profundity all seem so easy. Shaver himself is famous for saying “simplicity don’t need to be greased.”

    Billy Joe’s appeal brings me mind of a shirt I owned (well, still own, but has been relegated to the pile of oil change/car wash rags). I found said shirt, a plain, powder-blue T-shirt, in the laundry room of an old house I once lived in. The very thing that a previous tenant had left behind quickly became one of my favorite belongings; its comfort remains unmatched to this day. As the years moved on, my shirt sprouted a pretty impressive array of holes, which earned stares of derision from some and outright comments from more outspoken folks I encountered, including a highly fashion-conscious neighbor.

    Some saw a different thing in that ragged old shirt. One friend of mine remarked as to how comfortable the shirt looked and how his own workshirts, full of holes themselves, were the bane of his well-to-do ex-fiance’s parents at obligatory “family time” appearances.

    Like an old shirt, full of holes, but comfortable and like silk on the skin, Billy Joe Shaver’s music provides a layer of comfort for those of us willing to see the beauty in imperfection and to accept the wisdom of life lessons gleaned from outside of the tried-and-true standard existence.