Backstage at the Scandinavian Festival in Ephraim, Utah. The stage is outdoors on the beautiful Snow College campus, made more beautiful by the temporary presence of a festive booth across the street that’s selling pulled pork salads. One of them is tenderly whispering my name. In a little porky voice. In a few moments we will meet, and each of us fulfill the complementary measures of our creation.

The Ephraimites are celebrating being mostly Danish, a heritage here serving as a kind of cultural warp, with other Scandinavian lineages weaving through like cultural weft. (This is as in “warp and weft” rather than as in “weft and wight” which is not the imagery of weaving at all, but Elmer Fudd discussing politics.) That’s why the Ephraimites are here—to be Danish and eat pulled pork salad. Until it’s my turn.

We are here because we’ve just wrapped up a live radio show celebrating the pioneer heritage the Ephraimites share, either as warp or weft, or (might as well be honest) weft or wight. This enterprise is called “Story Road Utah” (the radio show that boldly asks the question “Is this *mic on?”)

*Bellynote (because there are no foots on the Internet): The asterisked word above is spelled correctly, even if Microsoft Word (which didn’t even blink at “foots”) doesn’t think so. Trust me.

The “we” is Clive Romney, passionate pioneer re-enactor whose brain-child this radio show is, and the legendary band Enoch Train, which is the brain-child of Clive Romney, who has a lot of brain-children. “We” is also the two special musical guests who are my son Sam and the ever-fresh and authentic Cherie Call, two songwriters who’ve been performing together regularly for many months now. (Well, not really many months “now,” because most of the many months are actually “then,” but we’ve devoted whole columns to the vagaries ((and, in fact, illusion)) of time and you can find them in the archives—look under “Vagaries.” ((No, a search of “Vagaries” could turn up all hundred and sixteen columns—look under “Cosmic Cogitations.” Yeah, that’s it. Yeah. (((Honesty check: I tried to read Stephen Hawkings’ “A Brief History of Time,” I really did. But about a third of the way in, at about the part where time gets bent by the moon, I just ran and hid, taking comfort in the unreality of time and the reality of Oreos.))) )) )

The “we” is also “I,” who am the host, artistic director, final script writer, and picker and grinner. Except for right now, when I’m the director of Internet promotions, a post that’s quite temporary, in fact slated to end in about a half an hour from now. But let me tell you more about Enoch Train.

On guitar, accordion, bodhrán (pronounced “boe-run,” unless you have a master’s degree in folklore and are Rob Macdonald, the piper and leader of my Thursday night Celtic Band, in which case you would pronounce it to rhyme with “wow-run.” ((The band is called “Annie’s Whirlwind Romance” because Annie is our flautist ((pronounced to rhyme with “wow!-tist”)) and happens to be in one), and garden hoe you will find Clive Romney, who spends most of his time off stage having brain-children.

On a plethora of woodwinds, you will find Daron Bradford, who spends most of his time off stage producing, all from his prolific embouchure, entire orchestras to enhance the CDs of lush hymn arrangements flowing off the fingertips of Marvin Goldstein, which he, M. G., just spent upwards of twenty minutes recording—I think he does four or five a day.

On guitar and dobro and other guitar-like objects, you will find Rich Dixon, who spends most of his time off stage being one of the two main studio guitar wizards in the state. (The other is Michael Dowdle, who is not in Enoch Train but is in the audience, being, I guess, Danish. Or maybe his wife, Eve, is Danish. No, it has to be Michael—Eve has a level of loveliness that suggests that she came to Sanpete County straight from Heaven, bypassing Denmark altogether.)

On guitar, mandolin, percussion, and harmonica, you will find Tom Hewitson, who, when he is off stage, is in his car on his way to Ephraim and weeping out the window at the beauty of the baby lambs in the green fields. He’s a really sweet and tender guy. Right after the we came off the stage, he handed each of us a pair of something he created especially to offset the sweetness, beautifully published “Insult Kits,” one based on cowboy culture and the other based on Olde English culture. Even sweetness carried to extremes is not healthy.

On bass you will find Matt Larson, and on fiddle you will find Curtis Woodbury. These two are playing only one instrument each, but they’re young. In between classes at American Fork High, they’re practicing the hurdy-gurdy, though, which works out well, because it’s an instrument that requires two guys to operate it. (I should warn here that the hurdy-gurdy is much more fun to play, even merely to say, than to listen to.)

And on cajon (a box you hit), snare drum, exotic percussion, and whatever else I forgot, you will find Jay Lawrence, who, when he is not on stage, doesn’t really hit things much, at least not that I’ve seen. It’s all an act. But a good one.

The joy of being on stage with these guys totally eclipses the hardships of being a radio personality (you know, like the hardship of never being recognized in public until you speak).

What we gave these folks in Ephraim is stories and songs about the first settlers of Sanpete County, about the Blackhawk War, about individual pioneers, by name, who built the Manti Temple, about the struggling widow who planted her precious peas exactly one ruler-length apart and then turned to see the rooster snapping up each pea right out of the row, whereupon she wrung the rooster’s neck, slit open its gullet, retrieved the peas and planted them again, anticipating chicken and dumplings all the while. Five new songs just for the occasion, and the remainder chosen to honor Sanpetians in other ways.

If Story Road Utah has a “behavioral objective” (and you can bet your leftover family group sheets that it does), it’s to inspire the listeners to talk to an old person. Or, if old journals and family stories are knocking around, talk to a dead person. Listen to what they’ve learned about fundamentally changing and thriving, because the times they are a-fundamentally changing and we need, maybe even more than they did, to be as humble, faithful, and creative as they were.

So we learn. But the really fun part is to celebrate, and we encourage that, too. Maybe the highly exhortational lyric in the theme song will bring this idea home:

Bake a cookie in the shape of Grandpa Harry’s mammoth nose.

Sing a song about the shock of Grandma Mary’s icy toes.

There oughta be an opera to celebrate the way

They cuddled in the dugout when it froze.

 

We’re lookin’ for a quilt about the bloody Blackhawk War,

A slug of poetry ‘bout Junior’s first (and last) cigar.

We’re list’nin’ for a hymn about the way things used to be—

And how we all became the folks we are.


 

 

 

            We’re on the Story Road, down where the wagons flowed,

            Where pioneers unloaded all their dreams.

            We’re on the Story Road, where lives were reaped and sowed,

            Where hope shines up like gold in all the streams.

 

Spin us a limerick about the man who had a dozen wives,

An essay on the bold effects of tomahawks and knives.

Tell us why we’re so taken with these bees and buzzing hives.

This is Utah! Let’s help history survive!

 

            We’re on the Story Road, down where the wagons flowed,

            Where pioneers unloaded all their dreams.

            We’re on the Story Road, where lives were reaped and sowed,

            Where hope shines up like gold in all the streams.

 

            We’re on the Story Road, Story Road, Story Road.

 

(Copyright 2011 by Marvin Payne, all rights are reserved to publish in any form except maybe on license plates, which might be kind of good advertising.)

 

We did the same custom local-history treatment for the preservers of Gardner Village, the devoted caretakers of the Wheeler Farm, and in another week (11 June) we’re doing it for the pioneer posterity of Murray, Utah. It’ll be at eight o’clock in the evening at the Murray Amphitheatre. Admission is eight dollars—six dollars for children, seniors, and illegal aliens (hey, we deny them all sorts of things, and I think that in return for them doing, um, well… ((let’s be honest)) all sorts of absolutely essential work that we think is beneath us ((mostly the kind of things pioneers did every day)), there oughta be some perks).

But before the show, for several hours, you can see pioneer re-enactors re-enacting pioneers. For free! They’ll be churning butter and spinning wool and splitting logs and avoiding mobs and not using cell phones and planting peas and slitting roosters’ gullets and stuff like that. You’ll like it.

Special guests will include the sensational seven-year-old songstress Sarah Coon. We’ll have Jenessa Butters from BYU, a singer less alliterative but no less talented. Holly Robinson will sing a new song that women will like and men will learn from. We’ll have  dancers from the Pioneer Heritage Company (I will describe their choreography play-by-play for the folks in our listening audience at home). We’ll be adorned with the presence of Days of ’47 Royalty (whom I will also probably have to describe for the radio audience—this will require of me a certain intensity of observation to which I look forward). And Wendy deMann, magical storyteller, will tell us true stories with names like “Babies In Boxes” and “The Indian Under the Bed.”

Enoch Train will of course be there, hitting boxes and pronouncing “bodhrán” correctly and fiddling and bassing and woodwinding and slapping a few dozen strings simultaneously into magical motion all over the place and bluesing up the landscape with harmonicas and tin whistles and who knows what-all.

So join us!

And bring me a little pulled pork salad, would you? Because right after the show I ran into that Great Dane Merrill Osmond who had a plateful in each hand and hugged me anyway with his elbows and by the time Sam and I made it across the street, the vendors nodded in Merrill’s direction and regretted that they were suddenly out of pork.

And that’s all for this month’s shameless Backstage Graffiti promotion of Story Road Utah, the radio show that boldly asks the question, “Are we on the air yet?”