Wednesday, January 12, 2011

December 22

Still catching up on the tour blog.....but at this point the end was in sight....

It was an eight hour drive to Georgia and my next stop at Larry Drum's neighborhood in Cumming, right outside of Atlanta.  I loved driving through Georgia...I'd been there before and so many of the exit signs brought back happy memories.  If you are ever there you should definitely put it on your list to visit the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon.  I brought the family there a few years back and we bought the CD that featured music from Georgia musicians.  We played that CD to death on that trip.  My daughter Emma, for some reason, fell in love with the song "Georgia" by Boz Scaggs.  I'm really not sure why that song is on there...I mean, I think it's about a girl named Georgia and not about the state and Boz Scaggs was not born in Georgia, so that's a mystery.  But I mean we listened to that song over and over and over and the kids and Philip would sing it at the top of their lungs.
So of course I had to dig out that CD and play it as I drove through the state.
When I got to the exit for Plains I took it, hoping to go find my old friend, the Jimmy Carter peanut, which I first found several years ago and made friends with.  You can find out what I'm talking about here:
I added to the mythology of the Peanut in my song "Weird Things are Everywhere!".....
"I have seen a Georgia peanut with a presidential smile....."

BUT I digress......
It was warm and beautiful when I pulled into the driveway of the Drum household and met my #1 Panhead, Larry Drum.  He's the one who coined that term..."Panhead."  I like it!  Larry and his neighbors Brian Todd, Chris Hoard and Jim Sutton collaborate to decorate four houses in their neighborhood and they actually synchronize the lights of four houses at the same time.  More about that later...
I hope Larry doesn't mind my saying this, but of all the hosts on the tour he was the one who was the most concerned about everything being just right.  That's a nice way to say he was nervous as the Dickens!  I reassured him as best I could, because by that time I'd been all over the flipping country and done so many concerts I was ready for anything.  Larry had written me many encouraging emails along the way and so I was very happy to meet him and say "thank you" in person.

Larry had cooked a delicious stir-fry dinner but he was running around so much he didn't even take time to eat it, so I had a quick dinner with Lorraine and she gave me one of her handmade ornaments (made by her!) off one of her trees which shall be treasured in the Pancoast household for years and years to come. 

It was a beautiful night and I think just about the whole neighborhood came out for the concert and once again there was dancing in the street.  Too much fun!  But the highlight of that concert for me was singing "The House on Christmas Street" with their sequence.   I was stationed at a wonderful vantage point at the end of Larry's driveway so that I could see all the houses from where I stood and it was mind-blowing to be right in the middle of it all.  The lights on their mega trees were strung in such a way....I can't really describe it but it was sort of criss crossy and like nothing I had ever seen before.  Maybe if Larry reads this he can write a comment explaining it.  I almost stopped singing I was so enthralled.  Just amazing and I can't imagine the brains that has to go into programming that whole thing.

I signed a lot of pictures after the show and received a lovely gift from one of the families which was delivered by the cutest little boy.  It was a bag of Georgia goodies including peanuts, candy and such.  They even included a bottle of Coke (because, in case you didn't know, you can visit the WORLD OF COCA-COLA in Atlanta!)  Thank you!

There was still a ton of traffic after the concert as people drove through the cul-de-sac to see the show, and Larry and friends were out there directing it, so I had a chance to sit and chat with Lorraine for a bit in the cozy house and enjoy her little mini dachs (three of cute!).  These kinds of times on the tour really helped me connect with people and not feel so alone out there; I mean the times when I could really converse with folks.  It was a lot of "rush here, rush there" along the way but the moments I spent having conversations with the hosts and their families were the times that made it in to something really special.  I think I got to do that a little bit every where I went, and I'm grateful.

The next day it was on to Florida and the final house concert of the tour! 

December 21st

The first day of winter was jam-packed day.  First of all, I started the day driving just a couple of hours to do a concert at Olds Elementary School in Raleigh, NC where my dear ol' friend Barb Packales is the new music teacher.  Barbara moved there from Maine this summer so it was just good fortune that I was going to be "in the neighborhood" and she was able to book an assembly for me at her new school.  It was just WONDERFUL to see her and of course she had already taught her kids some of my songs so the whole assembly was just a blast from start to finish.  Afterwards I was treated to a surprise luncheon to celebrate the Grammy nomination and given a giant red poinsettia to take with me.  Well, it took up the whole front seat and was lovely to have it ride with me on the four hour drive to Conway, SC ( just up the road from Myrtle Beach.)  It was in that vicinity that I found the Elvis Car Dealership (The "king" of cars!) which was just another weird thing along the road!
 I had been corresponding with my SC host, Kenny Greer, for at least a couple of years through Planet Christmas and I'd learned that he was a contradance caller and a newlywed.  I was eager to meet him in person.  The Garmin got me to his parents'  house, where he put up his display this year, safe and sound and I was greeted warmly by Kenny, his lovely wife, his family and friends.  It was cold but not as cold as it had been, and we did get a little bit of snow while I was singing.  I was able to sing HOCS with Kenny's lightshow and of course that was a treat.  It didn't always work out that way along the trip because of technical difficulties or whatever, but every time I was able to do it I felt like I was in the middle of a Disney movie or something.
After the show I was signing pictures and a beautiful young lady named Kenya came up with her mother.  I recall her name because I've been to Kenya a couple of times and we chatted a little bit about that.  Her Mom introduced herself as Jen, a woman I knew from Planet Christmas, and I was very surprised because I didn't know she lived around there or that she was coming to the concert.  So that was already a neat thing and then she handed me a bag which held a box of ribbon candy....much to my surprise and delight.  You see, she had read something (I think it was on FB) where I said that Dec. 21st was Ribbon Candy Day because it was my father's birthday and because it was so close to Christmas all he ever wanted was a box of ribbon candy.  Ever since he passed away in 1998 I have commemorated his birthday by giving away boxes of ribbon candy, and she'd gone searching through several stores to find one to give to me that day.  I'd been thinking about my Daddy off and on all day so getting that gift was just enough to bring on the tears.  She was so thoughtful and caring to do that and it really meant the world to me.
After everyone had left and all was packed up I spent a long time in the Greer's kitchen, telling stories and hearing about Kenny and Jamie's love story.  I stayed quite a bit later than I had planned because it was so much fun. 

If you've been reading this blog regularly, then you are probably getting sick of hearing me say I had a hard time leaving everywhere I went...but it's true!  Everywhere I went I was welcomed into homes and families with open arms.  Even the pets were friendly!  I  feel now like I have extended family all over the US and in England too.  It might be hard to imagine how you could become so close to someone in such a short period of time, but remember that I was corresponding with these folks for months before the tour, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect before I got there although I was always surprised by great new things once I got to meet them in person.  And you have to understand that all of these people are "Christmas people."  I don't think I need to explain to you what that means!

Anyhow, it was really hard to leave the Greer's house and I hope I get to see them again sometime in the future.  I also want Mrs. Greer, Kenny's Mom, to know that she is in my prayers for good health and a wonderful new year!!  What a strong, vibrant lady!

The next day it was an eight hour drive on to Georgia.........

Saturday, January 8, 2011

December 20th

I got up, packed up and headed back up to the Mt. Airy area....Pilot Mountain, to be exact.  You might remember it as "Mt. Pilot" from the Andy Griffith Show.  As I drove through town I knew immediately when I was getting to the home of Larry and Rachel Charpiat because all you could see were Christmas decorations.  Larry and Rachel far...have the biggest property and the most decorations of any of the places I visited.  FIVE ACRES of lights, wire frames, little houses with animated figures in the windows, blow molds...everything!  I hung around with them all afternoon and they showed me a grand time.  We went down to "Mayberry" and ate at Snappy Lunch, which is the first ever real Mt. Airy business that was mentioned on the TV show.  I had to have their world famous pork chop sandwich...holy was DEEELISH and I'm sure responsible for packing on at least five pounds right there on the spot.  We then went over to Floyd's Barber Shop, in which the barber, whose actual name was Russell, was holding court.  The guy must be about 97 years old but he was sharp as a tack and took a lot of time to talk with me about when he cut Andy's hair and then he had me sit in one of his old fashioned chairs and had a picture done with me.  I loved every minute of it.  The next stop was the little complex that held the "Mayberry" courthouse and featured a real squad car from the show parked out front.  I went into the courthouse and met an Andy look-alike who was playing the Sheriff and  who posed with his old fashioned phone for me.  There was a couple there waiting for him to marry them!  And he says this happens all the time!  Of course I had to have my photo take in one of the jail cells!
Larry and Rachel wanted to take me on a Squad Car Tour but the same guy who was playing the Sheriff was the one who does the tours and there wasn't time to wait for him to finish the wedding!

In all it was a blast of a tour through Mayberry, a town I never in a million years imagined I'd visit.  And I do want Larry and Rachel to know that I was wearing my Mayberry sweatshirt at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios and someone actually stopped me to ask where I'd gotten it.  The guy was stunned to learn that there is a real "Mayberry."  I am certain he is going to visit there one of these days!

We took the last bit of time we had before we had to get ready for the evening and Larry and Rachel drove me up to the top of Pilot Mountain.  It's the funniest looking mountain you ever saw, as you can see in the picture above.  What a beautiful view from the top.  It was just so peaceful and quiet.  I'd like to go back up there someday and have a picnic.

But the real fun was yet to come.  I went  to the hotel just to spruce up for a bit and by the time I returned to the Charpiat's house it was dark and all lit up.  Traffic was already lining up to park in their parking lot...yes, they have a parking lot on their property!  They have way too many lights to synchronize, so they just synchronize in a few select spots.  I honestly cannot describe how amazing the whole thing is. They made paths through the wooded area and people get out of their cars and walk through the five acres of "Santa's Enchanted Forest" of  lights(over 200 thousand!), animated figures and things.  There's something everywhere you look Larry has been decorating since the 1960's and has many pieces, like the animated figures in the houses, that he has kept since then.  I should explain that Larry and Rachel are retirees and this is their hobby...they do it together and look for pieces to add and plan it all year round.  I thought that was really cool that they have a hobby they can enjoy together and that makes other people so happy.  I'm serious when I say that this place is practically an amusement park.  If they wanted to charge five bucks a head I'm sure people would pay it, but when I mentioned that Larry said that would mean a lot of families wouldn't be able to afford to come, so they only accept donations from people who want to help cover the cost of their electric bill. 
If you want to see pictures and watch the local news bit about the concert that night then go to the website here:
And congrats Larry and Rachel for doing so much for the Pilot Mountain Outreach Center.  I was proud to be a part of it.
As it has been EVERYWHERE I have gone on this tour, it was really hard to leave Larry and Rachel behind. What a couple of dear, dear people.  I know we will meet again and in the meantime you will be in a special place in my heart. God bless you!!
PS...William Bottomley from Ennice came up to the concert with the van from the TV station where he works and he filmed some of the Pilot Mountain concert for their news broadcast.  If you'd like to see it, check it out here:  Thank you so much William!