Sunday, June 17, 2012

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

If it weren't for "The Entertainers," I wouldn't have been able to make it to Peoria, IL for the 2012 World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival. (That's right; this event- which dates back to 1975- has a new title, adding the "and Festival" this year.)

It all started when Nick Holle (one of the documentary's codirectors) gave me a call early in May and said: "Jim, how'd you like to come to Peoria?"

Result: The opportunity I didn't expect to get for this year.

It'd been three years since I last made the trip to Central Illinois. Since then, I'd gotten a bankruptcy discharge, gone exclusively to my debit card (no more credit cards!!), and fought to get all my bills paid up...especially my car note. I figured, in fact, that I'd have to wait until 2014 to do the kind of traveling I used to.

But then...the first documentary about Ted Lemen's claim to fame broke. (And so did increased overtime opportunities at the plastics factory I work at when I'm not writing a blog or getting involved in old-time piano.)

And so...after not being able to hit a metropolitan area other than Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue during 2011, I've been on the road three times this year. (And all three excursions were in rental cars!)

The trip to baseball great Jim Thome's birth city this past Memorial Day weekend was the best as far as renting a car was concerned: Enterprise let me use a 2011 Hyundai Accent that had (ta da!) a satellite radio.

No AM or FM for me, what with Sirius XM's 40s on 4, 50s on 5, 60s on 6, 70s on 7, 80s on 8, 90s on 9, and Motown on 49 channels to make it a really groovin' trip. (After all, Sirius gives you a lot of the tunes FM-AM chiefs refuse to put back on the air. For instance, I got to hear Larry Williams' 1957 hit "Bony Moronie" as I was coming out of Iowa City, IA. And when I pulled into the parking garage attached to Peoria's Sheraton Four Points Hotel, XM played Ral Donner's 1961 biggie "You Don't Know What You've Got." We're talking about two jams Omaha's AM and FM stations have forgotten about!)

Didn't get into Peoria until about 7:30 PM on hour before "The Entertainers" (the complete film, that is) got its first real Peoria screening.

This time, I was coming to Richard Pryor's birth city as a contest spectator, not a contestant. And Nick's and fellow codirector Michael Zimmer's offer enabled, for the first time, all six of the documentary's main subjects- Adam Swanson, "Perfessor" Bill Edwards, Ethan Uslan, Faye Ballard, Four Arrows, and me- to join with movie fans and old-time piano fans to check out a screening of "The Entertainers." In the same venue at the same time.

Felt nervous about how the movie would go over with people who'd spent one Memorial Day weekend after another checking out OTPP and lending the contest/festival legendary support.

Film festival fans had twice rated "The Entertainers" tops in the documentary field...but how would people who've traveled to Peoria (and/or previous OTPP sites Decatur, IL and Monticello, IL) dig a film celebrating the music that ultimately served as the springboard to "Goody Goody" as well as to "Bony Moronie" and "You Don't Know What You've Got," et al? 


About two hours after the screening wrapped up, another personal point of apprehension completely exploded. That's because Raymond Schwarzkopf (a first-time OTPP judge in 2009 who'd been invited back for 2010 as well as for 2012) was one of the spectators who not only enjoyed the movie...but also liked me in it.

The showing was three years to the day after I first talked to Raymond at OTPP Weekend's final event (the Red, White, and Blue Brunch) to introduce myself...only to get brushed off with a warning to "keep practicing."

I spent the next three years wanting to get even with the point of not wanting to play for him ever again

Well, this time, Raymond and I had a really good conversation. Even told him about the humiliation I felt due to his two-word message of 5-25-2009. 

And this time, he encouraged me not to give up on old-time piano.

Speaking of old-time time I post, I'm going to get to the business end of OTPP. (I'm talking about the actual competition.)

Stay tuned!

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