Pikeville overrun by overalls

dhjalmarson@herald-leader.comApril 19, 2009 

PIKEVILLE — You have your genuine hillbillies, and you have your once-a-year hillbillies.

You have your hillbillies with hats, outhouses, bare feet and stills, sitting in the back of a 1920-something Model A; and you have your hillbilly girls dressed in pink and ponytails and glitter, trying to remember dance steps for a crowd.

You have your quintessential mountain music, banjo-picking and mandolin-playing that goes back generations. And then you have your incongruities like the corn hole tournament sponsored by Coca-Cola.

You have your hillbilly wives rolling their eyes at hillbilly husbands squeezing into last year's overalls, covered with patches that say "18th Annual Hillbilly Days" and "22nd Annual Hillbilly Days."

Pikeville's Hillbilly Days, organized by the Shriners Club as a fund-raiser for the children's hospital in Lexington, is one of the state's largest festivals. It's been estimated that more than 100,000 people attend to revel in their hillbilly-ness.

Is it a problem to celebrate a sometimes negative stereotype? No, it's all in good fun and for a good cause. The Shriners you meet — whether born hillbillies or adopted — can't stop talking about the children their club has helped, and the efforts that are put into raising money for hospitals and burn units.

"We do nothing but this," said Mary Noble of Chardon, Ohio. She and her husband, who retired 26 years ago, pour their hearts into their Shriners Hillbilly Clan No. 24 because they love helping children.

Bill and Delcie Weisenburger of Virginia tell about a child they met who was born with deformed feet and who now plays soccer in the halls of the hospital. Their Shriners club helped the boy get medical treatment. It's the Weisenburgers' first trip to Hillbilly Days, but "we plan to be here every year," Bill said.

Dori Hjalmarson covers Eastern Kentucky for the Herald-Leader. Reach her at (606) 653-2111.

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