Larry Webster: Hoping the Snake Man will be back for Hillbilly Days

No Celtic Woman at Hillbilly Days

Contributing columnistMarch 31, 2013 

Mountain physicians report a staggering decline in the number of gagging cases now that Celtic Woman is, as Jeanette Carter would say, over with.

We can turn our attention to more pressing matters, such as the fate of the Snake Man. For 10 years the Snake Man has come up from Tennessee and occupied the same ground next to a bank at Hillbilly Days in Pikeville, which this year will be held April 18-20. He looks about like he sounds and carnie barked young and old to see his collection of most fearsome serpents and a 100 pound rat. He has been disinvited this year, told that his serpents were maybe, too hillbilly for Hillbilly Days.

His banishment may stem from the fact that he cussed out a game warden in front of a crowd last year. It turned out the Snake Man was right about the permit but if you are a law you like to arrest somebody at Hillbilly Days. If you like to cuss a law out in public, Hillbilly Days is a good place to do it. Clinard Adkins once got arrested four times during the same Hillbilly Days and was proud of that until he died. He is dead, or I couldn't say that.

So they hustled off the Snake Man to the county jail, leaving a truck load of poisonous snakes and a 100 pound rat to be attended by police who wanted to walk around town and see the sights themselves. In other words, it isn't hard for a Snake Man to make bail. Didn't want to leave them serpents to tempt bank employees, more familiar with serpentine squeezing than venom.

But if a man brings his snakes and his 100 pound rat to town for 10 years he should be allowed one misplaced cussing. The matter remains under review.

Gone too from Hillbilly Days is old Max. I know his last name but won't tell it. He was a Baptist preacher from, a stocky red-faced man, who moved into a cheap downdown hotel for about five days during Hillbilly Days, put on his overalls, drank him some whisky but not too much, and acted like he wasn't a preacher. He passed away and I doubt he had to answer for this annual sabbatical.

Gone is Wade. Wade and Julia Mainer played a lot at Hillbilly Days and it usually hit on his birthday and he was getting up into this 90s. He always said Hillbilly Days was his favorite place he ever played. That was probably because there he could hear others playing the old Mainer's Mountaineer's stuff, and see that his old music was being respected and played to hillbillies like it was supposed to be in the first place.

A few days before Wade died I got a letter from Julia which said, "Wade is 104. He has a health problem."

I offered Wade a drink of moonshine one time and he said, "That stuff might be alright, if a fellow didn't care anything about his religion."

On the morning Timothy McVey bombed the federal building, Wade and my dad, two old-time fundamentalist, white-haired Christians, sat at my kitchen table and tried to make sense of what had happened, feeling each other out theologically, and finding the other within acceptable bounds.

Gone is Red Bartley, said by Mike Seeger to be one of the legendary Appalachian dancers, and of whose feet probably not one foot of public television film exists. Red would see when the dance floor was open, stick his neck out like a turkey and look around, then bound onto the floor and throw high his legs, and tap out with his feet the ancient rhythms of Gambia, or maybe Senegal. A totally white Bojangles.

You had to watch Red dance early in the day, if you know what I mean. If you like to get drunk Hillbilly Days is a good place to do it. Just watch what you say to a game warden. And watch out for no snakes.

Larry Webster is a Pikeville lawyer.

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