Those of us who fantasize that we really know Palin outside of politics wouldn't hesitate for a second to believe that Palin could leap up on the stage at the Wasilla State Fair (actually over in Palmer) and saw out a few bars of 'Boil 'em Cabbage Down'. So... is it her?
Sorry, no. It's Tula "Lulu" Lee, singer and fiddle player for the Mill Creek Boys, a regular act at Riley's Farm. Which brings us to the wonder just what many habitués of TEAPAC were doing in Oak Glen, CA at Riley's Farm enjoying the house entertainment and the debut of a new show (produced partly by TEAPAC regulars) called 'Shiloh's Gate'. Friends, simply put, it was an all-American entertainment treat.
My wife had caught me crying the other night over my son as I watched videos from Riley's Farm where I was about to have my first visit for this Shiloh's Gate show. You see my son was lucky enough to witness and participate in the real thing before he left us. No, it wasn't Pigeon Forge, TN where he got up on the stage and clogged (or tried), but a real bluegrass theater (not even a 'club') that had absolutely no interest in luring the tourist trap traffic from the distant freeway. If big name bluegrass artists ever played there is was with a deep sense of reverence and homage to the reality of their roots.
Bakersville, North Carolina (in the mountain west part of the state) has a true bluegrass venue tucked away almost out of sight from the state highway. You can't drink there and you will be thrown out if you have been drinking when you arrive. They serve coffee, iced tea and lemonade in pitchers from folding tables. You're there to listen to bluegrass. You sit in old velvet theater seats from the 1930s. A real city would find a dozen reasons to shut them down in about 15 minutes. When each act is finished playing, the players come out and sit in the audience to catch the other acts. 'Cept they aren't acting. This is the real, from-the-heart bluegrass with no scent (taint?) of 'O Brother Where Art Thou'. They aren't interested in lavish or even 'realistic' surroundings. They are there for the music and they don't give a damn about anything else, unless there is a drunk in their midst and that gets settled quickly. I was glad that my son knew what the real thing looked like; and what that special lemonade tasted like!
You see Riley's Farm is about as real as you can get and still be within an hour of LA. I'd never heard of this place, but am now certainly captivated by it. I wish I'd taken Erik there at least a dozen times to live revolution history, civil war history, and my favorite (and Erik's heritage): colonial and homestead yeomanry.
Shiloh's Gate (which I'll get to in a moment) is not the only type of show they do. Entire school classes visit Riley's Farm to live 2-4 days of American history. They do civil war and revolution re-enactments. They have A Blue-Gray Ball on Sept. 11. Visit their web site at www.rileysfarm.com to learn about the rich length and breadth of history instruction they provide. They do 1940's radio shows. Sleepy Hollow and Harvest events.
Oh, did I mention that going there is just good, clean, plain fun? Should have mentioned that.
You can harvest raspberries there. They call it picking, but in my world, that's something you do on a 5-string.
The debut performance of Shiloh's Gate was an eye opener for me, because it revealed a side of 'political' folks I know through TEAPAC who I didn't realize had other lives besides politics! (I know that will amaze Red State readers, but it's true.) For instance, Jonathan Wilson, one of TEAPAC's founders and their chief rabble-rouser, turns out to also have a working life in entertainment production. I had to dig and dig to discover that he was one of the producers of Shiloh's Gate along with Jim Riley, the owner of Riley's Farm.
Shiloh's Gate stars Victoria Jackson (Saturday Night Live) and Basil Hoffman (Seinfeld, Milagro Beanfield War, All the President's Men) and Sonja Schmidt (PJTV) in a scathingly funny send-up of 1940's style radio. Unlike 'National Prairie Home Companion', conservatives can be entertained and find their values uplifted instead of challenged. In a very charming way.
In Shiloh's Gate (much as Riley's Farm itself) broadcast TV never reached the valley, and the valley's inhabitants are knowingly stuck in a 30s/40s period that allows them to morally lord it over the neighboring town of Easy Virtue. In the radio play, Lulu Montoya (Jackson) has been signed to play the heroine in an 'existential' western movie. When the town learns that her character will be fit for more of a 'Natural Born Killers' role, they immediately begin re-writing the script - and capture Lulu's heart in the process.
Shiloh's Gate talent isn't just limited to the names mentioned above. Riley's Farm owner Jim Riley supplies the smooth, reassuring narration in a voice Garrison Keillor could never match. Ari David, Stephen Smith, Vontress Mitchell, Joe Feeney, TEAPAC's own Dan Feely all helped bring Shiloh's Gate together for a complete success on the Packing House stage.
I wish I could have brought Erik too, but my wife, sister, nephew, grand-nephew and niece made a happy crowd, proud to be entertained by the finest hearts in America.
You may live to far away to attend...
But it's good to know it's there.