September 30, 2012
Maybe you braved the early autumn elements at the Lansing Blues Festival down in Old Town last weekend, but I enjoyed a competing blues festival at the Walter P. Hall pavilion down in League City, TX. It was about 95 down Houston way last Saturday, and the ozone was ripe enough in the atmosphere that they issued an air quality alert. But by the time Marcia Ball, Lou Ann Barton and Jimmie Vaughn took the stage there was a pleasant breeze blowing in off the gulf. The Shiner bock was coming right off the keg, the mosquitoes were tolerable and it was, in short, one of life’s finer moments. There were at least 1000 spread out there on the grass, and the majority of us probably qualify for the senior discount.
But advancing age doesn’t seem to faze Marcia Ball. She kicked the evening off singing “I got my red beans cookin’,” and the band was rocking right from the get go. Since today is the fifth Sunday in a short month of blogs about songs that discuss food, it seems appropriate to make it a complete set by paying tribute to Ms. Ball, who is certainly a strong candidate for the all time Queen of food songs. As I said last week, some of these references to food don’t necessarily imply that the song is about food. When Billy Eckstine sings that “Jelly stays on my mind,” he’s not necessarily thinking about the concord grape. And similarly when Marcia Ball says she’s got her red beans cooking and that she needs to head down to New Orleans to find some hambone to go with them, well, you’re just unsure that she’s actually talking about food.
But long tall Marcia Ball has plenty of other numbers where it’s pretty darn clear that we are just straight up celebrating a wonderful food experience. Take “Watermelon Time” as a case in point.
Sweet as candy, sugar on the vine
Fine and dandy. It’s watermelon time!
Amazingly to anyone who spent some time in the South, it’s actually not long past watermelon time here in Michigan. No offense to our brave and sturdy farmer Melissa, but the melons that came in with the Thornapple share during September were more like curiosities compared to the big, red and seedy honkers that we got three for a dollar at the farmers market down in Columbus, GA during my youth. I still long for one of those wonders when summer rolls around. Takes one back to that classic from Lefty Frizzel:
Thank you, Detroit, you treated me good
But I’ve been here longer than I should
I enjoyed the money, but I miss my honey so
One thing on my mind, it’s watermelon time in Georgia
Of course when Lefty says he misses his honey and his Georgia peach, then goes on to say that there’s just one thing on his mind, to wit: that it’s watermelon time in Georgia, well, I gotta admit that I’m a wee bit confused. Isn’t this at least two things that are on your mind, Lefty?
Maybe Doug was right. There aren’t any straight up food songs after all.
Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agriculture, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University