Where do you start describing last night's experience? I guess you start by explaining that our nephew Emmett is the drummer for The Ranchhands, a hard-driving country band out of Nashville, and that we took a half-hour trip on the E42 to see them play just this side of Namur. Not only did the band put on a great show (amazing drummer), but the crowd was a show in its own right. The Ranchhands were the feature act at the "Exceptionel Country Day," which was held in the Velaine sur Sambre community center. And lemme tell ya, for a certain segment of Belgium, American country music is huge. There were roughly 400-500 people there, and Rita, Sarah, and I might have been the only Americans other than the band. We were also the only spectators without some kind of "country" gittup on. Almost everyone had on at least a cowboy hat or an American flag bandanna (for sale in the side room) or boots or a fringed sumpthinerother or a gingham shirt or skirt. Some outfits were really elaborate, all the way up to a couple of "pros." One was decked out as a marshal, complete with badge, vest, and six-shooter hung for a crossdraw. He even had sideburns, which is why I considered him a pro: you don't decide the day of the show that you want sideburns, so this guy must wear these things year round. Same with the Trapper, who had long hair, a raccoon tail so big it couldn't exist in nature, and a revolver hung low on his hip. Lots of good-looking mustaches, too, which Belgian men seem to be able to grow at will. The most authentically American-lookin' guys, though, were probably the two young men who were were wearing, not cowboy boots, but Timbs. I, of course, wore the true American headgear: a ball cap. So did Emmett.
Emmett setting up before the show.
Then there were the line dancers. This must be what middle-aged Belgian women do while their out-of-shape husbands go off to have heart attacks on their bicycles every weekend. We noted several different troupes, including Roxy Line Dance (cowgirl boots and jean skirts with a flouncy ruffle), Indiana Ranch (bucking bronco logo on the back of a denim shirt), Country Planet (sequined logo on a black shirt), and a whole passel of freelancers. A Francophone band called "Country Cooking" played first, and the gaps were filled in by a country DJ. Many of the line dancers danced through the whole afternoon and evening, leaving only to go out front for smoke breaks. (I've found my retirement career: Country Cooking's lead singer was good, but he needs a diction coach.)
And bikers. We're not sure what brought the Eagle Brothers out from Dinant, home of Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone, and site of the bridge on which Charles de Gaulle was wounded in the Great War. Perhaps it was a general appreciation of the American arts. Or maybe it was just the chance to drink a whole bunch of beer and not have to get up and go to work the next day. But they were there too.
Wendy, Debbie, we can report that Emmett is fine. He's being well cared for, is having a good time, and always wears proper hearing protection and dark glasses to shield his eyes from the light shows (the shades also add a jazzy element to the band). And he assured us that he wouldn't autograph anyone's breasts, Chris Tedesco's offer to the crowd notwithstanding.
Our digital camera continues to be a bit hinky, so we didn't get a lot of shots to document all the weirdness; but here's one of a couple of Belgian cowpokes. Or bikers. We're not sure which. Apparently, neither are they. They can afford to spend a whole evening listening to The Ranchhands because Belgian cows ain't goin' nowhere: they just lie down all day.
In closing, special thanks to everyone in The Ranchhands for a great show and for bringing us a little piece of home. May you be successful but remember these European days fondly. Dear reader, know this: While the world may disagree with US foreign policy, it still loves American culture and the whole idea of America. Heck, even French intellectuals like jazz and Jerry Lewis.