Thursday, February 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Legend of the Country Quakers

Happy Throwback Thursday! Yesterday was the great Tony Campolo's 80th birthday. Tony is one of the great storytellers our our time, quoted in sermons on a regular basis. But to celebrate here, I thought I would share my favorite story (originally posted in 2009ABOUT Tony. It's one for the ages...

In the late 70's or early 80's (those years really run together in my mind!Alan Brown showed up at my house one day having written most of a song about a blue pick-up truck. It was the type of song where heartbreak is all around- a true parody of country music. I helped him (very little) finish it, and it became legendary around Quaker Lake Camp and NC Young Friends events. As time passed, Alan was not around those events much and I took to singing it by myself. In 1986 I sang it at New England Yearly Meeting and it killed. It seemed that people everywhere could get into this song.

At the 1987 National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta there was going to be a "talent show" at the annual Wittenburg Door Banquet. I had brought my guitar with me, and at some point Terry VenableRay Luther and I decided we would audition for the banquet and sing Blue Pick-Up Truck. The three of us had never performed the song together before, but we would be bound together by history. Ray would follow me as Youth Pastor at Springfield Friends Meeting, and then would follow Terry as Senior Pastor there. He was still Pastor there until December of 2014. Ray was by far the best singer of the group; I knew the verses; Terry was there for moral support! We auditioned under the name The Country Quakers. They let us sing part of the song and then told us we would get a call letting us know if we were in. The call came, and we would make our debut in front of 800  or so youth workers. 

The Wittenburg Door Banquet was a wild affair each year, and 1987 was no different. We were sharing a table with some Mennonites who were wearing suits and hotel shower caps. People dressed crazy, acted crazy and had lots of fun, all without the benefit of alcohol! Wayne Rice did his Sinatra impression ("I did it His way...") and Mike Yaconelli made fun of everyone. Before we knew it, it was our time to take the stage, one of the final acts of the night.

I introduced the song in my usual way- "How many of you like country music?" After the cheer went up in response, I said, "Well then you will hate this..."  It got a good laugh and started the song. The first verse and chorus passed with some laughter, but we had no indication of what was about to happen. People began to clap along with the music. After the second verse, as we started the chorus again, I jokingly yelled out, "Sing it if you know it!"  To our shock, they did!  "There's a blue pick-up truck where my heart used to be" rang out like Born to Run at a Springsteen concert! The place was now rocking, and we were really getting into it. Everyone in the place was standing and clapping along. The room itself was pretty dark, with candles on every table. Sometime during the final verse we noticed that someone at one of the front tables was standing in a chair and waving a candle. Others began to copy him, until he and some of the crowd were actually on the tables singing and waving candles. We couldn't really see at the time, but when the lights came up we discovered it was Tony Campolo, world renowned speaker and teacher, who had been the lead dancer! We received a huge standing ovation, and Wayne Rice told me he thought we might be the biggest hit in the history of the banquet. Tic Long, who selected the acts for the night, told us later he had chosen us because he thought we would get booed off the stage; we were supposed to have been the "Gong Show" act of the night! I just hate that this was before the days of video phones; I would love to have a tape of it all!

The next day we were full-blown celebrities. Everyone wanted to say hi and offer congratulations. Yohann Anderson wanted to publish the song. Tony himself stopped me in the hall to tell me how much fun it had been for him. The Wittenburg Door Banquet was discontinued shorty thereafter, so that was my one and only bit of  NYWC fame. It was also the one and only performance of The Country Quakers.  Always leave 'em wanting more, right? 

Because of Jesus,

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2/26/2015

    That is absolutely freakin' awesome, bro! Love hearing about you many adventures!
    ~ Chris Cooper


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