The summer of 1969, while I was exploring the Catskill Mountains of New York State, Merle Haggard and his band The Strangers were touring the Midwest. Years later I heard a radio interview with a band member. He told of passing a doobie around the bus when he saw an exit sign for a town in Oklahoma. He casually remarked, “l bet they don”t smoke marijuana in Muskogee.”
The guys on the bus had a good time coming up with things folks don’t do in Muskogee—and things they do do!
In late September, 1969, Merle Haggard and the band released a new album called Okie from Muskogee. The title song, written by Haggard and drummer Roy Burris, was at the top of Billboard’s Hot County Hits by November 15th. It stayed there for four weeks. Indeed, Okie from Muskogee is still recognized as a “redneck anthem.” (See Wikipedia)
The next summer, with the Vietnam War (and the protests against it) still in full swing, we staff and students from Buck Brook Farm headed out to enjoy a local Catskills fair. When we got out of the van our “beads and Roman sandals,” much less our “hair all long and shaggy like the hippies out in San Francisco,” left no doubt we were from “that alternate school” everyone had heard about.
Fortunately we were known for not causing neighbors trouble and we paid our bills on time, so we had a good reputation. The afternoon was spent checking out exhibits, rides and fair food, with no disrespect shown between anyone.
Then came the evening dance—
—the event where everyone gathered at the same place.
We Buck Brook bunch joined in dancing to the local band as it thumped away at well known standards from the forties and the fifties as well as many of the new songs folks were listening to on the radio that summer. After a half hour the band struck up, “I’m proud to be an Okie from Muskogee.” Everyone knew it was coming.
I glanced around the crowd and saw many adult spines straighten up, like seeing “Old Glory down at the Court House.” And many of those folks were staring at we bunch of hippies!
My reaction? I hate to admit it but I was raised knowing I was homosexual in the 1950s and my default response was to be challenged and afraid.
The students? Every one of them immediately gave out a joyous cheer, jumped to their feet and danced with abundant joy, their hair shagging wild in the air. All the other kids joined in. It is a great dance tune, after all.
We “adults” got over our bunched up undies, got a grin on our face, and enjoyed the rest of the evening.
I was so proud of those kids.