(Originally published on MOLI 5/27/8)
Phil Martin is one of the best things to happen to this website. The Brady, Texas-based musician, poet, retired professor, and all-around pontificator is MOLIâ€™s most prolific blogger. At his Campo Madrone profile he has 19 different tabs, including the D&E Ranch, featuring the prose of his alterego Cletus Duhon, and the Border, photographic and writerly snapshots of life where Mexico meets Texas. As if that werenâ€™t enough, Phil has also launched a profile for the Cowboy Chautauqua Company, a performing troupe of cowboy singers and poets. You can read more of his poems there, and hear some great Americana anthems, like Andy Wilkinsonâ€™s “Iâ€™ll Be Better Than This,” which Phil says was inspired by something he said.
Iâ€™ve never met Phil, though I try to keep up with the emails he sends me through MOLI â€“ man, I envy his verbosity and quick wit! Unlike some of us, Phil isnâ€™t paid to blog. He just has a passion for writing, and heâ€™s found us to be a good site to air out his bounteous ink, so to speak.
After a decade hiatus, Phil is trying to revive the CCC. You can book one, two, four, or a whole posse of poets, writers, songsmiths. Itâ€™s great to experience Martinâ€™s original American voice virtually wherever you are â€“ but Iâ€™d love to see him and his friends in person. Judging by the Campo Madrone blogs, it would be a pointed, philosophic, hilarious, and poignant night of songs, jokes, and running commentary. Like an old campfire gathering â€“ one where W. is likely to get roasted on a long pointed stick and someone gets messy confessional.
The Chautauqua is based on an historic form of popular culture, pre-Internet, even pre-the chitlin circuit: â€œChautauquas were a big part of the American entertainment scene during the last half of the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries,â€ Phil writes in one posting. â€œThey died out mostly because of the invention of motion pictures and radios . . . but they thrived for nearly half a century.Â Describing what they did isn’t easy because a wide disparity of styles and formats existed among them.Â But a national circuit developed, one where traveling troupes of entertainers came through small towns across America on a regular basis.Â These shows were in part educational, aimed at bringing the thriving culture of the cities to the rural parts of the country.â€
Brady is a long way from my perch in Miami Beach, but I feel like Iâ€™ve gotten to know Phil in the past year. (His wife, Evelyn [nice name], makes the amazing Lathers del Corazon handmade soaps and lotions, which I highly recommend.) Iâ€™m not just saying this as some sort of MOLI promotion, but getting to find a voice like his â€“ or really, I should say voices, since he writes in so many personae — is what makes me believe in the use of a social networking site, or the Internet in general. Call it digital chautauqua. Make sure to send him an email â€“ and be ready for a new pen pal.