After dry camping (no utilities or hook-ups) for three days at Mathews Arm campground inside Shenandoah National Park,
the threat of rain, the need for groceries, and the desire to charge our tablets and phones drove us off the mountaintops to Luray, the valley town nearest the Thornton Gap park entrance, and renowned for its fancy formations. But having previously explored so many other holes in the ground over the past year, including Luray Cavern at an earlier time, the lure of Luray—after shopping at Walmart—now lay in the living shrine to The Dukes of Hazzard, as memorialized by Cooter’s on US-211 West.
For those unfamiliar, The Dukes of Hazard was a TV show from the early 80’s…
that followed a rash of 1960’s programming that satirized rural Southern living, and fish-out-of-water sensibilities beginning with the Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and Andy Griffth spin-off, Gomer Pyle USMC.
The Dukes of Hazard series popularized chase scenes with a Dodge Charger named General Lee that could catch air and outrun every Cherry Top….
and daisy dukes (short shorts worn by Daisy Duke).
With equal parts giftshop…
fast-food fare, and live music venue…
Cooter’s has become the perfect one-stop Good Ol’ Boy stop-over. As Cooter is so fond of saying, “With free parking, free museum admission, and free music, if you’re not completely satisfied, we’ll give you your money back!”
Immediately, upon entering, I felt out of place—like I was intruding—even though I’m a big fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers Band. Perhaps a combination of morbid obesity, and full-color body tattoos may have automatically disqualified me from fitting in. But like a train wreck that’s almost impossible to ignore, I could not be dissuaded from gawking at the regulars,
who come to Cooter’s to: consume heart attack chili, “so good it’ll kill ya!”; show the young’uns all the neat merchandise that Pops grew up with;
take foolish pictures with cut-out faces of the Hazzard cast;
or take a $10 ride…
on a monster truck;
and enjoy country music with a decided “red (political) and white (racial)” edge.
Richie, the bassist got the party started with some tunes by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, but the mood got serious with a rendition of Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the U.S.A. One-by-one, the crowd stood in obeisance as they sang from hearts solemnly covered by hands. Some of the crowd actually got weepy.
Richie acknowledged their emotional valor with some patriotic pearls, “We sure do love this country—finest country on Earth. But I don’t need to remind y’all ‘bout that, ‘cause this ain’t rocket surgery.”
Richie segued, “Now this here’s the part of the show where I like to ask our visitors where they’re travellin’ from. How many of you folks are from out of town?”
Scanning the room for volunteers brought a few announcements, “Pennsylvania…Maryland…North Carolina…” all met with applause.
Leah whispered, “Are we from New Jersey or Florida?”
“Well, besides the Airstream, there’s only one state I know where we own property,” I advised.
“We’re from Florida!” Leah called out. More applause.
Richie declared, “Then I declare, without even botherin’ to load all that data into GPS, that you people from Florida are the farthest guests from here today, and that makes you the winner!”
As if on auto-pilot from the other side of the stage, George on guitar intones, “Tell her what she’s won, Richie.”
“You bet, George,” affirms Richie. “She gets to pick our next song.”
[To Leah] “Any song, sweetheart!”
Leah panicked, “Quick, Neal. Give me a song!”
I felt like I needed to stand up for the Blue Team. “How ‘bout Blue Velvet,” I offered.
Richie, incredulously, “You mean that number by Bobby Vinton?” [singing] “She wore Blue Velvet, dah da dah, da dah.”
I felt like a contestant on Stump the Band.
Richie confessing, “I think that’s all we got for that one. Why don’t-cha pick somethin’ else?”
Pausing a moment, I suggested Blue Suede Shoes.
“Now, that song’s gonna be a part of our second set,” Richie previewed, “so gimme your favorite country group instead, and we’ll play a song from their songbook.”
“That’s easy. Play something from the Dixie Chicks,” I requested.
Richie didn’t expect the ambush.
Unfortunately for the Texas-bred Dixie Chicks, they were vilified by their fanbase when they spoke out against the Bush/Cheney Iraqi invasion, with some goons going so far as dispatching hate mail and death threats.
The still unforgiving crowd at Cooter’s became uncomfortably silent. People turned in their seats to stare, wondering, “Who is this interloper who dares to break the 11th Commandment at Cooter’s? Thou shalt banish the Dixie Chicks from all of country music’s memory.
Rita, the vocalist fronting the Cooter Garage Band put things in perspective. “It’s been ‘bout ten years since we did this, and I never thought we’d be performing it again, but we’re gonna play it for Florida, so please don’t hold it against us.”
The band launched into a stirring rendition of Some Days You Gotta Dance that even had the most ardent cynics tapping their toes and bobbing their torsos.
Not one to overstay our welcome, we left shortly afterwards in search of BBQ.
Score one for the Blue Team.