Backstage at the SCCA

Published 9:51 pm Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I’ll admit — I had never heard of Riders in the Sky before they were announced as the opening act for the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts’ third performance season.

I’m just not a big fan of National Public Radio — sorry, but I’d rather hear music than talk. And I never saw “Toy Story 2,” which apparently is the group’s other claim to fame — they won a Grammy Award for their song “Woody’s Round Up” in the children’s flick.

My phone interview last week with Ranger Doug, one of the original members of the group, was entertaining, to say the least. As he told me about the group’s acoustic Old West-style and mission to preserve the music of bygone America, I began to envision rope tricks on the stage at the arts center in front of a small crowd of parents and children.

However, when I got to the center Friday night to cover the opening of the season, I was astounded to find the parking lot so full that a few folks had resorted to “creative” means to carve out a space for their vehicle. Not willing to risk the fine that comes with such creativity, I doubled back out of the lot, parked on Finney Avenue and rushed inside.

I was further surprised to find that, aside from SCCA director Paul Lasakow’s daughter and a couple other children, I was the youngest person in the building. Because of the group’s “Toy Story” history, I expected to find a bunch of Disney aficionados — instead, I found a crowd more of the over-40 group, presumably because of the group’s 32-year history, mostly on NPR.

After chatting with a couple folks in the audience, I was ushered backstage to meet the Riders and snap an entertaining photograph of Lasakow with the group, which you may have noticed on the front page of Saturday’s paper. After the photo op, the Riders began tuning their instruments.

As Lasakow marched onstage to introduce the group, I lingered to get a few more pictures. As it turned out, I was a big help to the group.

“What is this place called?” Ranger Doug leaned close to me and asked.

“The Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts,” I responded, laughing.

After asking for the name of the auditorium and being told it was the Birdsong Theater, Ranger Doug asked what county he was in.

“It’s the city of Suffolk,” I told him. “It’s an independent city — it’s not in a county.”

Not seeming to completely understand — most people not from around here don’t, I’ve discovered — he asked, “What county would it be in?”

I told him this area used to be called Nansemond County.

“But don’t call it that,” I told him. “It’s not a county anymore.”

After sticking around and watching the Riders’ mouth-slapping routine — and making sure Ranger Doug got his location correct on stage — I had to go back to the office. Thanks, Riders in the Sky, for a few laughs on my Friday night.