Blevins: This is July 15, 2003. I’m Brooks Blevins, and I’m here in the Sugar Hill area near Sunnyland, which is south of Mountain View, Arkansas, with Charley Sandage as part of the Lyon College Regional Studies Center’s oral history project on the creation and development of the Arkansas Folk Festival and the Ozark Folk Center. Charley, if we could, just start out with some background information: where are you from, when were you born, where were you born, that kind of stuff.
Sandage: I was born in Malvern, Arkansas, down in Hot Spring County, and grew up in a little community called Donaldson, which is about ten miles from Malvern, rural Hot Spring County.
Blevins: Cliff Jackson is from Donaldson.
Sandage: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. Actually, he’s from a Donaldson Route, and when I was a student teacher at Malvern High School - I went to Ouachita High School, which is Donaldson and Friendship - and he was a student at Malvern High School when I was a student teacher, and he was in an American history class that I taught as a student teacher. But anyway, I was born in ‘43, March ‘43, and I went to Henderson [State College, now University] as an undergraduate and later on made a couple of rounds at UA-Fayetteville, and I’ve been either in sort of state agency related positions or - mostly - I’ve been a teacher and administrator at various levels, public school and college, in Arkansas, and I’ve done a lot of . . . In those jobs, I figured out later on that my principal work has always been as a writer, regardless of the job that I was in, and now I’m getting to spend my time that way, principally on the Arkansas Stories Project.
Blevins: Yeah. Lead us up to how you got into government work and why you were where you were in the Arkansas state government in the early seventies.
Sandage: I had gone to UA-Fayetteville for a doctorate in college administration, and I was working as an intern in Carl Whillock’s office there. He was assistant to the president of UA at the time; later on he was president at ASU and a figure that most anybody that knows anything about contemporary Arkansas politics, you know, knows Carl, and he was something of a mentor to me. But anyway, with my impeccable timing, I took a degree in college administration at the exact moment in the early seventies when there was a collapse of a whole tier of small private colleges across the country, and at the point at when I began that program there were openings of all kinds. Two years later, by the time I was looking for a job, there weren’t any. I remember talking to a fellow way up in Montana, a president who said that “Boy, just a few months ago I would have been delighted to get an application from an ABD [all but dissertation], and now I have twenty applications from experienced deans.” So I was looking for a job.
I had also, in that couple of years, gotten involved - through a friend of mine who lived up at Neosho [Missouri] - in a sort of every-other-Friday night, old-time musical in a little community of Freedom, Missouri. Old schoolhouse and folks met and made music and that sort of thing. And I had really started to wonder whether I wanted to go off and spend my time trying to become an important college administrator, or whether some things that that experience, that musical at Freedom, Missouri, seemed to call up in my head, whether those were more important things to me. So that actually . . . and the fact that there was a job available, and that I knew - and if we need to go back into how I knew - that the Folk Center was a thing in prospect, and the fact that Carl was able to call up Bill Henderson, the administrator of the Department of Parks and Tourism at the time . . . All of it coming together that there was a likelihood at that time - just a likelihood, or I might even say a possibility - that State Parks was going to get involved in what would become the Ozark Folk Center. All of those things together combined to cause me to take a job as administrative assistant to Bill Henderson at State Department of Parks and Tourism with the understanding that I would spend probably about a year there, because we knew that we were going to be coming up - this was in the late spring of ‘72, and we knew that the legislative session early in ‘73 would be when there would or would not be actual approval to operate at the Folk Center as a state park - that I would spend that time as an assistant to Bill with the understanding that I would be able to go on to the Center once it opened. So the idea of being in an institution that was for preservation and interpretation of the traditional culture seemed to me to combine a lot of the elements that I was looking for. I could be involved in the administration of an educational kind of institution, but with a specific emphasis on the kinds of things that I had really started to feel like I cared about more than just generally trying to run a college, or help run a college.
Blevins: Can you tell me a little bit about what you remember about the political process whereby the state legislature went ahead and pushed some money toward the Folk Center? What all went on with that?
Sandage: Actually, make sure we get back to that point about pushing money toward it, because there was very dang little of that done, I’ll guarantee you, and that was all - that was a function of the political process. At the time I sort of joined up at Bill Henderson’s office, to put it that way, there was planning going on, but it was, to be honest, kind of bootlegged, because we all knew that there would have to be authorization. It was all up in the air, and I think you have interviews from other folks who described the process of . . . The lease was about to be surrendered by the New Jersey Company [Advanced Projects, Inc.], and what’s going to become of this facility, and all that sort of thing, and the pitch had been made through the Parks, Recreation, and Travel Commission, which was the governing board, in effect, of the department and of State Parks, and of course Jimmy Driftwood was a member, and was - I think - about to become Chair at that point, you know, right about then. Maybe just shortly after that. But at any rate, all of that had been laid before the Commission, and the Commission had approved the idea - or did at some point along the way; I can’t say whether they had formally approved it by the time I came on there, but I believe they had - but still, it was going to take legislative approval. And Bill Henderson knew that there was some opposition to that, and significantly for him, there was opposition among the Pulaski County delegation. Bill was a Pulaski County - sort of - denizen. He had been director of the area Chamber, and some really key members of the legislature - Doug Brandon, Max Howell, others - were kind of . . . you know, he had a very close relationship with them, and he knew that . . . I think they saw it as a potential economic drain and all those kinds of things. They had discouraged Bill, and so he was kind of flying in the face of the political guidance of his, you know, sort of legislative sponsors or friends, and so he knew it was going to be a rough go. And then it was further complicated by the fact that it was already a point of controversy up here [Stone County]. There was political pushing and pulling, and so the local politics - which always spills over to the Capital, and all that kind of thing - that was involved, so it was going to be a pretty messy process. We knew going in, and we were not disappointed in that assumption. And, of course, there were budgetary hearings in the summer, and we got a sort of a precursor of what it was going to be, and there was a grudging - as I recall - a grudging kind of “Okay, it could work this way if we decide to approve it” kind of consensus during that, and then in the fall and leading on up through the winter and getting up to the legislative session . . . You know, we were trying to lobby the best we could and promote it and make the case and all that sort of thing, and then it actually finally surfaced in the legislative session.
And for you and for anyone who might listen to this, all in the world I can do is kind of try to recite my recollection and my understanding of how I saw it developing at the time, and I’m sure that I saw one little fact of a many-faceted thing, so all of this could be worth nothing, but there’s another quirk. Nick Wilson, who we all know now, just, what, three or four years ago ended a long career as a state senator and very, very powerful and controversial figure in the state senate, was just making his mark as . . . He was emerging as a leader in the state senate. He was a young senator at the time, and there was a sort of an old-guard situation, and Nick was interested in kind of . . . He actually was putting together a bit of a progressive young Turk coalition, and the Center - the issue of approval of the Center - became a sort of device for Nick. Of course, we - all of us who were wanting it to take place - were delighted that he took it on as a cause, but he used it as a point around which to coalesce eleven senators. The significance of eleven, the number eleven, is that if eleven senators voted against an appropriations bill that left the bill just shy of the two-thirds needed to approve an appropriations bill, so eleven was a critical number for him to put together a coalition that he would lead that would begin to have some power. And at one point . . . Well, Bill asked me, once the session got underway to just go on upstairs - our offices were on the first floor [of the capitol] - go on up and spend some time every day just keeping track of various pieces of legislation, because the Parks and Tourism was - and particularly Parks - was in quite an expansion mode at the time. Old Washington, the Diamond Mine, quite a . . . You know, it was quite a growth period, so there were a lot of issues on the agenda, but the Center was the lightning rod. And he said, you know, “I want you . . . Your duties for the next while will include kind of keeping track; if there’s about to be an important hearing and something comes up, you know, call downstairs and we’ll get somebody up there, this sort of thing.” So I was just kind of the - I don’t know - observer, runner, or something like that. And I remember Nick at one point saying to me, “I don’t know when this bill will get approved.” This is pretty close to his exact words. He said, “But it will be the next appropriations bill that the Senate approves,” [laughs] because what he did was get his little coalition to agree not to approve any appropriations bill until the Centerr’s appropriation got approved, and he hung with it. I remember Knox Nelson getting just livid when they held up approval of an extra clerk in the circuit clerk’s office in Jefferson County, or something like that that should have been routine, and I think Knox didn’t even really think of it as an appropriations bill or one significant enough that, even though he knew this little tug-of-war was going on, he didn’t think that Nick would hold that up, but he did, and when he made that stick and others, everybody finally said, “Well, let’s give the kid what he wants,” and they did, and I happened to be in gallery when Nick went to the floor and said, “I want to think you-all for your support. That completes my legislative agenda for the session.” [laughs] And it wasn’t so much that that was the only thing important to him; it was [that] he had now made his point.
So the Center played a role in the establishment of what became the Nick Wilson political empire, to put it that way, and how that all played out for better or worse, but Nick was always, always, an advocate for the Center, and that had a lot of effect on John Miller. John was, you know, by necessity - he was the representative for this district, the house member - and by necessity he . . . You can’t do politics around Stone County - you couldn’t then - you could not do politics without taking sides. You couldn’t do it. There were several splits, but there was essentially a split-down-the-middle kind of situation in Stone County, and there was no way you could work with both sides. It could not be done. You had to choose one or the other. And generally John was aligned with the folks, not the ins, not Jimmy Driftwood’s friends, not Tommy Simmons’s friends, but the other guys, and so he was reluctant for things to move ahead that way, but that was who Parks was hooked up with, and that was who was sort of in the driver’s seat, and I feel certain - this is my speculation - but I feel certain that Nick had a lot to do with saying, “John, you know, let’s move ahead on this.” So it was approved.
Now, about the money. What actually was approved was they allowed Parks to advance $50,000 of cash funds, okay. In other words, money that State Parks had earned in campsite fees and sales at little stores, and you know, there was not that much cash income to Parks at the time, and even in ‘73, for an institution the size of the Folk Center, ten thousand dollars was just barely going to get you the doors open, you know, but that was it. That was all. If we hadn’t sort of made it - at least staggered through some way that first season on income generated at the Center - I don’t know what would have happened. There would have been a situation in which the legislature would have had to go back and consider whether we’re going to put any general revenues in and so forth and so forth, and to be honest, I think that folks who were sort of against it, or reluctant about it, wouldn’t have minded that, because that would have tightened their control, you know, a bit. That’s my speculation. But speculation or not, the fact is that the money that came to the Center was $50,000 of cash in . . . What am I trying to say? I named the category a while ago, and now it’s eluded me. But money that State Parks had earned. No general revenues, none. And the situation changed very little all this time. Bill Young tells me now . . . Well, now, the last time I asked him this question was probably a couple of years ago, but at that point the Center was still earning all but - I think it was something less than fifteen percent of its annual income is still earned locally. So that’s the Center’s fiscal emergency, you know. Was built in, and has been chronic all these years. Because it really - you know, you can’t say it gets no direct general revenue support from the state, but it doesn’t get much. Has always, from day one, been under pressure to pay its own way.
[*See end of interview for Mr. Sandage's later revision of his statements in this paragraph.]
The legislation finally was signed by Governor Bumpers on - I’m pretty sure this is right, because I was waiting for the day - the 30th of March ‘73, and we were essentially six weeks away from opening. They had bootlegged . . . Now it can be told. Tom Simmons had been hired to work in the planning department of Parks sometime in the weeks or months - not a long time - before the legislative session. He was just an employee of State Parks in the planning department. But what was known inside was that he was there to make plans for operation of the Center, and so someone who was in the planning department, Bob [Moody]- and I cannot think of Bob’s last name, and I need to get that for you so it can be added to the record, because he was very important - but Bob and Tom and I, really, under Buddy Surles - Buddy Surles was Parks Director under Bill Henderson, who was Parks and Tourism Department Director - we made the budget. We laid out the personnel needs, and there were some peculiarities, you know - the exact configuration of a folk center, who in the world knew about that, and there were no sort of match-up positions . . . For example, the state had no category description for an audio technician, so we ultimately hired Aubrey Richardson in a secretary slot, you know. So there was all that convolution to go through, and there was: How do you plan for something the likes of which has never been seen? There really wasn’t anything like it, exactly. All of the configuration was dictated by the physical facility, which was already built, and hadn’t been built for this purpose. There was, as you already know, another set of uses in mind for the facility, or for a lot of it, at least. And so we were winging it. Now, Bob had a lot of . . . You know, there was experience you could reference. I remember Tom did some particular research, and he made a projection. This was Tom’s little formula. For every person through the front gate, we expect the income to be thus-and-such. In other words, cost to serve that person balanced against the admission cost itself, the likelihood of going to the evening show as well as the daytime, the likelihood of buying any souvenir, the likelihood of buying food, those kinds of things, and he worked out a little formula, and we knew from that if we got - and I’ve forgot the benchmark - it’ll take X number of people through the door for us to make it through the season. It’ll take X number to show a little profit, and all this kind of thing, and at the end of the year, Tom’s estimate had come within ten thousand dollars of being accurate, so I thought that was some pretty remarkable prognostication. But it was prognostication, nonetheless, you know. It was just the best guess that we could make.
Blevins: Yeah. Well now, once the Folk Center opened in May of ‘73 . . .
Blevins: Yeah, April of ‘73. What was your title there?
Sandage: I was program director. The administrative structure was this. A decision was made, because of the local politics, to assuage the, you know, suspicions and all of that, and that was significant. I’m telling you that was . . . The atmosphere in which operations began was remarkable. There was a lot of distrust. And you know, Tom had been mayor of Mountain View, and he was a leader in one of the local factions and all that, and of course, Parks - Bill, Buddy, everybody - knew that Tom needed to be in the administration of the Center. I mean, after all, he had supervised the construction and, you know, he clearly had the background and the skills to run the place, but that just wasn’t going to be politically acceptable. We said, okay, we will have an administrator, and we’ll get somebody to be administrator who will be seen to be sort of above the fray politically, and Tom will be General Manager, in other words sort of operations director, to put it that way. We’ll have a program director, and since this is the area . . . Well, of course, the general manager will be in charge of jobs in most of the cases, but sort of the visible policy . . . Friction, you know, is going to be over the programming, so . . . I think that they saw some advantage in having somebody from off who was a potential fall guy, to tell you the truth, and that was the position that I came in, and then I’ll go back to explain what that involves, but the other administrative officers were a fiscal officer, which Leo Sutterfield was, and Porter Young for promotion, publicity, PR.
David Newbern, whom I take it you expect to talk with later, was an old friend of mine, and we’d done music together, and he was a member of the law faculty at UA-Fayetteville, but he agreed to come and be administrator, but he couldn’t come until the spring semester was finished. So we started with Tom as general manager in charge, knowing that an administrator was coming, and that - you know - damped the fires enough that we could go ahead and get to work, that and the fact that Tom was very clear to any of us who were doing hiring, let’s . . . There wasn’t a quota system. It was something like, you know, “We need to hire the best person we possibly can, but we need to make dang sure that some of the folks from the other side of the divide get hired over here. It’s important.” And we did that. So anyway, that was the way it started. The way it was structured then, the program director had responsibility for the music program, the craft program, the visitors’ center, and any prospective workshop kind of activities, those kinds of things - as we put it, you know, the total experience that a visitor might have in terms of content - and the general manager had . . . The people who reported to the general manager were, you know, all the maintenance and security people and the restaurant and lodge and physical facilities and accounting and things like that.
The intent going in was that, as Program Director, I would essentially administer a contract - contractual agreement - between Parks, or the Center, and the Rackensack Folklore Society for the musical program, that they would have the contract to provide the musical program. And in a similar way, the Craft Guild - Ozark Foothills Handicraft Guild, as it was called then - would run the craft program, the demonstration program. The Center would have the gift shop, but . . . No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. No. I knew it had changed. Here’s how it’s changed. The Guild would have the gift shop. That was part of their incentive to run the . . . Well, that was their incentive, as a matter of fact. I don’t think there was . . . I don’t think there was any money paid to the Guild on the contract, but by providing the craft demonstration, they would have what should be their best market ever, and so that’s the way that was going to be. I believe that the Center did . . . Okay, now it’s sort of coming back into place here as I recall it, that the Center was going to pay the hourly salary of the demonstrators. The income to the Guild at large, to the Guild proper, to the institution the Guild, would be that it would run the gift shop. That’s how it was. I’m pretty sure that’s right, okay, without going back into the . . . But that was the way it was.
Probably we had essentially six weeks. That was when I . . . You know, on April . . . Well, let’s see. Now, wait. It couldn’t have been six weeks. I said March 30. It was March 1st. It was March 1, not March 30, so we had the month of March, and we had two weeks into April.. That’s the way it was. March the first, and on that day, it was Tom and me as far as staff, and we had both been bootlegged into it by being employees of the Parks Department, or of Parks and Tourism. So I moved up here in a big rush, and we rented a house, and it was pretty . . . We created some echoes walking around there that first day or so, you know. [laughs] The buildings were not finished out, like the craft shops, you know, were just bare concrete floors and block walls. Now, we had been receiving applications for a while. Quite a number of hiring decisions were close to being made. Interviews had been conducted already, okay? And so we went from, you know, technically zero in terms of employees to a skeleton staffing very quickly, just within a very few days. You know, maintenance people were able to get to work, and on like that, but a couple of weeks into that process - I don’t remember exactly how long - Lynn McSpadden who was, I believe, president or anyway a leader of the Guild, came and said, “Pfft! We can’t pull this off.” So, what are you going to do? You have a contract, but are you going to get punitive with the Craft Guild? No, because those are still the folks who are going to be your program, for the most part, so we took it over directly and basically excused the Guild from the contract, and the question then came up of who’s going to run the gift shop, and I honestly do not remember how we resolved that at the beginning. Ultimately, of course, it became strictly a Center operation. Seems to me that the Guild did have the gift shop that first year, and I believe that Kay Thomas – Kay Ohrlin - Kay was their gift shop manager the first year, and that was her first actual association with the Center.
Blevins: I think that sounds like the way she . . .
Sandage: Yeah, I think that’s the way it was. I should’ve reflected and made some notes before this started, but . . . I believe that’s the way it was. So she worked at the Center, but for the Guild to begin with, and at some point that whole thing changed. But certainly the Guild . . . You know, they had already recruited some folks, and they were certainly the core from which other folks were recruited, but there was a bunch of scrambling. There were some of the shops that . . . They just hadn’t been able to find anybody; there really wasn’t anybody. The one I always think about in this connection was the carvers, the woodcarvers. Gerri and Sherri Chism were fledgling - and that’s a little bit of a pun, because it turned out that birds became their specialty, their sort of trademark carving - but they were fledgling carvers, and I think Gerri and Sherri both would tell you that now. They were just learning their craft, but in appearance and speech and manner and so forth they were absolutely quintessential California back-to-the-land flower-child types. [laughs] No, not really flower child. They were a little . . . well, a little more gravity about them than that, I would say. But there’s no way that they were going to come off as Ozarkers. That’s really my point. There was no faking that, but they were who we could get, and delighted to get them. Of course, they turned out to be, you know . . . Who are the foremost woodcarvers in the Ozarks? Well, if they don’t get listed first, they’ll get listed right away with somebody’s name. And that’s their identity now, and they’ve been a wonderful asset, and they were an asset then, but it was green, and it was clearly not . . . We clearly didn’t have Ozark folks for the visitors, and that was true in several of the shops, but there were also . . . There were enough of the sort of real folks to get away with it, I guess is the way to put it. But you know, that began the process that despite all of the horrible ups and downs and wars and whatever that took place, that whole process of bringing folks in, giving them a chance to learn to properly portray the traditional craft or art and to find a way to begin to make a living at it . . . With the craftspeople there’s been just a succession of . . . You go to work at the Center as a demonstrator craftsman - minimum wage, but it gets you by - and then you develop your skills to the point that your stuff becomes marketable, and you get to the point that it’s more profitable for you to spend your time producing items for sale, and so you leave the position and somebody else comes in, and it turns over and turns over and turns over, and that’s been . . . It’s worked over these years. That’s been one way in which the Center has done what it was intended to do. But anyway, somehow or another, when it . . . We opened on [Arkansas Folk] Festival time, I guess the third weekend, somewhere just after the middle of the month, and we got open. [laughs] And barely. And that’s the most I can say for it. We were open.
Blevins: Well, you talked about how the craft section was handled, the music similar, or . . . ?
Sandage: I went out to Jimmy’s [Driftwood] regularly, and essentially, he said, “Here’s how I think we need to organize the programs.” And I said, “Okay.” That was the principal dynamic of that relationship, okay? I mean, I was learning. And I was delighted to learn, and my view of Jimmy was the same as that of anybody from "off" who’d come around and meet Jimmy, and this is the legendary Jimmy Driftwood, and he knows this stuff, and I knew to pay attention, and I was just . . . I was ready to pretty much accept what it is he said. So anyway, as we put together the programs . . . There was the Festival configuration, and then once we got through that, we settled into the six-night routine, and as I recall it, we structured three programs at that time. It was, you know, a little different then than it is now. But we said, “Okay, there are three kind of clusters that we can put together, and you’re going to start with your fiddler to anchor all the dances and all this kind of thing, and you put some singers and a dulcimer player and whatever and round out a program.” And we thought, “Okay, out of the Rackensack and anybody else who was willing to come in,” we put together three programs, and that’s the way we launched the thing. About halfway through the season, I really felt like that we were spread too thin, and so we collapsed that down to two programs, two richer programs instead of three thinner programs. Same people. And that worked fine as far as programming is concerned. It did put an awful strain on the performers. I mean, every other night, you know, you’re going to turn around and come in and do the show, and boy, they carried a load. They carried a big load. But that’s how that proceeded; that’s how that began.
I’ll just go ahead and recite this part of it, because it’s directly a part of my story. As we got a little ways into the season, I would question something every once in a while. “Jimmy, why are we doing this?” and began to disagree with some things. The disagreements were not about degree of devotion to traditional music. I’m going to make a generalization here and know that there are bound to be exceptions. But despite what has been reported over and over and over and over again to this day, from ‘73 on . . . You know, all I know about splits in the Rackensack Folklore Society is what I might have heard, okay? But I know what took place in ‘73, and have a pretty good idea of what took place in the years after that. The friction was never, never about “I’m more conservative about holding to traditional music than you are.” I’m going to tell you how I began to perceive it, and I’ve thought about whether I want to be on the record here and so forth, but . . . I just want to give you the best rendition I can of how I saw it, and that’s all. And I want to preface it by saying the things that happened resulted in a lot of pain to me, resulted in my having to leave after one year, and I decided, in the months leading up to this [opening of the Center], that I’m the luckiest man in the world. This is a new institution, going to do the thing that I want to do, and I’ve got a place in it, and this is where I’m going to spend my life, and I was just . . . That was a wonderful prospect. And what happened cost me that. And I spent a lot of years carrying around some bitterness, and some years later - quite a few years later - was able to lay that down, got over it, and consequently was able to circle back around and see Jimmy for the marvelous, indescribable talent as a songwriter that he was. [Side 2 begins] You know, I’m a songwriter, and I know what he achieved as a songwriter, because I’m somebody who does that, and it’s just remarkable. And I know that he was a marvelous resource in terms of folklore and those kinds of things, and I know that he, along with others, had . . . There’s no way to calculate the hours and energy and blood, sweat, and tears and so forth that he and others put into making the Center into a reality, and I did get back around to where I could appreciate all of that, and that’s the way I feel now.
But as the summer went along, I began to feel that we were getting decisions made based on Jimmy’s personal politics of the moment. I remember someone who had a particular . . . Well, his thing was Jimmie Rodgers. He was basically a Jimmie Rodgers impersonator, style-wise, and I said, “Uh, Jimmy, I don’t know about this.” This was real early, and he said, “Oh, yeah, yeah. You know, a lot of folks from here went off, and they picked up that kind of song and everything, and it’s very much a part of the tradition,” and all that. Of course, ultimately, I came to embrace a lot of things later that I was a little edgy about then. That was my “green-ness,” okay? A little later on in my own philosophy, it broadened enough that I would have had no trouble with it, okay? At that time, I was sort of coming out of the sort of academic and lack of experience and that sort of thing, and I was probably - you know - more uptight than I should have been. I was more uptight than I should have been, without question. But at any rate, I’m just making a point with this. So I questioned this Jimmie Rodgers performer, and Jimmy Driftwood explained to me, “No, no, no. That’s fine.” Well, okay. A couple of weeks afterwards, he came around and said, “We need to get rid of this guy.” “Why?” “Well, the music he does doesn’t really fit.” Well, I learned that there had been a personal falling out. Now, a lot of other incidents that I could interpret one way and somebody else could interpret another, but my perception was that was what was driving many, many, many decisions. You know, sort of who Jimmy’s mad at
the moment. And I also began to find that you either pretty much went along or you were anathema. And it was after I figured out that that was the way it was, and was pretty sure that I was not going to last under those circumstances, that I did the absolute unpardonable sin of bringing Kay Ohrlin [laterThomas] on the stage. If that hadn’t . . . If the camel’s back had not been broken before, that would have been the straw. And I not only brought her on, but I personally accompanied her on the guitar, because she wasn’t playing an instrument at that time. And so, you know, that was . . . seems like in August, so I knew that my days were numbered.
Blevins: Now, this goes back to Jimmy’s long-standing . . .
Sandage: Jimmy was going to have me gone.
Blevins: Yeah, but with the . . . I guess with Jimmy and Glen Ohrlin . . .
Sandage: Glen had had a falling out.
Sandage: And because Glen and Jimmy had a falling out, then Kay [Glen’s wife at that time] was not acceptable on stage at the Center. It was a point of friction that she was working at the Center at all, even though she was employed by the Guild. That was a delicate thing. So. You know, sure enough, I was . . . At the end . . . We’ll get up to this point and then we’ll back up and do as much as you want to do, but sort of the mechanics of it was that the Center ended at the end of October, and of course, we were in dire financial straits. There was a little money, not enough to certainly get the whole staff through the winter, barely enough to get anybody through the winter, and I can’t tell you, you know, going back to that $50,000 advance, I cannot tell you right now. It’s probable - I’m just speculating now - whether any more funds were put up to allow . . . Whether there were any, you know, convolutions back at State Parks to “Let’s be able to pay, you know, a few key administrators through the winter,” and all this kind of thing. I’m not sure exactly what took place, but somehow or another, a core staff, you know, “Keep the heaters running, and keep somebody in charge of the books, and keep - you know - a handful of folks.” That was done, but I was gone, because I was on the outs with Jimmy.
Sandage: Yes. Ah - allowed to resign. I remember the conversation with Bill Henderson, and it was painful on Bill’s part, really more for him than me. Bill was - just for the record - there absolutely was no . . . No better man has ever lived, no one more sincere about things like the Center, and that sort of thing, but he and Buddy - Buddy Surles - knew that it just wasn’t going to work for me to be back as program director. That just wasn’t going to work, and I knew that, too. So I had to get prepared to move on,
job wise and all that sort of thing, and I did. But that was at the end of the season. I don’t know if you want to go back and talk about any . . . You know, not just about my own travails, but anything about that first season.
Blevins: Yeah. Tell me a little bit about . . . You mentioned earlier that you opened the Center in conjunction with the Festival in ‘73. Had you attended any of the previous Festivals before ‘73?
Sandage: Yeah, yeah.
Blevins: You were familiar with that?
Sandage: Yeah. I didn’t have a long history with it. I had been to the Festival twice, and I had come on my own to . . . Seem like it was always in the winter, I’d come to the courthouse performances, you know, up in the courtroom. And then when I went to work for Parks and all this was in the prospect, I started coming up here pretty regularly, and would go to performances and that kind of thing and began to meet folks, and I remember . . . Well, the contract with Rackensack and with the Guild, those things were worked out in advance, in prospect, you know. It was, “Okay, assuming we’re going to be able to do this . . .” And so I came to meetings with the Guild, and I came to meetings with the leadership of Rackensack, you know, people like Glen Morrison and others with the Rackensack, and Lynn [McSpadden] and Ed Luther, and so forth with the Guild, so it was a cumulative process for me. But by the time we opened, you know, I was a sort of a . . . sort of a kind of a veteran of the scene up here, but you know . . . I was very much somebody from off, and that was more significant than it is now, and it was particularly significant, I guess, being in that kind of a position. I mean, I was very much in the glass house at that point, as was David Newbern, you know.
Now, David comes in in, I guess, late May - anyway, as quickly as the semester was done. I suspect he probably turned in his last grades from exams and hotfooted it over here, and it was a tribute to David’s skills and his attitude and his personality, and of Tom’s [Simmons]. . . They both understood what was going on; they got along fine. I know that the two of them have great respect for one another. Did from the beginning and still do. I don’t think anybody resented Dave at all. I truly don’t. People were suspicious of him, just as they were suspicious of me, but he overcame that sort of thing, and he actually spent some time that summer . . . And he and I would talk about this. I mean, we were friends. You know, I was the one who said when they were saying “Who in the world would fit that description? Somebody who is interested in this kind of thing, but who would be perceived as absolutely fair-minded and so forth,” well, I said, “You ought to talk to David Newbern.” And I was surprised, frankly, when he agreed to take the position, but I think he was . . . Dave’s always . . . Even now in his retirement from the State Supreme Court, he spends a lot of time sort of administrative officer as well as, I suppose, principal tuba player for Arkansas Wind Symphony. So he’s always been, like me, one of these characters with the other agenda, you know, [laughs] and so this was all very attractive to him for those reasons. But anyway, he came over and, from my perspective on the inside of the administration, it was a very smooth process when he came in. And the timing really was pretty good in that we had gotten through the . . . We sort of had some slack from everybody: “Well, they got to get it open,” you know, and it’s a scramble and all that, and I guess the sort of policy things and such were probably just beginning to kind of resurface and all this kind of thing when Dave came in, and it was good that there was someone like that to be the front man from then on. And it was not a matter of, like, “Tom’s calling all the shots behind the scene,” and “Dave’s just the figurehead.” It wasn’t that way at all. Dave was the leader of the administration.
Blevins: Now, in your capacity in the months, almost a year, between the time you went to work for Parks and Tourism and the time that the Center opened and you came to Mountain View, did you ever have any dealings with Advanced Projects, the company that built the Center?
Sandage: No, not really. I mean, I was there at the last meeting or so when they were present, but they were pretty much . . . I mean, they were the owner of the lease, and so there was negotiation that took place, and that was pretty early in the process, as I recall it of my year there, and once that was done, they were gone. So there was not . . . I did not have extended contact with them at all. I met two or three of their people.
Blevins: Someone - and I don’t know if it was Tommy Simmons or who it was. I don’t recall . . . not in the last few weeks when I’ve been doing this interview, but - recounted a story of going to a meeting - I believe in Little Rock - where some of these guys from New Jersey or New York or wherever they were from came down and had a humorous take to the story. I don’t know, the way they were dressed or something, and then that there was some hesitation on the part of maybe some of the Arkansas folks to work with these guys, or maybe . . .
Sandage: I can’t shed any light on that. Just in the most general way, I would say that it would have been easy for old boys to perceive these people as possibly gangsters. And I don’t think that would have been accurate, but I think that would have been an easy perception. [laughs] But as far as any specific incident’s concerned, I can’t shed any light on that.
Blevins: No. And I don’t know which . . . it was one meeting or just kind of an overall thing that . . . I guess it was probably Tommy Simmons, and he had a lot of dealings with them, and I think probably, from what I’ve heard, a lot of the people around Mountain View just naturally thought, “Well, some of these guys are mobsters,” just because they were from New Jersey.
Sandage: From New Jersey to start with.
Sandage: You know, the cliché perceptions were active in both directions. The presumptions about hillbillies and the presumptions about mobsters from New Jersey were in play.
Blevins: Yeah, it would have been nice to . . .
Sandage: Hear the conversation back of the room after that?
Blevins: Yeah. Have a mike in both corners as the two groups were going back to (?) . . .
Sandage: Yeah. [laughs] No doubt.
Blevins: Now you mentioned that, of course, when the Folk Center was getting off the ground, it was a pretty unique thing. Was there any institution or example anywhere in the country that ya’ll kind of used?
Sandage: Yeah. Well, again, there really wasn’t, and here’s an explanation for that. There were some places . . . Wolf Trap [National Park for the Performing Arts in Virginia] was a place where . . . It was performance-oriented. [Colonial] Williamsburg and similar places were reenactment/living history oriented. We really were not quite either of those. Demonstration was something different from reenactment. Musical performance was a part of it, but mixed together the way it was, it really was quite a unique institution, especially when you added the ancillary operations like the lodge and those kinds of things, and the intent to do some academic and archival kinds of things, which was always important in the planning, and was always the stepchild in execution, you know. And again, that goes back to that pressure to pay your own way from day one. That’s what caused that, okay? And over the years, plenty of people have said, “Well, the Center should have done better in the interpretive and the preservation and the archival,” and all this kind of thing, and I said, “Yes, absolutely,” and I know that every administrator that ever walked into the place went in wanting to do better with that and then was confronted with that reality that the Center was saddled with from the beginning. And that’s been a key factor in the way the Center has developed, and I think that . . . If there is one thing of which I am certain that is important to be understood about how the Center has operated, I would say that that is one thing I can tell you, that I can be unequivocal about. Now, what on earth was the question that I started out to answer?
Blevins: Oh, any . . .
Sandage: Oh, yes. Okay. Yes, yes, yes. So every place that we could think of was really, essentially different. They did send me, I remember, in September of that year of ‘72 . . . They sent me down to Texas Folklife Festival. I went down and I was delighted. Had a big time. It was in San Antonio at the Hemisfair grounds, and there is . . . The Texas Folklife Center is a sort of a . . . museum is not a fair word. It’s a interpretive program. But this was a once-a-year festival that they were having then, and I think they still have. I cannot tell you for certain that they do. But the major or maybe the . . . They were saying pretty much all of the distinct ethnic groups that made up Texas were represented by food booths and music and dance and other programming, so just a whole fairground with the . . . Irish over here, and the Scot over there, and the Polish over here, and the German over there, and the Cajuns from Port Arthur, and on and on, and it was great stuff, wonderful. And I supposed I got a glimpse about, you know, relating to the public and that kind of thing, and some things about portraying components of an ethnic background or a cultural feature or whatever. Early in the season, we had a couple of speakers down, maybe just one speaker. I don’t remember for sure. But anyway, we had . . . Tom and the Simmons family had worked at Silver Dollar City. Had a good relationship with the . . . And I should be able to recite the name of the folks who owned and ran and still do Silver Dollar City, and it doesn’t come to my mind right now, but anyway. They arranged for some of their sort of star demonstrator craftsmen to come down and talk about that to our demonstrator craftsmen. You know, just how to play that role and deal with the visitors and that sort of thing. But that was pretty much it.
Blevins: Yeah. Now, both in the months leading up to the opening of the Center, and then during that initial season of the Center, was there ever any discussion, official, or otherwise, of . . . . I don’t know, maybe the image that the Center was presenting. Was there any concerns to kind of stay away from the hillbilly Dogpatch image? Did people talk about that?
Sandage: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we talked about it all the time, and I think in that case, the folks from Little Rock and the folks from Mountain View were all of much the same mind, and I don’t think that was a point of disagreement. The questions were how to pull it off. We knew that we didn’t want any blacked-out teeth and cornball gags and all that kind of thing. We knew that. And I suspect that that was something that people like Tom would have been anxious to make sure that the people from Little Rock understood, and the other way around. You know. We were anxious to, on sort of both sides, to put it that way, in the early discussions, to make sure that we were together on that. I suppose that we even went, probably, a little austere . . . You know, if we erred on one side or the other, it was probably toward being a little too tight. I struggled with that some, and I remember . . .
I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but there was another dynamic in the opening year. That was also the year that Blanchard Spring Caverns opened, and they had this ton of young tour guides that they were training, and it got to the point that you almost couldn’t tell the two staffs apart because there was so much interaction. There was a picking about every other night during the, you know, starting with the Festival, and then during the kind of mainly weekend period, and then we got . . . all through that time. And of course the Caverns didn’t open officially until the summer, and so those kids - and their staff generally - had a little time. They were working hard, around the clock, but they had a little time, and they would come to the . . . There’d be picking at the Simmons’s or picking at somebody’s house just all the time, and a lot of those kids would be there, and so was quite a good relationship. And the head of that operation was Lynn Young, a Forest Service employee who was - and I forget the exact title - but he was the person in charge of opening Blanchard Spring Cavern as an interpretive operation. He also was a musician, and for a time there, the “Simmons Family and Friends” was Tom and Jean and Pam, and Buddy Lancaster and Dean Hinesley and Lynn Young, or some, you know . . . There were times when it would have been, not Lynn but Buddy and . . . Not Dean, actually, I should say, but Buddy . . . It changed around some. But anyway, he became part of that group and part of . . . He was a regular performer at the Center and all that. And I got off on that to . . . I’m leading up to something that Lynn told me that helped me with what I felt we were struggling with, but I think it’s important to remember the relationship of the folks trying to open the Center and the folks trying to open Blanchard all at the same time. It was a remarkable spring [laughs] around Stone County! It was quite some thing. But anyway, Lynn was showing me their preparation for the spring, and they had made some nice little conservative paths, aggregate-covered, you know, concrete. And I said, “Lynn, does it worry you that you’re building concrete-type paths up here and this . . .” He said, “Well, the alternative . . . Preservation and the pristine condition is not an alternative. We’re going to have to make it possible for folks to come in here and see it and do it in a controlled way, or we’re going to lose it altogether.” And I said, “Yeah. I understand that,” and then I started thinking about that as it applied to what we were doing. None of us ever questioned that . . . None of us ever thought that it was the same thing as the way it happened at the courthouse.
Now, there’s another quirk to that, though - another little twist. Most people who have commented on that - and I’d like to say most people from elsewhere didn’t know what they were talking about, but it’s the same thing with folks from around here, too - talked about what took place at the courthouse as if that had always been going on, and it really hadn’t. The organized presentations at the courthouse were a result of the prospect of the Folk Center. They began, as you already know - with the interviews that you’ve done . . . They really started back there when Leo Rainey and the other folks organized the craft festival, and then they decided they’d add music, and that was when an essentially dying musical performance tradition got revived, and certainly there had been living room gatherings and front porch gatherings, you know, all those years, although that was dying out. There hadn’t been the courthouse phenomenon all those years, all those generations. That was probably about a fifteen-year-old phenomenon. So when people bewailed the “Oh, it’s so sterile,” and all this kind of thing over in the auditorium, lots of times those comments were made out of a measure of ignorance or forgetfulness. Still. I don’t mean to be pejorative about that. I loved what I would see when I would come to the courthouse. I loved it. I would even say this, that the moment when I knew that I was going to try to come over here - this goes back to when I was still in graduate school and didn’t know where I was going and still was making applications to colleges and all that kind of thing . . . I did get an offer, by the way. I could have gone and been an administrator at a community college in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. But even in that climate of the market.
But it was at the Festival. Might’ve been just the year before; I’m not sure, but anyway . . . I mean, before it all started to happen. And it was evening, and I was tooling around the back side of the courthouse, listening to the different groups, and it got to where I could hear just a snatch of what was going on in the front, which was amplified, you know, on the steps, and it was quite unlike anything I had ever heard, and walked around the corner and it was the Simmons family, and they were doing “Bright Morning Stars.” And you talk about being captivated or captured, I was, and I knew then that I was not going to go in the direction I thought I was going to go, okay? So when I say that I loved what happened at the courthouse, I mean to say that. And so I knew that there was risk in moving that, and I knew that it wasn’t going to be the same. I knew we were going to try the very best we could to create a situation where the folks would be comfortable to come out and do their music and their songs and to talk, and there was going to have to be mikes, and there was going to be a big auditorium, and we would just try to handle it the best way we could and make it as unobtrusive as we could, and see, we didn’t design the auditorium. That’s a big auditorium. We wouldn’t have designed it that way. It would have been a far more intimate feel, you know, and there’s even been talk in recent years about “Is there some way that we could do, you know, movable walls and section the thing off and so that when there’re only two or three hundred people, that it feels different?” They would love to do that. That’s part of Bill Young’s motivation for wanting another pavilion-kind of place, so that a lot of the performances could take place in a different kind of setting. Everybody says when we know we’re not going to have more than the number of folks who will fit in the small auditorium, everybody involved would rather play in the little auditorium, because it’s more intimate. We didn’t have any control over that. That facility was there, you know, and we had to fit into it the best we could, same as in the shops, the craft shops. We went in and - this is one of the things that happened during that forty-five days - wood on the walls, you know, old-fashioned looking curtains, or whatever touches, you know - wooden work surfaces and all this sort of thing - did everything we could in what really was a sterile piece of construction, and tried to change the character of it, and that same impulse was very much present in planning for the musical programs, and we very much wanted it to, you know . . . The personality and the style and the humanness of it all to come through. And I’d say it’s a tribute to, you know, the old-timers, and I think about Bookmiller Shannon and Seth [Mize] and Lonnie [Avey] and all those guys, you know. You know what? They pulled that off. In my opinion, they did. It may just be because I wanted it to be warm and all, but I felt like it was. I don’t agree with the people who said, “No, it’s just cold, and goes through the form,” and all that. I don’t agree. I think they’re wrong when they say that. I think . . . We tried to make it possible, and those people achieved it. I think Uncle Floyd Holland was absolutely Uncle Floyd Holland in that auditorium, and nothing could have changed that.
Blevins: Well, about the music: were there any written or even kind of unwritten, understood standards for what was acceptable and what was unacceptable?
Sandage: At the beginning, it was Rackensack’s rules, the same rules that they had used in their courthouse performances. And - I can’t be certain about this - it was their sort of - and I don’t think it was rigid - cutoff thing was sometime in the twenties. But that was left up to individuals to administer that, and if there was a disagreement, if somebody in authority had to finally call the shot, it was going to be Jimmy [Driftwood]. But that was roughly the way it was operating. Now, we did some things, some sort of policy things. I discovered real early that spring by . . . And I called Library of Congress, I called . . . I can’t even think of the institution I’m trying to name now. [Smithsonian Institution] Trying to get some guidance about the difference between string band music and bluegrass. There wasn’t any, you know. Literally. The guy at Library of Congress said . . . And I said, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to try to just sort of write a little piece myself,” and he said, “Well, send me a copy when you get that done,” you know [laughs]. So I remember trying to describe that. But then, you know, it was - roughly speaking - Rackensack’s old rules. Now, what happened the second year after I was gone and Jimmy took control directly . . . I mean, he certainly was the major thinking in shaping the music program to begin with, but he was not the music director, you know? You always hear, “Jimmy was the first music director.” No, he wasn’t. He was the acknowledged leader of Rackensack, and Rackensack had the contract, but it was under the aegis of the program director, which was me. That’s not important, except that that’s just an example of kind of the way thinking gets locked in and people assume that’s the way it was because that’s what they’ve heard.
Blevins: Yeah, and I believe I’ve perpetuated that misunderstanding.
Sandage: Does that mean that Jimmy wasn’t pretty much calling the shots in the music program at the beginning? No, he was, but I’ve described to you how that came about. But anyway, he was in that position before - and I believe I wasn’t there. I’m talking about the second year now, after I’m gone. I think it was just a matter of “Okay, Rackensack’s going to handle it and Jimmy’s going to actually be the guy that’s going to be acknowledged to be in charge and all that kind of thing.” I’m under the impression - and I have reason for this - that Jimmy’s just sort of making the personal decisions and winging it and whatever - I’d say there was more “straying from the traditional” during that period of time than any other time. I think there are some recordings that would bear that out. Having said that, I wish I hadn’t, but I’m not going to ask you to take it off the record. That’s what I think the truth is. And that would have had to do with kind of, as I said, Jimmy’s personal politics of the moment.
Now, I only mentioned that to get to the next year, okay? There was a point, and everything that I know about how these decisions were made is secondhand, so I do not need to recite to you as if I were in the room and knew why it was that control of the music program was taken away from Jimmy after . . . I believe it was going into the third year - third or fourth, but I think the third. I can sit down and figure it out, but that’s not important. I’m trying to get around to answering your question about the rules. Whatever spring that was, and I’m guessing that it was ‘75 . . . It was. I’m just . . . Okay, I’m going to put it at ninety percent sure that it was ‘75, okay? Jimmy is not going to be in control. They bring in a music director, Bud Bell. I sort of knew Bud. Bud was a good friend of a good friend of mine, and basically, once again, I got somebody into it. I had . . . The way it came around, you know, they said, “You know anybody?” Well, actually, Bill Henderson called me and asked me if I wanted to go back as program director or - they had altered it somewhat - music director. And I . . . Basically, my response was, “Bill, I really appreciate it. I hate not to do something that you want me to do,” and I really meant that, “but the blood’s too fresh, and I’m too controversial myself, and so I don’t want to do that.” I think Bill was relieved, [laughs] because he knew that. I think he sincerely would have liked, absent all of that, for me to go back, and I would have loved to go back, but I don’t think it would have been good for me and I don’t think it would have been good for the Center. But he did say, “When we bring somebody in, will you help out as a consultant?” “Sure.” So they hired Bud, and I served as a consultant, because what they knew at that point was they needed to establish some rules, and part of this was reaction to kind of what had happened in that interim year. It had gotten kind of goofy, you know. There were not any guidelines. Well now, no, no, no, no, no. There were guidelines, but they were violated when it was convenient, okay?
So. This was the moment of the crafting of the infamous 1941 rule. [laughs] There are people who would like to shoot the son of a bitch who wrote the 1941 rule - well, that’s me. [laughs] I’m the target. And here’s the logic. First off, we would have preferred not to have a rigid cutoff date, you know? That would have been putting an unrealistic burden on the performer to be the kind of interpreter that somebody would have to be to play a more contemporary piece but be able to get across to the audience “why this fits.” You know. There are a handful of folks who could do that, but to recruit the musicians, to staff that programming six nights a week is going to cast a pretty wide net, and it’s not necessarily people who are going to have that kind of capability. So we have to make some rigid rules, and nobody likes that, but you got to do it. Why 1941? The intention is to interpret musical performance or related things that are part of the oral tradition of the Ozarks. At what point in Ozark cultural history would you say that . . . Where was the divide? Where was the shift from the time when the music that was being done would be likely to be oral tradition as compared to likely to have come in via radio or exposure of some kind from the outside? There could be no exact time; it would have to be an approximation; it would have to be a major event, a watershed kind of event. That didn’t happen as a result of World War I up here. Did, certainly in the cities and lots of other places. You know, “how are you going to keep them down on the farm?” That was a World War I phenomenon. It took longer up here, but in my opinion, and I talked to folks. Again, I called anybody I could - Library of Congress folks, and . . . The Smithsonian was the other institution I was trying to think about a while ago. And I remember talking to Alan Dundes, who was one America’s leading folklorists. He was at University of Pennsylvania then. Talked to him in the process. And came to the conclusion that World War II really was the watershed in this region, and 1941 is when we got involved - you know, Pearl Harbor - and it changed rapidly after that, and that’s the reason for ‘41. Now, later on - years later . . . See, after I left here - which I stayed for another year and a half, I guess, and then left - I didn’t come back much. The reason I didn’t come back much was that I couldn’t stand coming and having to leave. So I was fairly scarce around here for quite a while. But not very many years ago, I was in a conversation with Bill McNeil. I was at some kind of gathering - I don’t remember whether it was up here or someplace else - but I heard Bill explain the 1941 rule, and what Bill explained was what any good, competent folklorist would explain. That’s the year in which Ernest Tubb came out with “I’m Walking the Floor Over You,” and it was electrified, and folklorists take that as a watershed year.
Blevins: That’s the explanation that I’ve heard.
Sandage: That’s the explanation that Bill gave. Well, that’s the reason it was adopted here. Well, afterwards I said, “Bill, that’s a wonderful, authoritative, scholarly, responsible kind of response. Doesn’t happen to be the reason [laughs] that it was done here.” It’s a happy coincidence. You know, it’s the blind hog principle. You know, we floundered up on the right year by the folklorists’ standard, but that wasn’t the reason. [laughs] And because of that happy coincidence, I would say, if you had to settle on a year, that was a pretty good one.
Blevins: Two big events right there. Yeah, you can make both sides happy.
Sandage: Exactly. Exactly. But that was it. [Tape 1 ends; Tape 2 begins]
Blevins: Did you have anything else about the ‘41 . . ?
Sandage: About the ‘41? No, no, no. No, I was just saying that there was no deeper mystery, there was no greater degree of scholarly research or anything else. [laughs] That was it.
Blevins: And I guess, along those same lines, that any kind of standards that were in existence for the craft section were standards of the Ozark Foothills Handicraft Guild. Is that right?
Sandage: That’s true. That is true. I remember some discussions in the earlier years about some components of that. For example, we talked a little bit about pottery, and to be entirely candid, we were aware that wheel-thrown pottery - or even pottery in general - was not really a major component of Ozark traditional craft. We knew that. But we also knew that people coming through the front door were going to want to see a potter, [laughs] and since it was not . . . it wasn’t out of character . . . You understand what I’m saying? And that’s splitting hairs, and that’s stretching it, and all that kind of thing. But was there ever a potter in the Ozarks? Probably so. There certainly were pottery-making operations sort of late in the evolution of the traditional Ozark culture; without any question, there were, but was that something sort of in the daily living craft tradition of a typical Ozark homestead? Nah, not really. But was it so utterly out of character and out of historical sync that it just shouldn’t be there? No. So the decision was made, “We’re going to have a potter,” and “Yes, because wheel-thrown is more fun to look at,” and “Hey, we’re going to throw pots.” You know. So there was some of that.
Blevins: Yeah, yeah.
Sandage: Candle making, same way. Wax candles. Paraffin, rather; not beeswax, you know, and dipping with it, and yeah, people did that. People did that, but it was made much more of as a craft exhibit than probably . . . It was out of balance in proportion to some of the crafts that really, really were part of everyday life in an Ozark homestead. Some of those were not nearly as glamorous or as much fun, or whatever. I don’t know. I’d be hard pressed to say that I think that apple dolls were anything like proportionately as significant in the tradition as they got to be on the grounds of the Center, but that’s okay. You know, I think that’s okay.
Blevins: Now what was I going to ask? Well, while we’ve been moving a little bit chronologically, why don’t you just kind of recount a little bit of your career after you left the Folk Center?
Sandage: Yeah, okay. For another . . . Well, I lived here about a total of three years, and after leaving the Center, I worked at NADC [Northcentral Arkansas Development Council] in Batesville. Built this house where we’re sitting right now. Or Horance Smith built the house. Horance was one of the musical performers at the Center. Somebody I was very fond of, had a lot of respect for, and knew lots and lots of songs, and he was also an old-fashioned carpenter. I mean, he figured the . . . He cut the rafters with an old square, and all that kind of thing, you know, [laughs] and he built the house, and a Mr. Beacham helped, and I helped. The three of us built the house. And anyway, I commuted to NADC in Batesville, and then late spring of ‘75 got a job with Elkins - I was principal at Elkins Schools - so I was back over in the Fayetteville area. Went from there to Mena, where I was middle school principal and helped in a fledgling program that Henderson State [University] had going on that ultimately became Rich Mountain Community College. And while I was there got a call from my old undergraduate debate colleague at Henderson, who had just become chancellor at Arkansas State University Beebe, and he needed a dean of instruction, and so finally I was in college administration like I started out to be, you know. [laughs] It got interrupted.
And after that, I did the kind of thing that I alluded to, the kind of thing David Newbern might do. I really, I really got tired of being an administrator of an institution. And I took absolute leave of my senses and started a music program and took a lease for Mid-America Amphitheater in Hot Springs and produced something called “The Country Music Story: The Roots and Branches of Country Music,” and the star female singer was Pam Simmons, who became Pam Simmons Gavin at that point. And we did, you know, roots. We did traditional, we did bluegrass, and we did all the way across to what would be southern rock, I guess, and we did that for a couple of years. And I lost everything I had, moneywise, and I never have really recovered from that experience, and was fortunate to . . . And got involved in some television-related stuff, trying to make that work and learned a little bit about television, and was fortunate to be able to go to work after that for AETN [Arkansas Educational Television Network], where I did production and then wound up being Coordinator for Postsecondary Services, which basically was trying to help colleges in the state use electronic media and sort of carved out a little sort of career in distance learning, distance-delivered learning.
And then my wife, during all of that time, was in - we were living in Maumelle - she was involved in Pulaski County’s juvenile justice system. She was a lawyer and served as juvenile judge (master) during a period of time when the folks on the State Supreme Court - I’m trying to remember whether David Newbern was on the Court at that time - declared the existing system illegal, and the circuit courts had to take over the system, and so they just created instantly, overnight, a courts system, and Vicki was appointed Master for Juvenile Court by the sitting circuit judges in Pulaski County. So she was thrust into that right at the time when the whole gang phenomenon was really starting to appear, emerge, in Little Rock, and so she was intensely involved in all of that. I even did some things at AETN that were connected with that. And later she basically started for Pulaski County what is now Pulaski County Juvenile Services, and then later she worked as prosecutor in the juvenile division of the prosecutor’s office. She had charge of that. All of that’s to say that she was going through some pretty intense stuff, and meanwhile I was driving from Maumelle up to AETN having a big time. [laughs] And she finally sort of got me by the lapels one night and said, “Okay, look. There’s that house up in Stone County, and I’m going, and you can come if you want to.” [laughs] So that’s, you know, obviously that’s a tongue-in-cheek rendition of how that all happened, but there’s some truth to it. So we wound up moving up here, and I commuted to AETN for quite a time. Well, almost two years, I guess - a year and a half, two years. And then was offered the new position of distance learning director for Ozarka College. Did that for a couple of years and thought, “My goodness. This is perfect. I’m living up here, and I have an actual job, and all that, and it can’t get any better.” And then somebody got interested in my Arkansas stories writing, to the point that they said, “Let’s try to make this thing into something, and will you come to work for our little organization?” which is Archaeological Assessments, Inc., in Nashville, Arkansas. And we set in to try to create the Arkansas Stories Project, and so all of a sudden I’m sitting here writing for a living. That’s the short version of all that.
Blevins: Well, I guess maybe a couple things in conclusion. I think we’ve covered most of what I had hoped or most of what I knew enough about to have covered. Do you have any overall thoughts about the development of the Folk Center over the last thirty years? It’s been, now, thirty years.
Sandage: Yeah. I think it is downright remarkable, considering the political climate in which it was birthed, considering the economic restraints which I’ve described, under which the Center has operated all this time, that the Center has survived at all. That includes the periodic eruption of “I don’t like what’s going on, and I’m going to go tell the governor,” and you know, that was just cyclical. Has been the whole time. I think it’s remarkable, A, that the Center has survived at all. I think it is astounding, B, that the Center has been able to do any of its intended interpretive work. And I know - absolutely know this, because despite the fact that I wasn’t up here much, I believe that I have talked with every lead administrator who’s ever been at the Center - and I know that with every one of them, it was, “Boy, I wish we could . . .” and there would be that list of interpretive things, you know: “. . . develop that area down there where the firing range is,” and . . . I wrote a plan in that first year for a living farmstead thing, and I suspect that that or some version of it has been dusted off by every incoming administrator. “I wish we could do more with the archives, with the OCRC [Ozark Cultural Resource Center]” “I wish . . .” You know. Every one of them. I think every one has always wanted for the programming - the interpretive part of the programming - to be stronger. And it’s a flat miracle that any of that’s been able to be done, that Bill McNeil’s been able to be there all this time, and so I think it is to the credit of the people who have operated the Center that there has been any of that at all, because it’s just been by squeezing it out by main force, you know.
I think that when it’s easy for somebody to say, “Well, it’s all . . .” I read something lately when somebody said, “Well, it’s essentially reenactment now.” True. We don’t have Aunt Ollie [Gilbert] any more, okay? So if Mary Gillihan does an unaccompanied ballad in the style of Aunt Ollie or Almeda Riddle, is that reenactment rather than a genuine, authentic, orally inherited performance? Well, I don’t know. She learned it from Almeda. She learned it from Ollie. What’s different, you know, in the fact that Ollie and Almeda learned it from somebody else? Now, is it a conscious performance in the way that, at least initially, Ollie and Almeda were not? They got to be conscious performers rather than just doing it for themselves. Yes, it is. If Dave Smith learned a tune from Fate Morrison, that was oral tradition. If somebody learns it from Dave, has it become reenactment now? I think you could make an argument. When it’s consciously performed on the stage . . . yeah. But you know what? I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. There is a reason for somebody to want to learn, other than their own motivation, and if somebody has personal motivation, there’s a way to fulfill that. There’s a place where that music is valued, and where it’s played. There’s a reason for a kid, who might grow up . . . And I can think of kids who were kids back then who did go on and play rock and roll and whatever, but who, because the Center was there, got that exposure to the old-time and who now are, you know, quintessential performers in the old tradition, who would not have done so. Does it matter that Gerri and Sherri Chism, [laughs] you know, were anything but Ozarkers, but who learned how to carve and have been able to make a living and gain recognition as master artisans . . . Is that a problem somehow? I don’t think so. So when somebody says, “Well, they’re just imitating over there now.” Fine, I’ll take it. It’s like the paved or concreted or whatever pathway up to the spring. The spring’s there. It hasn’t been defaced and despoiled because there’s been control, and people can still walk up there and look at it, and it’s just as beautiful as it ever was. And that’s happened with the music and the crafts because the Center’s here, despite everything. And. And even though there are folks in the county who don’t see it and will say the opposite, it absolutely has been absolutely central to the economic development of the county and the community. Mountain View would have developed some economically, and would have been growing some, but it has . . . Things are as good as they are in the county due to a lot of things, but the Center is at the heart of it. If it were not for the Center, there would not be the tourist economy there is here.
Blevins: Well, I’ll give you a chance to make any other comments you want or set the record straight in any way.
Sandage: You know, there are a lot of things that have happened since then. There are lot of sort of personal things. There are lot of times when I hear something said and I know that’s not right, but those things have - really - to do with me and with peripheral things and so forth. I think . . . I’m sure that, you know, as soon as the day’s over, or whatever, I’ll think of specific things, but in terms of my contribution to what I really do first-hand know about in the making of the Center, I think we’ve covered the main points. And I really am a sort of half-full kind of observer, you know, and so I’m going to interpret things probably more positively than some folks do, but there’s been a lot of devotion, you know? It matters to a lot of people. Every once in a while . . . Kermit Taylor has reminded me more than once that the opening of the first musical performance that was ever held at the Center was a square dance, and he was calling it, and that matters to Kermit, you know? That’s important. It’s important to me, it’s important to the Center, it’s important to Kermit. And when I said a while ago that it’s miraculous that the Center has survived, that’s why, because it has mattered to enough people that they’ve been willing to, you know . . . For all the selfishness and pettiness and all that’s been in play, it has survived and has done what it has done because it has mattered to folks.
Blevins: Well, I think that’s a good one to end on, don’t you?
Blevins: Well, thank you very much, Charley.
Sandage: My pleasure.
[*Italicized passage as later revised by Mr. Sandage:
Here's what I remember about the money. The projected budget going into the first season - the '73 season - was something over $300,000, probably more like $350,000. But it wasn't intended that the money was going to come from general revenues - tax money. State Parks was allowed by the legislature to advance the Center $50,000 from cash funds. Cash funds meant it was money that State Parks had earned - store income, campsite fees - that kind of thing - and that was hard-earned money for State Parks, so I'm sure some park superintendents resented that. So, from the beginning, we were under pressure to generate our own operating income - to take the $50,000 and get going and don't ask for any other money.
I don't know if other money beyond the $50,000 came in during the season. I certainly don't know what was done after the season - I wasn't there by then. But from that time, and for all the years since, the Center has been under pressure to pay its own way - and that means the Center has always been vulnerable to political pressure if some officeholder wanted to squeeze or some group of disgruntled citizens wanted to complain.
Four or five years ago, I understood from talking to Bill Young that the Center was still paying a very high percentage of its own costs from local earning - maybe something like 85%. When I talked with him very recently, I took it that that has changed drastically - that there's been a large shortfall and the Center's budget has to be supplemented quite a bit - and I guess that really puts the pressure on again. I don't know much about that - but my point is that the Center, from day one, has always been under pressure to pay its own way, and that pressure has always meant that decisions would have to be taken - couldn't be avoided - that would seem to put income ahead of interpretation. That's why I say it's a miracle that the interpretive mission has developed at all - it's just a tribute to the succession of administrators and people on the staff that they've been able to squeeze out some resources for it.]