One of the gifts that State Fair Community College presents to this community is free summer programs at the beautiful Stauffacher Theater. The College offers a “Last Thursday” series, which has a show on the last Thursdays of May, June and July. Max and I were at a conference last year in May and were out of town in June, but we attended July’s concert by Marideth Sisco, a folk singer who did some of the music for “Winter’s Bone,” the 2010 movie that was written by a West Plains man and was filmed around Thayer, with locals playing some of the parts. We loved the concert, and Ms. Sisco reminded me of Mother’s friend Marilyn Cover.
This year, the College presented the same series – and Max and I were again at a conference on the last Thursday in May, and we were out of town on that day in June. We did attend July’s concert last Thursday, and what a concert it was! The place was packed!
The Kay Brothers were the show’s headliners, and they were joined by The Burney Sisters. I had never heard of the Kay Brothers, though they hail from Columbia, née from California, Missouri. A little bit into the concert, Max whispered, “Do you think they might be related to John Kay?” John Kay was the Prosecuting Attorney in Moniteau County from the early 1980s until 2010, and Max had plenty of dealings with him. Turns out that two of the three men on the stage were indeed John Kay’s sons.
They played fun music – a cross of folk music, bluegrass, and hillbilly – Ozark-type music, playing guitars, harmonica, stand-up slap bass, banjo, and a boom-chuck bass drum and tambourine. Oh. And a fiddle – that screaming, whiny, twangy old-time country sound that evokes long-ago hot, dank August nights at the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Reunion country music stage on the west side of Mammoth Spring.
I was mesmerized by the fiddle player. I couldn’t take my eyes off her as she dragged every note possible – and a few that seemed impossible – out of that instrument, playing soulful, curvy music and familiar up-tempo hillbilly bluegrass, fingers flying across the fingerboard, using the fine tuners to get the best sound possible and singing at the same time, sounding like a honky-tonk fiddler from one of those old-time country western bands that appeared on “Hee Haw!”
After the concert, Max and I raved about her, and he got out his phone and started looking for information about the Burney Sisters. He furrowed his brow and said, “This is weird. This can’t be them, but the pictures look like them – and there’s her dimple.” I was puzzled as to why the pictures he was looking at couldn’t be the Burney Sisters, but then he told me that they were 13 and 10. Years old.
“No!” I exclaimed. “That has to be an old article! They are older than that!” He looked again. “You’re right.” (Of course I was.) “This article was written last year. That means they are 14 and 11.”
We spent about 20 minutes trying to find that The Burney Sisters started in the business when they were 10 and 13 several years ago, but instead, we kept seeing that they were 10 and 13 in 2018, making them a jaw-dropping 11 and 14 today.
The most interesting part of the 2018 article was that it listed all the instruments the girls played – and a fiddle was not among them. One of the Kay Brothers had said something about Emma’s having played the fiddle for a few weeks now, and the audience laughed. But now I wondered. How long has she played the fiddle? Long enough to make me think that she was in her early 20s and had played the fiddle since she was a little girl.
Next Thursday night, The Burney Sisters are going to be appearing with The Kay Brothers at the Moniteau County Fair. I’m going to go to make sure I heard what I thought I heard last Thursday, especially knowing what I know now. If I’m right, I will be watching not just a musical prodigy, but a soon-to-be star.