Arts, theater, music and more - we'll be featuring the best of our entertainment features from The BRJ archives, so check back often for new posts!
The Burd Boys had a pure, earthy country sound that stayed true to bluegrass traditions and when these five local boys got together to create music on the farm in Tewksbury, they were Settin’ the Woods on Fire! Read More
I was “Georgia,” one of the “widows” of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein, attending the 1956 Annual quiche breakfast, at least that’s what my name tag read... despite obvious physical attributes to the contrary. Read More
Contemporary abstract impressionist, Maureen Chatfield told us recently. “As Marianne Rosenberg said ‘Your work is not an accoutrement for a couch!’” Read More
There’s an entire world unfolding in the pastures, paddocks, and pig sties of our New Jersey farms, but you have to take a closer look at the bucolic backdrop of grazing cattle or foraging hens to see it. Read More
Along Hunterdon County’s northern border in rural Tewksbury Township, lies the village of Fairmount, a place where legends are bigger than boundaries. Here, Old Joe Lee, the famous fiddler of Owltown, filled the air above hilltop farms with his sweet sawing. More than 100 years later, five local boys got together to create their own music legend in Tewksbury and before long, The Burd Boys were Settin’ the Woods on Fire!
Donny Burd was barely a teenager when he began playing the guitar on his father’s farm in Fairmount. It was clear he had a gift. Born with an ear for music, a trait common in the Burd Family, Donny taught himself how to play the guitar by listening to Gene Autry records and doggedly imitating the chords.
When he was 13, he played for his first audience at a graduation ceremony in Fairmount. Ellie Burd, Donny’s sister-in-law, was at the ceremony and remembers the crowd’s reaction. “He played ‘Over and Over Again’ and “Good Old-Fashioned Hoe Down.’ You never saw a place come alive like that. Everyone was clapping and stood up. That was the first time he played in public.”
Donny’s brother, Walter, and sometimes their brother, Dick, joined Donny for Thursday night jam sessions in the barnyard of the farm. These sessions became big weekly events in Tewksbury that attracted the best musicians in the area. The usually quiet night air over Fairmount was filled with the sweetest homegrown, bluegrass and country music around. From these spirited jam sessions emerged the five original members of the country band known as the Burd Boys.
Country Music Star
“Real country sound” is how the Burd Boys were described, and they truly were the real thing. Each Burd Boy was a gifted musician in his own right. They could all sing and each member could play several instruments. As Ellie Burd stated, “they each had a unique personality and when they put the music together you could hear each one. It was a unique sound.”
The Burd Boys had a pure, earthy country sound that stayed true to bluegrass traditions. Donny’s “intricate” guitar playing and Walter’s percussive “slap beat” style gave the band a distinctive rythym. Lead singer Art “Junior” Landon, was known as “the young man with the Chameleon Voice” for his ability to imitate any singer (male or female) and he gave the band a limitless range. Leonard “Len” Rambo of Califon, was an admired and respected bass player who “had an instinct for providing the idea patterns, runs and beats.” Front man Bernie Hudacek, in addition to playing a mean dobro, was a natural born entertainer and gave the band its personality. According to Leonard Rambo, the reason they sounded so good was because they really were good friends and had a lot of fun playing together.
Though the Burd Boys soon grew in popularity, their shows always kept the warm feel of those early jam sessions. They combined their musical talent with comedy, impromptu conversations (sometimes with the audience), and a genuine sincerity that endeared them to their fans. Often, in the middle of one of their lighter numbers like “Poor Old Joe,” Bernie would ask the boys to “juice it up” or would break into the song with one of his famous poems which would get the crowd roaring. “There was a young butcher named Sutton whose wife just loved to eat mutton. He snuck up behind her and pushed her into the grinder. No Sutton, no mutton, no nuttin.” Ellie Burd remembers that Bernie was a “real comedian.” “He would have the audience in stitches; if you met him today, he would have you in stitches!”
The boys all had full-time jobs but they always found time to play their music. Often, if a member couldn’t make a date, musicians Red Strubel from Lebanon Township or Lee Jacobus, would sit in as part-time Burd Boys.
Under the management of Sid Kleiner, who owned the “House of Guitars” in Califon, the Burd Boys performed throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. Show dates included Palisades Park, the Nashville Room at the Hotel Taft, the Clinton Point Theatre, and the Lambertville Circus (where their names were hung in lights). But it was their jamborees, held on Milton (Donny and Walter’s brother) and Ellie Burd’s farm in Fairmount that really made them famous.
Settin’ the Woods on Fire
“We were all together one afternoon, I remember it was spring time. We walked out onto our porch. From there you could look out on a beautiful hay field and at the edge of that hay field is a grove (a hickory grove that was on the Burd farm). All the leaves were coming out and it was a beautiful sight. To me, it was always a beautiful sight. One of the boys, I think it was Donny, said ‘Milt, you know something? That grove would make a great place for a jamboree.’ Well, Milt had to think about that. Our cows were out there. But Milt always backed up the boys.” The boys cleaned up the grove and Milt built a huge stage for the band and they were soon on their way.
The Burd Boys held their first jamboree in Milt and Ellie Burd’s hickory grove in 1967. It grew in popularity, loyalty and attendance with every show. The Jamboree was a country music festival hosted by the Burd Boys twice a year in June and September. The festival ran from 12 pm to 9:30 pm. The day was spent listening to the Burd Boys and other bands, while munching picnic lunches, hamburgers and hot dogs, fresh clams, and sipping cold beer in the shade of the old grove.
People would come from all over the country to attend the jamboree and would even arrive in campers the day before to make sure they got a good spot. John Burd, Milt and Ellie’s son, and the former salesman for the band, remembers that one group of fans showed up with most of their living room and made themselves right at home. They spread out a rug, and furnished their spot with a couch, a couple of chairs, and some end tables.
In 1974, the last year the Jamboree was held, 5,000 people came out to enjoy this smaller country version of Woodstock. It was so popular that big promoters approached Milt and Ellie asking to use the grove for other festivals, but as Ellie said, “the grove was only for the Burd Boys.”
Things That Might Have Been
The Burd Boys seemed like they were on their way to bigger opportunities. They had cut two albums, two 45s, and 5 eight-track cassettes. They had performed with country legends like Waylon Jennings, Bobby Baer, Wanda Jackson, Roy Drusky, and Hank Thompson. They were getting noticed in Nashville.
John Burd, who used to act as the band’s salesman, remembers meeting one legendary fan in New York. “I saw these two guys motioning me over to their table and they started asking me questions about the Burd Boys. So, I explained everything they wanted to know and left them with some promotional material. I didn’t know it was Waylon Jennings and Bobby Baer until they got up on stage later.”
John has a great devotion to the Burd Boys and fond memories of the times he spent with his uncles and the rest of the guys in the band. Besides Waylon Jennings, he has met other country greats while with the boys, including Ernest Tubbs, Mel Tillis, and a dance with Dottie West. Ellie remembers one occasion after a big performance at Shady Lane, when they had to turn away 250 people at the door. “Wanda Jackson was playing there. Johnny had gone up on stage and all of a sudden he came walking back arm and arm with Wanda Jackson. It was the first time my husband Milt was ever speechless.”
Ellie and John Burd are certain that the Burd Boys were “Nashville-bound,” but dreams of the Grand Ole Opry and “things that might have been” came to a tragic end when Donny was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1973, at the age of 41.
Donny’s farewell performance was in August 1974, at a show in Fairmount, featuring Mel Tillis. Though he was terribly ill (according to John, he had a dangerously high fever), he took the stage with the boys one last time and never missed a beat. Donny also insisted on making one more record with the boys and hoped to hear it before he died. Sadly, he passed away a week before it came out. “We had to listen to that record,” Ellie remembered, “It was sad, but we did it for Donny.”
Donny’s funeral was one of the biggest Califon had ever seen. Ellie recalls that no one felt the loss more than the Burd Boys, especially Walter; “the hearts just went out of the guys.” After some time, the boys got together again to play at family gatherings and other events, but for the most part the Burd Boys went into voluntary retirement.
Ellie Burd put it best when she said, “their music is too good to be forgotten,” and after listening to the Burd Boys for the first time, I completely agree. But John Burd added a poignant comment that really hit home when he said, “no one should be forgotten.” True to his ideals, John has kept the spirit and music of the Burd Boys alive. Working out of an impressive home studio, his mission is to make sure that his uncles and the rest of the boys will always be remembered, and that they one day achieve the fame he feels in his heart they deserve.
Update: Ellie and John Burd went on to organize several tribute concerts to The Burd Boys and even brought their famous country music "Opry's" back to Hickory Grove farm, which for many years in the early 2000's drew noted stars and country acts from Nashville and beyond.
You can hear The Burd Boys and watch a tribute video created by John Burd. It aired on RFDTV and The Shotgun Red Variety Show, in 2014. The tribute includes footage of a 1967 performance at Hickory Grove Farm.
I was “Georgia,” one of the “widows” of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein, attending the 1956 Annual quiche breakfast, at least that’s what my audience member name tag read, and despite obvious physical attributes to the contrary (I’m talking about my beard), for an hour and a half I believed I was that sister. The name of the production that night at the Chester Theatre Group (CTG), was 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, and I was close enough to touch the quiche, which I would never do for reasons I can’t really explain. Let’s just say you had to be there, and I’m glad I was, because it was one of the most singular and hilarious theater experiences I have ever had.
The stage at Chester Theatre Group’s, Black River Playhouse, is theater-in-the-round or as Penny Hoadley, who has been a part of CTG since the opening of its first season in 1967, describes it, “theater-in-the-square.” The 19’ x 13’ square stage is surrounded on four sides by three rows of seats. The third row is a mere five-feet or so from the action and the front row might as well be part of the cast, and sometimes is. Each side of the square seats about 25 people and you can’t help the feeling that you are there for a private viewing with 100 of your closest friends. There are no curtains and there is no place for the actors to hide.
“Everything has to be real,” said Penny, who has produced over 250 of the group’s plays, as well as having been president and board member. “You can’t be not old enough or not young enough for the part. I mean that’s the thing, everything on the stage has to be completely real because you see it! You’re right in the action. Most of this furniture has been on the stage, she said, gesturing to her living room surroundings. My husband always wonders when his sweaters and his pants are missing. When these two chairs were missing he said, ‘I think we have a play going on.’”
While the five-woman cast of Nikki Simz, Julie Camelotto, Lynn Langone, Tracy Lee Witko, D'Angelique Dopson, and under the direction of Lauri MacMillan, led us through a side-splitting romp, I couldn’t help thinking that this is the way local theater should be. Not only could I see every expression on the actress’s faces as they stood naked before us (they weren’t really naked, but one of them did strip down to her slip shortly before exploding before our eyes), I could look straight into the faces of my fellow theater-goers and share their laughs, gasps of surprise, and honest reactions, and so could the actors. Their timing, their gestures, their inflections are all under close scrutiny. Everything has to be perfect when the audience can practically read your lips – or does it? The intimacy of the setting seems to establish a comradery between audience and players where all is forgiven. A missed cue, a stammered line, all are simply brushed off for the greater good – we’re all in it together.
“It’s so intimate that it’s really different,” said Penny. And she’s not exaggerating. Not only is there no curtain, there is no backstage. Instead, there are two doors diagonally across from each other (we’ll call them stage left and stage right, although it’s more like stage two o’clock and eight o’clock) that each lead to tiny anterooms off-stage and have exit doors. One “chamber” houses the orchestra, when it is in attendance, and is so small that when a harpist was included, the rest of the members overflowed into the entry foyer with a member of the wind section ending up in a seat in front of the restroom. The other room holds small props, and either one can be used for quick costume changes. But if an actor needs to exit stage left and re-enter stage right, they have to pop out the door, run around the building, and come in from the other side. And if the weather is bad “we have umbrellas here, there and everywhere,” said Penny. During one production with a particularly large cast, they rented a bus to house the players that were off-stage and parked it in back – we failed to ask how they were cued.
So what kind of sadist would design such a thespian torture chamber? The Baptists. Although in fairness, they built it as a place of worship in the first half of the 19th century and not as a place for five lesbians to share a quiche in the 21st century. The former church once stood in Bedminster, but was purchased by the Methodists in 1854. It was hauled away in sections by mule-teams and reassembled on the corner of Grove Street and Maple Avenue in Chester. When the Methodists built a new church on Main Street, in 1911, the township purchased it for $550 and used it as the municipal building. It served the township in a variety of ways until it eventually became the permanent home of the Chester Theatre Group.
The first official season of the CTG opened in 1967/68. It was the “summer of love” in America, and the staging of plays by Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, and Cole Porter, were probably about as welcome in rural Chester as Woodstock would have been. “We had some controversial plays that a lot of people didn’t care for,” Penny admitted. Times have changed since then and the CTG is now celebrating their 50th Anniversary. According to Penny, one vital element to their success has been the promotion of directors.
“A lot of groups will choose a season and then find a director,” Penny told us. “We go the other way, we find a director and ask him or her ‘what would you like to do?’”
This “free and accessible venue for creative expression” invites a fresh perspective to selecting a project and ensures a variety of ideas that “does not limit itself solely to the commercial, the avant garde, or the classical; to dramas, musicals, or comedies; or even to plays.” This does not necessarily mean the possibilities are limitless. Ultimately, they always ask themselves the question: “Will the production be interesting, entertaining, and challenging enough to us and our audience to warrant production?”
“Our motto has always been ‘is it worth putting on and can we do it well?’” said Penny. “I always say there are only two shows that I didn’t think were very good (and I served wine before the shows). This theatre has a very high standard. One thing that makes our backstage a little harder is that we don’t ‘reward’ people. You won’t get a part if you’re not good enough. The best person gets the part – whether they come from our group, from another group, from anywhere - and they come from all over.”
Another key is passion, which is a word that is thrown around a lot when it comes to describing the arts. But if you understand the hours and toil that go into staging a play, not just on stage but behind the scenes as well, then you know the meaning of the word. “If you’re going to do it for free, you’d better love what you’re doing!” said Penny. “They’re doing it for love and they want to put on the best.”
I’m not an actor and except for watching my brother and little sister in a few high school productions, I wasn’t raised attending the theater. But one afternoon in my late-twenties, my wife and I saw Shakespeare & Company perform a gender role-switching production of The Taming of the Shrew in a barn, at The Mount, in Lennox Massachusetts, and we’ve never looked back. Theater isn’t just “live” it’s “alive” and it’s dangerous. It’s a high-wire act without a net, and you can become immersed in its spectacle. As Penny said, “There’s an electricity that goes on,” and you’re charged by it. I still love my screens, big and small, but the theater is a whole different animal. I don’t usually preach but cultural gems like the Chester Theatre Group are worth the evangelizing. If you’ve strayed away from the theater, then come on back and see what you’ve been missing. If you’ve never been, I urge you to put it on your bucket list and at least experience it once. Which I hope gets a big "amen" from the Susan B. Anthony Society for Sisters of Gertrude Stein.
54 Grove Street (at the corner of Maple Avenue), Chester, NJ.
Watch a trailer for 5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche by following the link below.
Contemporary abstract impressionist, Maureen Chatfield told us recently. “As Marianne Rosenberg said ‘Your work is not an accoutrement for a couch!’” We caught up to Maureen at her home in Mountainville, New Jersey to find out more about this dynamic artist and her work.
I’ve got to ask this one first. Did you really date Al Pacino?
Yes. He lived around the corner from me on the Upper East Side. What very few people know is how ridiculously funny he is.
Your art ranges from representational to expressionist to abstract. Can you tell us a little about that progression?
My path was to learn how to copy what I saw. Once I achieved that, I wanted to interpret images, or render impressions of reality. Next was the ultimate challenge of painting what is inside. Not so much images as feelings. There is nothing more challenging than to face a blank canvas with infinite possibilities and watch what emerges. Abstract expressionism is called action painting because it is spontaneous process, beyond thought.
I was particularly drawn to your “Ether” and “Out of My Mind” series. What lies behind the mixing of colors in these works and the contrast of latent and manifest emotions they evoke?
Van Gogh used color very purposefully. When he painted a melancholy tree he would select colors that evoked sadness. Picasso said that emotions ARE colors. When I am painting internally there is no thought process, no selecting colors, they literally select themselves. This is one of the hardest things for students of abstraction to grasp. When I say that the painting will speak to you I can feel their eyes roll.
Art can be incredibly cathartic. Do you ever step back after the mania of creation and think “Wow, I never knew I felt that way” or “Uh-oh, maybe I’ve bared a little too much?”
Ha-ha. Oh yes. My work is a visual diary. After a particularly upsetting situation I painted lots of very pointed, jagged objects. My dealer came out from NY and just stood there. He was grappling for something positive to say. Then he turned to me and said “Interesting. Not my favorite work.” When I retell the events behind the Out of My Mind series people always laugh. With enough distance, tragedy often becomes comical, but I assure you they weren’t funny at the time. Cartoons are often very violent but somehow they make us laugh. Maybe it’s a release. For certain, after I painted them there was a lightness that transformed those often disturbing memories.
One of your paintings hangs next to a Matisse in a private collection in New York City. I think that would thrill me and scare the hell out of me at the same time. How does it feel?
It’s an extraordinary feeling. If I died tomorrow I would certainly go to painters’ heaven! And even though it is an amazing honor, it still doesn’t make me feel like I’ve arrived! It doesn’t diminish the challenges I feel daily. The creative possibilities are infinite. Space cannot be conquered and you can never arrive!
You’ve recently been “discovered” by Marianne Rosenberg, granddaughter of legendary Parisian modern art dealer, Paul Rosenberg, who represented Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, among others. You’ve also been approached by the Osborne Samuel Gallery, one of London’s leading galleries of contemporary and modern art. Have you pinched yourself yet to see if you’re dreaming?
Are ya’ kidding? My arms are black and blue from pinching. And beyond the great honor of being included in Marianne’s gallery, it is such a thrill to work with her and her staff. I have never met anyone quite like her. She is as kind and gracious as she is intelligent and funny. She has great vision and makes everyone feel very special. A remarkable woman.
Is there a contemporary artist you are currently interested in?
There are several that I think are just brilliant. Stuart Shills, Eric Aho, Hyunmee, Alex Kanevsky.
You’ve experienced urban living, travelled the world... why do you opt for a “rustic chic” cabin in the woods of Mountainville, New Jersey?
This is a truly magical place. The visuals are breathtaking. I still can’t believe I live here. The topography is spectacular- open rolling hills, lush vegetation, and rambling streams. But best of all are the whacky creative neighbors that celebrate anything any time and enjoy installing visual displays just for the NEIGHBORHOOD, or for those lucky enough to pass by. NY is 40 miles away but “not for nuttin” The Tewksbury (Inn) rocks and it’s just down the hill. And how many people can say that their studio was once a “still.” One of the old local families said that there were actually several stills in Mountainville. Nobody ever ventured back into Mountainville. Why would you. Nothing there but dirt roads and big boulders.
If you could ask any artist from history one question - who would it be and what would you ask?
That’s a hard one. Okay, it would be John Singer Sargent and “How do you paint so much with sooooo few strokes.”
A student has a calling to paint but no experience. He or she comes to you for an art lesson - what’s the first thing you teach?
Whew, another great question. I teach them how to see. How to simplify what they are looking at.
If you were being filmed while painting and it was set to background music - what would be playing?
That depends on my mood. Music is extremely important to me. It is part of my art and propels me through the creative process. I make my own music with iTunes and have a very broad palette. I generally prefer uncluttered music. Bare bones, acoustic, Rhythm and Blues, Appalachian, Brazilian, African, some classical, jazz, 40s, Randy Newman, Dr. John. I’m all over the place but there is a consistency in rhythm that runs through them all. I don’t like a lot of treble and I can’t handle too much energy like “house” music when I paint, even though I love to dance.
Pictured above" "Over It" by Maureen Chatfield
See Maureen Chatfield speak about her process in creating one of her works at the s.h.e. gallery.
There’s an entire world unfolding in the pastures, paddocks, and pig sties of our New Jersey farms, but you have to take a closer look at the bucolic backdrop of grazing cattle or foraging hens to see it. You have to be patient, you have to be mindful, and you have to take the time to watch it being lived, something that local photographer, Teresa White, has discovered and brought to the forefront in her intimate, thought-provoking, often humorous, and, well, let’s just say it, aw-w-w-w-inspiring, collection of “Barnyard Moments.”
A self described “army brat,” Teresa was born in Germany, and lived on a base not far from where her mother grew up, on a large farm bordering the mythic Black Forest. She’d often visit her grandparents there and would explore the forest’s dark beauty with her mother, a woman “filled with so much love and compassion,” who instilled an appreciation of the natural world, and shared her fond memories of farm life with Teresa.
Her passion for photography was born from simple beginnings as the “family photographer,” chronicling holidays and special occasions, and capturing candid family moments and expressions. After she moved to New Jersey, and her youngest child entered kindergarten, she took a management job that required her to work the night shift, and as the challenges of motherhood and career played a tug of war for every spare moment, her photography receded into the shadows of a hectic daily routine.
After 21 years of being a wife and mother of four by day, and coping with the pressures of the job at night, the long hours and sleep deprivation began taking a toll physically and emotionally, and as Teresa described it, “devoured my inner spark.” Given the opportunity to take an early retirement package, Teresa “jumped on it,” and began the long journey of self rediscovery.
Teresa confessed that during that first year of retirement, she did “almost nothing” except take an excursion with her daughter to Seattle, Washington. It was during that trip that she reconnected with her camera, going through more rolls of film on their vacation than she had in a long time. “I started to remember how much I enjoyed watching life through the lens,” she recalled.
During a visit to a local farm, Teresa decided to grab her camera and start shooting. She snapped her first photo of a farm animal and it turned out to be an epiphanous encounter.
After developing the film, she created a card from the image to present to the farm owner. When she showed it to him, he was moved by the expression and animation she had revealed in her subject and thought it would make an ideal keepsake for visitors to purchase and remind them of their visit to the farm. Her first “barnyard moment” had opened the page of a new and fulfilling chapter in her life.
Inspired and mentored by other local photographers she met, who became close friends and nurturing advocates, Teresa began to “rediscover her roots through the lens.” She visited local farms with her camera and sat patiently in stillness, wholly in the moment, waiting for a magical, barnyard vignette to reveal itself. In doing so, she found the silence and mindfulness of the present that can be so elusive in the hectic lives we create but that is so necessary for the survival of our souls.
“I realized this is the same feeling I had when I was watching and waiting behind the camera for that special moment with my children,” Teresa remembered. “Suddenly a flood of emotions came over me from when I was a child and everything my parents stood for. The deep love and care they had for all living things and to always put your whole heart and soul into everything you do. Growing up with so much quiet time, I had endless amounts of patience. I am forever grateful for this peacefulness they instilled in me. I was truly feeling life again.
Whether I was wet, muddy, covered in cow slobber, or so frozen I couldn’t move the dials on the camera, I felt such an immeasurable joy inside. Watching animal behavior (much the same as children) spanned the spectrum of emotions from joy, sadness, laughing so hard I could barley hold the camera still, to being moved to tears seeing a mother call her child. Observing all their antics unfold in front of me is when I forget about all material things and only living happy, content and at peace within myself was all that mattered.”
Looking at Teresa’s stirring images, you’re drawn to ask the question, “how was she able to witness those tender moments, those subtle expressions, or that unbridled glee?” Teresa credits “another force” but perhaps it’s the inner peace, joy, and tranquility that she exudes when connecting with her simple subjects that convinces them to drop their inhibitions for a second or two and to allow her an intimate, candid look at farm life from a special perspective.
Teresa continues on her journey of artistic and personal discovery, and through her images she offers us an opportunity to sit quietly with her for a moment, patiently staring down the lens, unaware of yesterday or tomorrow, just living, as the animals in her photos do, for the present.
See more of Theresa White's photography on our Photo Gallery page!
Teresa offers note cards, prints and other products featuring her photography.
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