I have, over the years, participated as a spectator, a stage daddy, a DJ, and an emcee. Yes I said emcee. My friend, Barry Thigpen, would probably like to erase this fact from his Nationals memory, but it's one of my personal favorites. I'm not sure of the exact year, but it was the late eighties. In those days I tended to get a real fast start on my buzz, and that Friday night was no exception. I had already tossed back three or four adult beverages in quick succession, when Teresa Dew ( then a member of the Nationals committee) found me and told me that the emcee was a no show and informed me that I would be the emcee for that night. My confession of having had a few cocktails didn't seem to deter her. Maybe because in those days, drinkin and smokin in a honky tonk was what you did and there were no political correctness police to call. But I digress. Teresa took me over and introduced me to Barry, who quickly handed me the list of contestants and the microphone and said "let's get started".
I nestled in to my seat next to the dance floor, lit up a cigarette, took a big hit off my vodka drink, and introduced the first couple. Previous to that night my only experience doing a big time dance contest was Ducks Across The Street's Halloween shag contest. I figured what the hell, it's the same thing, I'm just not playing the music. I thought the night went pretty well, all things considered. All the contestants got to dance, I got drunk, I had fun, and...I got drunk and I had fun. Later that night at breakfast Barry asked me if I would show up at Studebaker's the next day about two, for the non-pro cut, in case their guy was a no show again. He was a no show, but before we started that day Barry said to me," just introduce the couples and keep your comments to yourself." That Saturday afternoon the contestants danced, I didn't get drunk, I didn't have as much fun, but I got the feeling that Barry enjoyed it a lot more. To this day, I'm the only person who has both DJ'd ,and Emceed the Nationals. To me that's a pretty special memory. Thanks Barry.
In the early nineties, a group of new junior shaggers burst on the Nationals scene. Among others, there were names like Beaver, Smith, Best, Key, and a kid named Hamrick. There were others of course who would go on to leave their mark on our dance, but I mention these five for a specific reason. Some of the most special memories I have of the Nationals, are of the long, cold, windy afternoons spent waiting in line outside Studebaker's. Harold Beaver, Stacy Smith, Pete Best, Ken Key, and I would get to Studebakers about noon to stake our place in line. There were other folks as well in line, but these were my "buds". We all had our favorite table we just had to have by the dance floor, to see our "babies" dance. We spent untold hours in those lines each day and each year at the Nationals. We would take turns holding each others spot in line for bathroom breaks, food, and beer runs. We shared cigarettes and swaped lies. There were a lot of words between us over the years, but never a cross one. Yeah I'm sure that all of us wanted our child to win, hell I know I did, but we never talked about winning, just that we hoped they all had a good dance.
Am I glad I don't have to sit in that line any more? You bet your ass I am. But if I had to again, those are the guys I'd like to have there with me.