Thursday, August 3, 2017

Cooter's Last Stand

 On Sunday I drove down to Luray, VA, where Ben Jones from the Dukes of Hazzard TV show has a store and was this weekend hosting an event called Cooter's Last Stand. All the surviving cast, from 40 years ago when filming started, were going to be there for a reunion along with the vehicles and replicas used in the show. Ben Jones has had back surgery and can't stand for too long so this would possibly be the last time the crew would be together, hence the event's title.
I turned up at the entrance and was sent back to a field down a dirt road, but which surprisingly was easy to access the event to by foot. Entering the huge crowds was also easy, this event was well organized. There were lines to enter the store and lines for cast autographs but what blew me away was seeing a field filled with hundreds of General Lees.
Over 200 had registered to attend and they were coming from all over the country. Apparently Ben hadn't seen this many together since events from 2006 and 2007. It certainly was an impressive sight.  The whole scene in front of me was orange, the orange cars and also  many orange event t-shirts. The cast were in tents with queues stretching back, people standing but a lot sitting. One guy had spent 8 hours on Saturday lining up for Catherine (Daisy Duke) Bach's autograph but then today had got his two daughters to stand in separate lines so when he was done in his he could hop over and get those autographs too. 
I strolled around the Civil War reenactment area at the back of the field where the horses stood under shady trees and people in costume sat by their tents. I also checked out the merch tent too, which was selling out fast. nearly everyone here was wearing some kind of Hazzard shirt.
The show theme wasn't limited to just cars either. I loved this motorbike and as well as the mower there were trucks with the General Lee theme, orange with a confederate flag on the roof and a big 01 on the sides.
There were plenty of Flash dogs, sitting in sheriff cars, the lazy hound who belonged to Rosco and always barked at Boss Hog.
This was the only Sheriff Little vehicle on the field which surprised me, and obviously it got plenty of attention.
I had to sit up in this beast and have my picture taken. I've been up close to monster trucks before but this was the first time I've had an opportunity to sit in one. It was quite a clamber up, sliding between the poles of the frame and finding footholds but was actually very comfy once I was inside. There was another of these same trucks but with seats in the back which offered  2 minute rides for $20. I wasn't tempted.
I kept looking out for Batman and Captain America who were making an appearance, but I guess that was Saturday only, because I never saw them, only this lady who was dressed in a Wonder Woman outfit.
 This charger was smashed up in Detroit doing a ramp to ground jump. It's owner started his stunt career at 18 years old, he's now in his 50's.
Sitting in my own General Lee. What an awesome car! And my favorite color. I was in a great mood all day even though the sun was hot, and I think it must have been not only because there was a great crowd here, but because I was surrounded by so much orange.
Boss Hogg and Sheriff Little. Not the originals because sadly, they have passed, but these two were a brilliant team and had us in stitches as they performed routines while walking around the field. And they kept up their bickering banter for hours amusing everyone.
To escape the sun, I went to the gift shop. There was a queue outside of here too, queues everywhere, but no trouble or arguments, everyone was so polite and gracious. Even the kids were great, I don't recall one instance of being annoyed by one all day, (a rare event), and Cooter did say at the end that there hadn't been one single incident all weekend where the police were actually needed.
The merchandise was selling fast, some of the shelves empty already, but I held off purchasing anything, I can come back when the store has been replenished and the crowds have gone. Old episodes of the show were playing above large comfy chairs and there was even a sound studio where for $20 you could be recorded and take away a CD of yourself singing the theme tune.
Once I had cooled off I returned outdoors and headed for the area where the Civil War reenactment would take place. I chatted with another photographer lady and a gentleman gave us both chairs to sit on. We felt very spoiled as we sat in comfort right at the front of the ropes. We all chatted until the cannons were rolled out. These fired at each other a few times and then the infantry started shooting.
I was extremely pleased with the shots I got of the infantry and cavalry. Not having a long lens meant I couldn't do close ups but I was ecstatic that I'd caught some of the guns firing. It was a gallant battle, plenty of gunfire and thundering hoofs, and even some casualties, which drew roars of laughter from the crowds as the soldiers would walk past a 'body' and give it a nudge with their boots to see if there was any life left in him. Personally, I reckoned the dead were quite happy to be lying in the cool grass and resting, rather than rushing about with heavy uniforms and weapons. There was plenty of action, the confederate flag rushing back and forth until it was finally declared that the south had won. The Southern Cross was victoriously paraded to whistles, hoots and cheers from the spectators. No Union supporters here, it seemed. I clapped until the palms of my hands hurt and then went to get a bottle of water to soothe my hoarse throat. My next stop was the stage tent.
As I walked in, the difference in temperature was amazing, it was so much cooler. But there was a lot of mud. I managed to get to nearly the front then sat on a dry dusty area where I leaned against one of the huge metal tent posts. Not being a fan of bluegrass music, I hadn't given the tent much attention during the afternoon, but I wanted to be here as the Dukes of Hazzard cast would all arrive soon, and I was curious to see what they looked like after so many years. It had been impossible to see them from the autograph lines, they'd been inside small tents that protected them from the sun.
I settled back and immediately my feet started tapping to the music. This band was incredible. And they were bluegrass, with a superb sound. I listened to 5 tracks, loving them all. The leader was Jesse McReynolds, a lively 88 year old musician who was leading his band, The Virginia Boys. He's been playing for over 70 years and was quite simply, superb. I wished I had their full performance on video but I only have the one song, here.
I also videoed Ben and the Dukes of Hazzard cast on stage, here, with Cooter's Garage Band. This worked out better than I'd hoped since I was using my iPhone to video and then holding my camera to take photos with my other hand. At the end when other photographers and the crowd stood up, I had to give up. The audience were going nuts and Ben was loving every second of it. .Everybody stood and cheered and clapped, the atmosphere was electric and I stood there grinning hugely, but unable to clap since both hands were full of electronics. For a show that the Los Angeles Times had said, "This show will not last past the first commercial break" 37 years ago, its popularity is still as strong as ever.
Then Ben announced the last event of the day, the General lee would do a ramp to ramp jump. Folks piled outside and we all rushed to the ropes. I was lucky again to be at the front and started chatting with a couple of guys who had been here the whole weekend, even showing me the jump from the day before. The Charger was modified so it was actually a Ford Crown Victoria underneath with a Charger chassis on top. apparently the Victoria's suspension is easier to work on and quicker to replace, an important fact when time is racing by. And really, who's looking to check out what the car comprises of when it's whizzing past and then sailing through the air?
First, the sheriff came busting past us, followed by the General Lee, as they made their way to the starting point. I managed to capture some OK shots and then held my camera out in front of me, thinking they'd return promptly. But we had to wait a while. I suppose they were doing last minute safety checks, but then we heard the engines roaring and the General Lee hammered past us about 70mph, kicking up clouds of dust behind it. I didn't wait to see the sheriff's car, I swung round, following the star of the show closely in my viewfinder, eager to capture it in mid air.
And saw this. Just an image full of dust. Couldn't see either car, not even one corner of a bumper, or a flash of color. I turned around to my new buddies who were standing still, open mouthed in disbelief, and then we burst out laughing. Well, we'd been there, even if we hadn't seen it. We gave each other high fives and then I pushed through the fog to see the cars. A couple of drones had been flying, so I knew I'd be able to look for those videos or someone else's on the internet in a couple of days. And sure enough, I did. A video of the jump from Saturday was posted to YouTube, when the ground was muddier from Friday's rain and not throwing so much dust in the air. Awesome!
The show was over. I made my way to Stanley as fast as I could, walking alongside a General Lee, it's horn pumping out the familiar toot, and others following suit. We'd heard this Dixie horn all day long, but amazingly it hadn't annoyed me, of course these cars owners would want to salute each other and everyone in general, 'scuse the pun. I was expecting to wait a good 30-40 minutes at least to get off the grounds and couldn't believe my luck when I was speeding down Rte 211, following 3 General Lees only 10 minutes later. I followed the vehicles all the way to Front Royal, the four of us thundering down Rte 340, me with a big grin as I kept up behind their roaring engines. It had been an exceptionally fun day, I'd met some great people, and as Ben Jones says in this WHSV3 News video, "It makes people happy." He was right! And this blog wouldn't be quite complete without a car chase with the good ole boys.

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