Coffeyville, Kansas

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by Jan Seides
Thursday 4th June, 2009, 1:43pm

This quilt was made by one of the residents at the Windsor Place Nursing Home in Coffeyville. The award on the corner is First Place in a nationwide competition!

This week I’m playing various venues in a very small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town in Kansas called Coffeyville. There is a Wal-Mart here, a string of fast-food places (I have to bring my own food – there is nothing I can eat here), lots of railroad activity, and a small art center which once hosted a quilt show of which there are pictures in my website gallery.  I’m told there is an warehouse here too, but I’ve never seen it. There may be some oil production activity too, because I can smell it in the air. The weather is unpredictable at best, and the last time I was here, I spent most of the week watching the weather channel and waiting to be wafted away by the next tornado. I know how all this sounds, but I’m developing a certain fondness for Coffeyville. This is my fourth time to visit. You wouldn’t think adventure would be on the menu in a place like that, but it is.

First I’ll give you the bare-bones backdrop of my situation. During the school-year, the Coffeyville Community College offers a course in the humanities that includes bringing performance artists to the town for the better part of a week. Each performer does a show for the College, a full day at the high school in a neighboring town (Caney, KS) which caters to the students both of Coffeyville and Caney. The rest of the week is devoted to performances at the local retirement communities and nursing homes. The reason most of the performers do it, I suspect, is because it pays better than average wages. I’ve done my Yiddish songs here, and also my Broadway show, both of which were developed for Coffeyville and went on to other venues.

The college students do an evaluation of the performances for their grade, and often, if they are allowed a Q&A session, they ask pretty thoughtful questions. The high school students are somewhat less attentive, but this was explained to me the first time I came here. The teacher in charge told me that more than a few of them had been up helping with various efforts on their parents’ farms, and they couldn’t help falling asleep every time the lights were dim enough. All of the students I talked with seemed very bright, and well-brought-up, so I took that as truth. The nursing homes/retirement communities are all receptive and welcoming. The residents range from incoherent to very sharp, and none are as spry as they once were. My favorite one is a place called Medicalodge, where the residents are fun-loving and cheerful participants.

During the summer months, the trip consists of three days, all spent in the nursing homes and assisted living condos, as the college and high school are not in session from June to September. This trip, I’m doing original music, and though I had misgivings about that, it’s been a lot of fun. I was worried that the residents wouldn’t be interested in the music, but the folks at Medicalodge sang along as if they already knew the words, the folks who usually doze off did so, and most folks have been attentive and laughed in the right places and clapped just like they always do. What more could I ask.

The best thing that happened this trip is that there was another performer here this week. During the summer the performers can stay in the College dorm for free. The other performer, a woman named Marianne from Lawrence, Kansas, was my suite-mate (a word I haven’t used since before I was 20). In other words, she and I are in separate bedrooms in the same suite. I had brought my recording equipment with me to complete sketches of the songs I want on my next CD, and at one point, when I’d stopped playing, there was a knock at the door. Marianne had heard me through our shared wall, and asked if I was interested in jamming with her that evening. She plays guitar and violin, both extremely well, and has a beautiful voice. So beautiful, in fact, if we’d had time, I would have asked her to put down some tracks on one of my songs. But she had to leave today, since her gig was M-T-W, and mine is T-W-Th. Her normal gig is with a Celtic/anything band called Rowan. We traded contact info, talked about potential gigs together in Lawrence and Austin, and I told her she was welcome at my house any time. So I have a new friend, and I really do hope she takes me up on that. And I have a new appreciation for Coffeyville.

Category: Venues

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