For his whole career as a bluegrass entertainer, James King had devoted and very loyal fans who sang his praises. Much of that came from the way King inserted raw emotion into a song, but another part was from the way he interacted with people at his shows.
He had the heart of a clown, and a real people-pleaser personality, and it led him to continue entertaining his followers out in the campgrounds or in the lobby of theater shows. James might jump into his legendary Cowardly Lion impression, or simply regale a group of well-wishers with road stories or tales of The Stanley Brothers who he loved dearly. But at root, James’ fans knew that he really cared about them, and they connected in a truly personal way.
One of his favorite ways to give back to his fans started at the annual Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival in Indiana. King was a regular attendee, and would often stay for several days before or beyond his scheduled stage date, just to spend time with friends and interact with fans. He started a tradition of making fresh tomato sandwiches for fans in the campground, which he described as ‘mater sammiches.
Over the years it became a big deal at Bean Blossom, with large quantities of bread, mayo, and fresh tomatoes required to satisfy the demand. People loved having a brief chat with with James as he put the sandwiches together and served them out, and many have cherished photos of the experience.
When James passed in May of last year, regular Bean Blossom attendees thought that the tradition would die. But for this year’s festival, Junior Sisk picked up the torch and is carrying it forward for his dear friend. Last Saturday he was there in his camo bibs, passing out the ‘mater sammiches in James’ stead, and from all reports, doing a fine job.
It’s a beautiful way to remember King, and in a modest, intimate way, keep him here with us after he has gone.
Hats off to Junior Sisk!