I reckon good people are not too hard to find if you know where to look and it is easy to find bad people if you don’t. I thought The Woodzie would be a good place to find good people and I was right about that.  It is a small, family style, folk music festival between San Antonio and Austin that takes place every spring on John and Jimmie Bell Whipple’s land.

That’s right. It is run by John Whipple. John Whipple isn’t the most uncommon name in the world. The first John Whipple I ran into was on the internet. He is a photographer and he grabbed “johnwhipple.com” before I could.

Bastard.

Another John Whipple came to one of my shows in Portland. He seemed a good sort too. I haven’t met a John Whipple I didn’t like. I encountered John Whipple, the folk musician from New Braunfels Texas, on the internet as well. It was inevitable that we run into each other having the same name and both of us playing music. I learned about the Woodzie a few years back and had been meaning to go but Texas is so very far.

This would be the year. My friend Matt was traveling with me and driving his much more comfortable truck. It is a long long barren haul across the I-10 from El Paso to… well… anywhere. It took the entire day and it was dark by the time we entered “Whippleworld”.

 (yes, that is what this place is called).

There was a song circle going around a fire so I picked up my guitar and joined in. I always find it is best to introduce myself through music. I was explaining to Matt that life gets better after I play. Before I perform I am just another stranger… another tourist… another barefoot jerk. After I perform things are very different. People bring me food and drink. Some even welcome me into their home and give me a nice place to lie down for a night. People smile and wave as I pass. Life gets better.

So I introduced myself as “John Whipple”… which startled everyone. I actually go by “J.P.Whipple” now but I couldn’t resist having fun with this situation. Though I play a lot of acoustic music I don’t play like most of the pickers there. I am self taught… guided by instincts… good and bad… when it comes to my guitar playing. I lean heavily towards jazz, blues and funk. It is an odd and somewhat idiosyncratic style but that is what happens when you pick up the guitar for one purpose only: To write songs. The folks around the fire appreciated it though. I had performed. Things would get better.

John Whipple came and sat down nearby. “Hello John Whipple” he said and I replied “Howdy John Whipple”. He played a song with his wife Jimmie Bell joining in. I would later hear his son sing a song and I would see his sister perform some gypsy jazz the next day. We are a musical bunch, the Whipples.

 

I heard there were two brothers Whipple who got off the boat in the Colonial Days. Each started a family and their descendents went forth and multiplied. John Whipple’s son theorized that we both descended from the same brother who was known throughout the colonies for his musical prowess… or something.

My mother traced most of our ancestors to the Old World but, as far as I know, the Whipple’s are still a mystery. I can only go back to Park Whipple, my great grandfather, who I have taken my middle name from. I have no idea where he came from.

One thing we modern Whipple’s all do share is the bane of Mister Whipple, a fictional character played by Dick Wilson who was featured in toilet paper commercials for something like forty years. Any Whipple growing up in those years heard this catch phrase over and over:

“Mister Whipple, please don’t squeeze the Charmin!”

In the morning, I took a walk around Whippleworld. At most every campground I was invited to sit ad hear someone perform a song. Then I would be asked to play one myself. Then I would be offered food, drink and maybe something else. This is the way of The Woodzie. Hear a song. Play a song. Enjoy some Texas hospitality. Repeat. There was an official stage with great sound brought in, set up and ran for the entire festival by a generous local engineer. With so many singer-guitarists performing I decided it would be best to give them a taste of the one man band. A little something different… So I did a quick set… changing instruments every song. I think they enjoyed that.

People brought in Barbeque, deserts, salads and exotic dishes of all sorts. Everything I tried was good. I went a little crazy for the BBQ myself. When I went back to the communal table for thirds… or fourths… or whatever it was by then (there were some kegs flowing too…) an exasperated woman said “You are welcome to try the salad.” Apparently it wasn’t the favorite dish there but for me, it was a terrific idea.

It was all family style. I walked by as a father held his son’s beer so his son could light his bowl. That’s family values I can get behind. Children were playing. Beer was flowing. The food was great. Musicians were sharing. As an introduction to that foreign land that is Texas I could not have possibly done better. At sunset, Jimmie Bell Whipple brought us all to an open field and we gathered in a circle to introduce ourselves. When my turn came I shouted:

“I am John Whipple!”

And proud of it, dammit.

 

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