Mike who? Lennox what? Shoot! Boxing just ain't what it used to was back when Gibson County, Tennessee, was a pugilistic hotbed, a time that is well beyond memory's reach for even the oldest Gibson Countians. But legend, in lieu of memory, holds that bare-knuckled men once stood toe-to-toe beating the juice out of one another in a vicious event affectionately known as "skullboning." And it's that same bloody event that gave the Kingdom of Skullbonia (120 miles north of Memphis, pop. 75) its unusual, decidedly foreboding moniker.
A mural on the wall of a tiny general store/mayor's office memorializes the pugilistic glory of Skullbonia's past. The region's future hinges on the success of Skullbone Music Park, which has been accurately described as one of the weirdest music venues in the country. SMP, which has, in its short, three-year existence, witnessed concerts by Lynyrd Skynyrd, .38 Special, Nazareth, Charlie Daniels, and George Jones, is kicking off its summer season with a little show called the Rock Never Stops Tour, featuring '80s bands Tesla, Skid Row (sans Sebastian), Jackal (yes, Jackal can a Wasp reunion be far off?), and Mötley Crüe's own Vince Neil.
"I went to St. Louis a few weeks ago and saw the show," says SMP founder Allen Blankenship, "and I've been thinking. And there's only one way to describe this show, and that's 'KICK ASS!' It's not a 'hair band'-era kind of thing. It's more what I call blue-jean rock kick-you-in-the-ass blue-jean rock."
For Blankenship, who has been in the concert business for 22 years and has booked everything from frat parties to the monolithic Sturgis biker rally, operating this music park in the boonies is a dream come true. It's also quite a challenge.
"Some people want to label us redneck theater," Blankenship says. "But it's not really a redneck theater, it's just in the middle of nowhere." So in the middle of nowhwere, in fact, that some performers have had a hard time finding it. According to Blankenship, novelty country act Cletus T. Judd took a wrong turn and ended up looking out over a vast clay pit. "Dang," Cletus reportedly shouted, convinced he'd found the park. "It ain't even built yet!"
Being located in the middle of nowhere and given to booking faded Southern rock, all-but-forgotten metal, and country acts have hardly helped Skullbone shake its "redneck" image. The New York Times reported that in Skullbonia, Confederate flags fly like racial slurs and vendors sell Klan paraphernalia and T-shirts bearing slogans like "The Original Boys in the Hood."
"Supposedly, there were some vendors selling white-supremacy T-shirts and stuff like that," Blankenship says. "In reality, though, they weren't. It was just the reporter's impression of that event coming down from New York City do you see what I'm saying? And that may be bad publicity, but to me that's kinda good publicity too. Sharon Osbourne said it best: No publicity is bad publicity. When she first put Ozzy back on the road with the Blizzard of Oz Tour, he was going into every town and urinating on something in that town and getting arrested for it. Well, it would be all over the radio the next day 'Ozzy arrested for urinating on Beale Street.' He got arrested for urinating on the Alamo. He urinated on the Washington Monument. But all this white supremacy, that's a bunch of crap. We're in the South here, and if somebody's flying a Confederate flag, it's part of heritage. I'm not a racist person, I'm a promoter. There's only one color, green, know what I'm saying? I don't care what color you are. Black, yellow, brown, in between, mixed, up and down, red, white, or blue, you are welcome at Skullbone Music Park."
Currently, the park holds 5,000 visitors, and unlike most venues, guests are encouraged to bring their coolers, though there is a $10 cooler fee. "We offer camping," Blankenship says. "And that's a good thing because people can go to a show and not worry too much about the consumption of alcoholic beverages." The park also offers a nondrinking section for those who prefer not to imbibe. In the years to come, Blankenship hopes to add a second, larger stage, on-site beer vending, and what he calls a "treesort" a sort of motel made out of treehouses. But right now, Blankenship is just trying to make the best out of what he has, while sparring with some locals who think the SMP is nothing but a den of iniquity.
"We're in the Bible Belt here," Blankenship says with a sigh. "Don't get me wrong. I have the utmost respect for a true Christian. Where I have a problem is people that point their finger with a holier-than-thou attitude. But that's a political or a religious issue. It's something you don't want to discuss at the bar, know what I mean? It don't matter if I built Disney World down here, somebody would have complained."
On the other hand, there are thousands of folks who aren't complaining a bit: people who used to have to drive for hours into Nashville, Memphis, or St. Louis to see a rock-and-roll show. "We're a household word for a 75-mile radius," Blankenship boasts. "Now we want to get into the Memphis and Nashville markets. Our motto is 'No need to go to the city anymore when the concert's right here at your back door. All roads lead to Skullbone, and it's worth the drive.' The reason I threw that last line in there is because people in the city might be ready to get out of the city, know what I'm saying? You can drive up from the city and see a show our style. It gets people out of the concrete, know what I'm saying?"
The Rock Never Stops Tour
Saturday, June 8th
Skullbone Music Park
Tickets: 1-877-548-3237 or www.skullbonepark.com