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Griffin to Go: When the Time’s Right …

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A steamboat heads down the Ohio River.

No one has ever accused me of doing things in a logical order. The most recent example was going to hear James McMurtry play. The singer-songwriter lives in Austin and plays at the Continental Club most every Wednesday evening. So, what’s so unusual about that? Well, nothing, except I didn’t see him in Austin. I didn't even see him at John T. Floore Country Store, where he played April 23. I saw him in Louisville, Ky., last week where he played for one of the many events leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Earlier that day, I finished Stephen King’s latest novel, “Under the Dome,” which uses one of McMurtry’s songs, "Talking at the Texaco," as a leitmotif that recurs throughout its more than 1,000 pages. So, having read so much about this song where everyone supports the home team, I was naturally curious to hear the Texan play. Besides, the concert was free, always a lure for me no matter the locale.
James McMurtry

James McMurtry

While waiting for McMurtry's set to begin, I found myself walking around, drinking in the gorgeous evening and setting. The scene was a park along the Ohio River with the stage just on the edge of the water. An old-fashioned steamboat chugged past the opening act, heading west; a barge moving coal eastward glided by  behind the stage shortly after. A trio of hot-air balloons were tethered to the ground. This was a special treat for me since the annual derby balloon race that was to have occurred the weekend before was rained out. Children of all ages crowded around each. Some of the smaller kids were hoisted into one of the baskets for photos, and you could hear them scream in delight whenever a gust of flame would shoot upward from just above their heads into the vast cloth caverns. Of course, there was a food row, where you could feast on Texas barbecue out of Fort Worth, jumbo pork tenderloin sandwiches that hung over the edges of the bun by several inches, and freshly squeezed lemonade with plenty of lemon sugar stirred in. Pizza, gyros, funnel cakes and handmade corn dogs were some of the other treats available at the stands.

An order of fried butter coming up.

As good as all of that sounded, my attention quickly fixed on two words that shone from one booth like a lighthouse beacon in a storm: fried butter. The butter fanatic in me almost cried with joy when it sank in that this treat, about which I had heard rumors, was only a few feet away. As soon as I placed my order, a cook headed for a freezer unit from which he drew six flour-white squares. He dropped them into the fry vat, and it took a moment before I realized what I had really ordered: the dessert equivalent of butter-filled ravioli. When the small pockets were golden brown, the cook removed them from the oil, drained them and then sprinkled on a light layer of cinnamon sugar. Then they were all mine. I bit into the first and was immediately ready to sing something of my own, something less sardonic than McMurtry’s musical stories and more along the lines of “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.” Imagine buttery pastry with a puddle of melted butter at the center. Without thinking, three disappeared. Then I heard a voice from the outer world bringing me back to earth. “So, how is it? That’s the fried butter, right?”

That's right. Fried butter.

I looked around and saw a woman who had obviously contemplated buying her own order but needed a little guidance. “Hmmhmhmm, yum,” I managed, juggling speech with a mouthful of buttery goodness. She got the message and took her place in line. All too soon, all six in the order disappeared, but not before several other people also sought an opinion. I managed to be a little more articulate, telling one man that it was quite wonderful, though one order was rich enough for an entire evening. I enjoyed the evening, even if I never recognized "Talking at the Texaco." But it didn’t matter. McMurtry's music was fascinating; the lyrical stories he writes are spare, lean and masterful. And if I hadn’t gone, I never would have experienced the joy of fried butter, which was also masterful, if anything but lean.
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