Hollerin' - Various Artists
Rounder Records

(Originally published in the Pittsburgh City Paper's Bin There, Heard That column)

Perhaps the ultimate example of academic over-documentation and fetishization, Hollerin' collects recordings of contestants in the annual contest in Spivey's Corner, NC (population 49). Each year in late June, thousands of entrants and spectators gather for a cacophonous weekend of wholesome fun. The contest began in 1969 as a fund-raiser for the local fire department, and was jokingly intended to revive the "lost art" of hollerin'.

Prior to the wiring of America, rural folk -- perhaps needing help extracting Pa from beneath an overturned thresher -- utilized hoarse falsetto screams to summon neighbors. They had other hollers for specialized purposes such as summoning the hogs and stopping rabbits. Why someone would want to stop rabbits is never made clear. A good holler could be heard 5 or 6 miles away. Over the years, some folks began to holler for less practical purposes, screaming hymns and popular secular tunes, thus becoming the first neighborhood noise pollution irritants.

As a means of communication, field hollering was useful in its time, but is hardly the stuff of entertainment. Imagine listening to an album full of phone conversations and you'll get the picture – amusing in small doses, but tedious after a few minutes.

Contest winners routinely appeared on television as guests of Johnny Carson and David Letterman, reliable time fillers that gave the comedians easy laughs as they raised their eyebrows in faux bemusement, while stroking the egos of their "sophisticated" audience. Chuckling at the farm folk – that's always good TV fare!

Rounder Records sent its field crews to Spivey's Corner in 1975 and 1976, skimming the cream for this bizarre record. Most of the contestants add rustic color by starting off with a little story before launching into their tuneless whooping. A farmer named O.B. Jackson seems to have been the Pavarotti of hollerin', croaking out such favorites as "Shortnin' Bread," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "I Shall Not Be Moved," and "Happy Birthday." O.B. sounds like a cross between an injured dachshund and a nose flute played through a Marshall amplifier with broken speaker cones and faulty wiring. He provides the album's high points.

Twenty-five years later, Hollerin' is still in print, in pristine digital audio. The FBI should keep a copy handy, in case they have occasion to flush another David Kouresh out of a barricaded compound.

The contest still lives, too. The "semi-official" Hollerin' web page is