When I was 15 my father discovered the "Dancing Outlaw" on local public TV. He was so entertained by the documentary about tap dancer and Elvis impersonator, Jesco White, that he had my mom get a VHS copy of the film from a friend at the station. He then screened it for just about anyone that walked into his house. See, White's story was part of West Virginia Public Television's "Different Drummer" series and if there's two things dad loved it was WV and any weird, colorful characters deemed "different." I have seen the movie more times than I can count (and few times by choice).
Twenty years later, my dad is long gone, but despite his hard living, Jesco is still around. He performs Thursday at Amos' Southend (1423 S. Tryon St.) at 8:30 p.m.
The original movie is kind of a wild and crazy story about one of the poorest families in my home state of West Virginia and its butane-huffing favorite son. It's funny, it's sad (White talks a lot about his deceased father), and a bit disturbing. In the years since, White's become somewhat of a white trash celebrity. Yes, West Virginia has Jennifer Garner, "Super Size Me's" Morgan Spurlock, True Blood's Sam Trammell, and Jesco White. He appeared on "Roseanne" and his trip to Hollywood was documented in a 1999 sequel. Friend Hank Williams III, whose grandfather actually died in the backseat of a car only a couple of hours from where the Whites live, paid tribute to the fabled family in song. In 2010 the producers of "Jackass" made another film about "The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia." It aired on premium cable channels this summer.
I always felt like most people watch the Whites for the humor. And this family can find humor in the worst situations. But the film produced by Johnny Knoxville and company focuses on the family's harsh reality and touches on the reasons why murder, drugs, adultery, jail and the like is a big part of its life. Jesco actually seems pretty well adjusted in his old age compared to some of the relatives the movie centers around. There's still some craziness - one couple is married in what appears to be a convenience store.
When the subject of Jesco comes up I am quick to tell people that he is not typical of West Virginia. That these are not my people. But in a way they are. I am simultaneously embarrassed by and defensive of them. When I watch "The Wild and Wonderful Whites..." I have empathy for some of these characters - especially the children that are growing up there. Some of my dad's friends were White-like. Some of the scenes are filmed only five minutes from the house where I grew up. I watch it and wonder why I left and why so many others don't have that choice.
Don't get me wrong. I prefer the mountains, the weather, and the small town safety there. I love having a state park where I can get lost in the woods 15 minutes from my house. But because of the economy, job opportunities, and honestly, a lack of touring bands, I never considered staying. The most recent film partly blames geographical isolation for the Whites' carefree and careless lifestyle, but the success of these movies has enabled Jesco White and occasionally sister Mamie, who is scheduled to accompany him at Amos' Thursday, to get out, see at least part of the world, and make somewhat of a living.
I'm not sure what the crowd should expect Thursday. There is certainly potential for it to be a train wreck, but the same can be said for the Britney Spears' show that same night. White, who performed at The Milestone last year (I was busy having a baby so I missed it), is said to dance, drink, and cover a few songs. Maybe his sister will get up and bellow "Coal Miner's Daughter" like she does in the film. Whatever the case, you can be they'll be spreading a little Boone County wherever they go.
Tickets are $15-$18 available at www.etix.com