40 strong years of dancing in Finger
By Jeff Whitten
The Finger Square Dance is more than 40 years old but is not having a midlife crisis.
It has changed with the times, though. The do-se-dos have been replaced by line dances and the fiddles and banjos have been replaced with electric guitars and keyboards, but not much else has changed.
The dance is also unusual because it funds the town of Finger.
According to Mayor Robert Heathcock, the town typically makes around $1,200 from the gate and concessions combined.
Heathcock called the square dance, “The Grand ‘Ol Opry of Square Dances.”
He noted it is “a good, clean environment to bring kids to.”
The Mayor gives high marks to the Tumbleweed Band, who plays at the Finger dance every Friday night.
He told the March meeting of the Board of Aldermen, “The door since we hired the new band is tremendous.”
The Mayor said the dance typically draws 200 people.
The band has been together under the current name and line-up for about four years, although members of the band have been playing together for about 25 or 30 years, according to keyboard player Lytle Smith.
When asked how many bands he has been in Smith said, “Man, I couldn’t tell you.”
Smith said “Yes, siree,” when asked if the Finger dance was his favorite.
Steve Hughes, the lead singer of the band has had a record deal.
Joannie Pickens also sings with the band and plays rhythm guitar. Billy Pickens is the lead guitar player. Steve Hughes also plays rhythm guitar and does lead vocals. Lytle Smith is the keyboard player. Corbin Jerrolds is the bass player. Stan Clayton is the drummer.
The Pickens’ are from Savannah, Jerrolds is from Olive Hill, Tenn., Smith is from Clifton, Tenn. Steve Hughes is from Alamo, Tenn. Clayton is from Pinson.
Billy Pickens has played with Darrell Worley, the Mandrells, Keith Whitley and Red Sovine.
The Tumbleweeds have been together about four years, according to Joanie Pickens.
The band formed when its members played together for benefits “and various things,” Pickens said. The band originally played at the Tumbleweed Club in Savannah, from which it got its name.
Pickens said that right now, this is the only dance the Tumbleweeds plays.
In addition to Savannah, the band has played at Reagan and at the Double Ds in Crump.
Pickens said she has been in a band ever since she was 11 years old.
“When I was that young, it was with my family,” she said.
Pickens said the band is just a sideline now.
In her day jobs, Pickens is a housecleaner and a beautician. Hughes is a city worker, Clayton is a nurse, Smith has a wood shop and Jerrolds works for the county.
Pickens is a songwriter who has written songs for Joseph Baldwin, and Garth Brooks had one of her songs “on hold” for a year, as did Terry Clark.
“On hold” means they reserve a song for a year to see if they want to record it, Pickens explained.
“They didn’t take it, but I was just tickled that they did hold it,” she said.
“They’ve got one of mine in Nashville now, and they’re thinking they might get Faith Hill to listen to it,” she said.
Finger is Pickens favorite place to play because, “everyone is down to earth, lot of good dancers. Everybody’s just real friendly here.
“Everybody, if you want to dance with some of the best line dancers and all kinds of dancers, just come to Finger,” she said.
Hugh Mainers of Chickasaw has been coming to the dance for about 40 years. He has been coming since the beginning.
When asked whether he comes to every dance he said, “Well, I try to.”
He said he goes to other dances, “but not as much as I do here. This is my home.”
When asked what he likes about the dance he said, “Well, you know it is just family type. Kids, grownups, old people, they just blend in. Your friends, you get used to them and see them every weekend. They always got a good band and I like country music. This is the best exercise you can find anywhere.”
When asked if he danced every song, Mainers said, “Well I used to, but I have slowed down. If you’ve had a busy day and are wore out, you don’t dance every dance, but with good music you want to dance every dance.”
Lisa Deaton, who has been coming to the dance for seven years, is a relative newcomer.
When asked why she comes to the dance she said, “I just love it. I love the atmosphere. I love the people.”
Deaton, who is from Jackson, occasionally goes to other dances, but most of the time she just goes to the Finger dance.
Deaton, who came to the dance alone, explained “My husband won’t come. He doesn’t like it.”
Wayne Lipford of Leapwood has been coming to the dance since he was six years old.
Lipford also said this was his favorite dance because, “They don’t allow no drinking here.”
He said that some dances do allow drinking.
Tommy Smith of Henderson has been coming to the dance only for six months.
He started coming with a friend.
“I don’t dance, but I enjoy the music and people,” he explained.
Jeannie Kirkpatrick started coming only three weeks ago.
“I’ve come before. I really enjoy it,” she said.
Kirkpatrick comes with her grandfather.
Jack Lott came to the first Finger square dance, either in 1969 or 1970, he didn’t remember which.
“I just love to dance. We’ve got somewhere to go on Friday nights and we don’t have to set at home,” he said.
“And the rates never go up,” added city board member Cammie Rice, who was keeping the door.
This wasn’t literally true, as Lott explained, for when it started admission was 75 cents. What Rice meant was that the gate has stayed the same for a long time.
Admission to the dance is $5 for adults, children under 7 get in free and those from 8 to 12 years only have to pay half price.
Lott is 91 years old and is famous for his “buck dance,” where dancers dance alone.
Lott’s wife, Mildred, who is 86, has also been coming to the dance almost since it began, but the two did not meet there.
“She didn’t dance very well, I had to learn her how,” Jack Lott joked.
The Lotts have been dancing for 68 years, they said.