Ramblin' Rhodes: Oka' Chaffa Indian Festival to move to new location

The third annual Oka’ Chaffa Indian Festival is moving up the road apiece from Phinizy Swamp Nature Park to New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam Park, according to festival co-founder Chipa Wolfe.


“We have booked and scheduled the Oka’ Chaffa Indian Festival at the Lock & Dam Park in Augusta for Nov. 7, 8 & 9 with Friday being a special school field trip day,” Wolfe said in a recent e-mail.

The move was necessitated by festival co-founder and former Augusta Mayor Bob Young’s retirement from the Phinizy Swamp Center for Water Sciences (as it is now known).

The park’s board of directors decided to go another direction since Young had been the spark plug behind the success of the event that drew 6,000 people both of its weekends in 2012 and 2013.

Wolfe believes the Lock & Dam Park, operated by the Augusta-Richmond County government on the Savannah River, is a perfect fit with Native Americans’ love of nature and reverence of water and also offers more room for expansion of the festival’s offerings.

Many of you will fondly recall the Lock ’N Ham Jam festivals that took place for nine years at the Lock & Dam Park under the sponsorship of the Greater Augusta Arts Council.

In 1994, country music star Tim McGraw performed his hit single Indian Outlaw at the festival, evoking a few protests from local Native Americans who contended the song’s lyrics perpetuated fraudulent stereotypes.

McGraw responded he was proud of his own grandmother’s Cherokee heritage and had the “deepest respect for the traditional values of all Native Americans.”

The council ended the event in 1998 saying that it had become nonprofitable and that the barbecue cooking competitions and rock/country shows had gotten away from the arts council’s mission.


ROBIN WILLIAMS’ MOTHER: I never crossed paths with actor and comedian Robin Williams, but I did get to interview his mother, Laurie, in 1987. The occasion was an ABC Mother’s Day special titled Superstars and their Moms created by Dick Clark Productions.

The native of Jackson, Miss., called me from the same Tiburon, Calif., house on Paradise Drive in which she would die in 2001 and in which her famous son was found dead on Aug. 11 of an apparent suicide.

“When Robin got going with his career, he felt like he had to be the funny man all of the time,” Mrs. Williams said. “I told him, ‘Robin, if you feel like being funny, be funny, and if you don’t, don’t. You can’t be funny to everybody just like not everybody is going to like you.’ ”

She talked about Robin being a high school track star, and how she herself loved running.

“I used to run in a lonely park in Detroit in the winter wearing galoshes with cleats,” she said of living with her second husband, Robert Williams, a vice president with the Ford Motor Co.

“I always was afraid I would fall and break my neck and people would not find me until the spring thaw.

“When we moved to California, I ran during the day time but people looked at me like I was crazy. So I started running at night with a flashlight. After a couple of bad falls, I decided to go back running in the day time and not care what people thought.”

I shared with her how my father, Ollen Rhodes, didn’t start running until he was nearing 60 years old and ran into his 70s, winning dozens of trophies including a recent South Carolina race. She remembered that when she mailed me a nice, hand-written thank you note.

“Dear Don (May I call you Don? and you can call me Laurie),” the note started. “Thank you for sending the Augusta Chronicle article on ‘Superstars and Their Moms.’ It was a very nice article. I liked it so much.

“I’m saving the extra one you sent for Robin (he is in Bangkok now) and I’m sure he will like it, too.

“I think it is great your dad was ‘first’ in the S.C. race. Take care and have a great year. Love to you and your family. Laurie Williams”


FAN FAIR MEMORIES: The death of Loudilla Johnson on May 7 brought back many wonderful memories of the International Country Music Fan Fair to local fans who traveled to Nashville, Tenn., for many years to enjoy hours and hours of great concerts and being able to talk up close with country superstars and wanna-be stars.

Loudilla and her sisters Kay and Loretta formed the Loretta Lynn Fan Club in 1963 and co-formed the International Fan Club Organization, otherwise known as IFCO, in 1965.

IFCO staged its first concert to spotlight entertainers in 1968, four years before the start of Fan Fair.

It was Irving Waugh, chief executive officer of Opryland USA Inc. who also was the top person over the Grand Ole Opry and the Opryland Hotel, who worked with the Johnson sisters in creating Fan Fair basically to promote the new Opryland theme park complex.

Waugh attended more than 30 Masters Tournaments at Augusta National and rented my house during Masters Week for four years.

He told me that he met with the Johnson sisters then living in Wild Horse, Colo., to ensure their support of the venture.

“We held the first Fan Fair in April of 1972,” Waugh said, “but that wasn’t a good time, so we moved it to June the next year. The attendance was so bad that first year (roughly 5,000) that we borrowed 500 soldiers from Fort Campbell, Ky., and put them on the grounds in civilian clothes, so it looked like more people were there.”

Loudilla Johnson also told me, “I remember that first Fan Fair they brought in Nashville school kids on buses to boost the attendance. Barbara Mandrell and I would stand in empty exhibit-booth aisles looking for someone to show up, and when a bus load of kids would come she’d say, ‘Well, I guess I better head back to my booth to sign some autographs.’ ”

That first Fan Fair, April 12-15, at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium offered 20 hours of live entertainment by artists including Roy Acuff, Loretta Lynn, Tom T. Hall, Freddie Hart, Nat Stuckey, Billy “Crash” Craddock, Ernest Tubb, Del Wood, Wilma Lee, Stoney Cooper and Pee Wee King, as well as more than 100 exhibit booths.