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If you read Sunday’s post, in which I promised to start sharing videos of my hollerin’ progress, and you’ve been checking back daily for updates, I must apologize. Upon further consideration, posting hollerin’ practice footage was a foolish amateur-baked idea. The last thing I need on the day of the contest is another hollerer belting out the exact same routine as me. Surely, plenty of other first-time hollerers who start blogs chronicling their progress make this mistake on a regular basis. I refuse to fall victim to this rookie blunder.
I’m better than that.
I can tell you, however, that I am completely dedicated to learning this art. And it is indeed an education. Each track on Hollerin’, the contest’s unofficial audio Bible, takes me on a journey into the past, right to a time when hollerin’ was a way of life.
I wish I could say it was easy listening. It’s not. Simply listening to the album is a challenge.
It features nearly a dozen former hollerin’ champions (and a three-legged dog), and each track sounds as if it was recorded in the hollerer’s garage using an audio cassette recorder optimized only for hollerin’. That wouldn’t be so bad, except that each hollerer starts by telling a story. To actually hear them speak, I have to crank up the volume to its maximum level. And then, out of nowhere, comes the hollerin’, with the same intensity as a foghorn magnified through a megaphone powered by an amplifier 2 inches from my ear. Often, by the time I manage to decrease the volume, the hollerer is back to storytellin’, causing me to crank up the volume again. And then the process repeats.
I just hope I make it out of this with my hearing.
Over the past three months, I have tortured my hamstrings and knees while training for a stair climb up the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere. Tested my fitness and wits in a 3-mile shopping cart race. And in the months to come, I’ll no doubt drag my body through more rigorous feats of stupidity.
Yet, it’s a contest requiring no physical aptitude that scares me the most.
Unlike the National Hollerin’ Contest, all those other events allow me to blend into the crowd. But in less than two weeks, I’ll be on a stage, possibly with thousands of eyes on me for 4 minutes, while I attempt to do something I’ve only tried a few times in the safety of my own home or car.
It’s a tough thing, learning how to holler. Last week, current Hollerin’ Champion Kevin Jasper (whose hollerin’ wisdom I’ll be sharing in future posts) told me that he taught himself to holler by listening to the CD Hollerin’. Naturally, if that was good enough for a four-time champion, it sounded like a good starting point for me. I’m starting to get the hang of some simple hollers, but practicing in the shower is a poor substitute for performing in front of an audience of strangers.
Therefore, I’ve decided to start posting a few short videos of my hollerin’ practice. While it won’t be quite the same as performing on stage, I’m hoping that making these videos available to an audience, even if it’s online, will slowly help to conquer my fears. Also, it will serve as a chronicle of my hollerin’ progress. And it might give you something to laugh about.
So here I am listening to and mimicking a track by H.H. Oliver. Enjoy.
Upon registering for the National Hollerin’ Contest, I knew I couldn’t be alone. Certainly, in the 42-year history of the event, another random, clueless dreamer must have given hollerin’ a hopeless shot. And if so, he or she must have some priceless advice for a fellow aspiring hollerer. So my mission was obvious: find such a person, if one existed, and seek some sage advice.
Seek, and ye shall find.
What I found was a year-old blog posting by Joshua Foer, a freelance journalist/author/U.S. Memory Champion who randomly competed in the Hollerin’ Contest in 2002. Foer admittedly made a mockery of the event when he, according to his post, walked onto the stage and yelled the most random word I could think of, “GINGIVITIS!!” and then proceeded to bellow out an impromptu oration on the importance of dental hygiene.
Five years later, however, Foer returned to Spivey’s Corner. This time, with the help of hollerin’ champion Larry Jackson, Foer amazingly finished in second place. He was nice enough to answer some questions for me this weekend. And I’ve already taken some of his advice. More on that in a few days…
Anyone Can Enter: How did you muster the courage to compete in the first contest?
Joshua Foer: It didn’t take much courage, because I didn’t know what I was getting into when I entered the first contest. I assumed it was a joke… that you were supposed to scream something funny as loud as you could. I had no idea that hollerin’ is a very serious tradition, with a very proud heritage. Once I learned what hollerin’ is, I felt terrible about my performance.
Anyone Can Enter: After your first visit to Spivey’s Corner, how did you convince Larry Jackson to take you under his wing?
Foer: I called him up. The folks of Spivey’s Corner are rightfully proud of their tradition, and were more than happy to help someone who was earnestly interested in it.
Anyone Can Enter: How much time did you spend practicing for the return trip?
Foer: Larry and I spent two days training, which was enough time for me to not make a total fool of myself, but not enough to get particularly good.
Anyone Can Enter: How did people at the contest respond to your return?
Foer: When I got on stage, I asked how many people remembered my last performance. A bunch of hands went up. People were wary. But I think I won them over in the end. They respected that I’d come back for redemption.
Anyone Can Enter: What kind of advice can you give to a first timer like me?
Foer: I recommend you learn a bit about hollerin’, and listen to some classic hollers, before entering. It would be a good idea to enlist the help of one of the veterans to train you in this ancient art.
For the egg toss, I bought my tickets for the Hagerstown Suns’ home game against the Hickory Crawdads on June 27. I simply have to show up on the field after the game. It’s that easy.
The Hollerin’ Contest registration is slightly more involved, albeit relatively simple. I had to sign a registration form agreeing to conduct myself in a courteous manner, avoid making obscene remarks, refrain from using the stage to seek election, and do everything in my power—should I win—to promote the National Hollerin’ Contest throughout the year. Those all sound good enough.
However, I’m afraid I won’t be able to abide by the first rule listed on the registration sheet: I will not participate while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Give me a break, Hollerin’ Contest organizers—I’ve never even attempted to holler! How am I supposed to get on stage in front of an audience of hollerin’ connoisseurs without the slightest hint of liquid courage? Seriously. There’s got to be some kind of alcohol and drug exemption for first-time participants, right?
I know it might sound easy, but watch the following YouTube video and try to imitate some of these calls.
I just did my best. No sooner than I started, Lucy, one of our beloved mutts, awoke from a peaceful nap. She quickly sat up and, with a knowing gleam in her brown eyes, seemed to beg: Please, please, please stop. You’ll never be a hollerin’ champion, Jon. Never. You’ll never take down four-time champion Kevin Jasper. Not with that weak hollerin.’ No way, buddy.
Minutes later, I decided to give it another go. This time, Lucy didn’t even bother to awake from her nap.
Alas, I signed the form and will be mailing it along with a check for $10 to the Spivey’s Corner Volunteer Fire Department, which runs the contest. I just hope they amend their rules to allow moderate pre-contest alcohol consumption.