76 years of sharing history through song and story
By Melinda Lucas and Betsy Parsons
Albany may be best known, if for any single reason, as the home of the Fort Griffin Fandangle, an annual outdoor musical that tells the story of the settling of this part of Texas through music, dance and narration.
The summer of 2014 will be the 76th anniversary of the production, which began in 1938 as an outdoor senior play performed on the high school football field. The 2014 Fandangle performance dates are June 19-21 and June 26-28. Ticket prices range from $10 and $15 for most seats to $20 for box seating.
Every year in June the show entertains and inform thousands of visitors about the “Old West.” The traditional six shows are always set on the last two weekends in June at the Fandangle’s own amphitheater carved out of a rocky hillside. The cast of 300 donate their time and talents to preserving a slice of Texas history. The ages in the cast span decades, from tiny babies to stage veterans in their 80s and 90s. Generations of audiences, situated in the terraced seating, have listened and laughed for years as the Fandangle actors portray the legends of the Old West.
The Fandangle began in 1938 when Robert Nail, a writer and high school speech teacher, was requested by the senior class to prepare an outdoor show instead of the traditional senior play. Nail, a Princeton-educated Albany native, created “Dr. Shackelford’s Paradise” to educate as well as entertain, describing actual historical events pertaining to local heritage. The students’ show was so well received that members of the Albany Chamber of Commerce were inspired to expand the show to a city-wide undertaking. It was presented again a couple of months later as the Fort Griffin Fandangle, and a tradition was born that has endured for more than 75 years.
In Albany, the word “Fandangle” means good times, laughter and a summertime, starlit show recreating the days when cowboys, Indians and card sharp gamblers made a legend of the Texas frontier. The very sound of the word suggests good times, laughter, dancing, singing and showing off, western style.
The Fandangle name also commemorates the government outpost and town of Fort Griffin, Texas. The fort was established July 31, 1867, and was named for Lt. General Griffin, commander of the frontier after the Civil War. When the war ended, the Comanches had returned to their old territory, determined to drive away the white settlers and the Tonkawa Indians. Fort Griffin was part of a defense line that spanned from Fort Concho in San Angelo to Fort Sill in the Indian Territory. The now-famous MacKenzie raids against the Indians were conducted from Fort Griffin.
Beneath the hill, in the shadow of the fort on a flat beside the river, a town grew. It was a lawless frontier town as wild and wooly as any known in the Old West. Also known as “The Flat,” Griffin was the center of great buffalo hunts, and it soon became the buffalo hide/bone capital of the world. Because it was also located on the cattle trail from South Texas to the rail head in Kansas, trail drivers made stops for supplies and to wash the trail dust out of their throats. Together with the soldiers, who needed places to spend their pay, buffalo hunters and cowboys with money to burn gathered there, and people began flocking to Griffin to help them spend it. To the growing town came ne’er-do-wells, fugitives from justice, and derelicts rejected by the world back East. Griffin bred men who lived by the law of the quick draw.
Because of the protection of the fort on the hill and because of the rolling hills and plains with grasses growing stirrup high, people with a love for the land also came, aiming to stay, and stay they did.
Although it was only a few years until Old Glory was unfurled for the last time from the flag pole on the top of the hill overlooking the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, the history that was made in this country has filled hundreds of books.
The Fandangle, though, isn’t history as it comes from books, but history as it lingers in the minds of old timers. Told by narrators, the Fandangle becomes the story of a land and its people, people who made their era bright with courage, determination and daring and with horse sense, earthiness and humor. It is also history set to music, containing songs composed almost entirely by Albany musicians and writers – tender love lyrics, stirring choral arrangements, and funny ballads – all telling a story that entertains and informs
“The Fandangle is our story of the prairie, its past and its promise,” said Betsy Parsons, who has directed the show for the past two decades.
For more information, call the Fandangle office at 325-762-3838 or the Chamber of Commerce at 325-762-2525, or visit www.fortgriffinfandangle.org.