WALHALLA, N.D. – Whether we’re talking heaven or its next of kin, the entire Frost Fire setting in the beautiful Pembina River Gorge, this is the gospel truth – those who go will have a “Wonderful Time Up There.”
Obviously, Jim and I haven’t encountered heaven, but we can speak of Frost Fire from experience.
Last Saturday, we and our dear friends, Richard and LoAnn Stallmo, continued our 30-year tradition of attending a summer theatre production at Frost Fire located seven miles west of Walhalla on County Road 55. Summer would not be compete without this day trip north. “Smoke on the Mountain,” is 2017’s showcase.
The only hint of smoke, however, was coming out of the ears of Maude and Muriel, two older sisters-of the pew who are members of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, N.C. Here’s a news flash: one of Mount Pleasant’s principal industries is pickle production.
The story takes place in June of 1938.
The two older women are not accustomed to guitars and such in church and here comes the Sanders family of eight in their ancient bus to do a Saturday Night Sing in the sanctuary. Oh, they have the Word of God alright, but they also have a guitar, stand-up bass, banjo, accordion, drums, clapping spoons and shenanigans. Why it’s enough to blow the pill box hats off their heads which makes Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe very panicky.
David Paukert plays Reverend Oglethorpe and Amy Jo Paukert is Vera, mom of the Sanders clan. This husband and wife team have a 25-year history with Frost Fire starting as performers in 1989 and turning to directing in 1992.
Other cast members are Luke Hoplin as Burl Sanders, the father; Farren Rowan is June, the oldest daughter; Eden Rowan and Alex Stroth are the twins, Denise and Dennis, and two Sanders uncles are played by Spencer Black and Lyndon Johnson.
This simply phenomenal cast plays and sings 25 gospel songs throughout the show that also includes little stories, comedy and toe tapping which also raises the eyebrows.
Each year we go, it’s always so good to see and hug Judith Johnson, which we did again last Saturday. Judith and her late husband, Richard, had a dream. They opened Frost Fire on Christmas Day in 1976 and for more than four decades it grew into a year around destination enjoyed by thousands of people, not only during the summer theatre season but during the winter months as well, offering downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, tubing, etc.
Richard Johnson passed away in 2016 and according to information in the Smoke on the Mountain program, the Pembina Gorge Foundation, a North Dakota nonprofit corporation, was established in January 2017. Its mission is to preserve and enhance the experience of those who come to the Pembina Gorge. Believe me, going there is a breathtakingly beautiful encounter. Its rolling hills and valleys, beautiful trees and the gorge carved by the Pembina River are a sharp contrast to the rest of North Dakota’s level farmland, which to me also is very beautiful.
The Foundation’s first step was to purchase the Frost Fire property and that was finalized in June.
So, you must head to Walhalla to see the gorge and the musical. There are 12 performances left, taking place at 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays and at 6 p.m. Saturdays through Aug. 6. Buy your tickets online at:frostfiretheatre.com, or call (701) 549-3602. Be sure to get there in plenty of time for the old fashioned church buffet of ham, cheesy potatoes, baked beans, cole slaw and whipped Jell-0 salad.
I love gospel music so should mention song titles. Among the 25 are: “Church in the Wildwood,” “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus,” “Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb,” “Power in the Blood,” “There is a Fountain,” and my late Grandmother Ida’s very favorite, “Whispering Hope.” We were not allowed to leave her house until we sang, “Whispering Hope.”
The show’s first song is, “Wonderful Time Up There,” and the last is, “I’ll Fly Away.” At that point the pocket book and pill box hat ladies were movin’ and groovin’ with the Sanders.
I do believe they finally saw the light.