This year I had the pleasure of being a first-time attendee at the Fandangle. Now you may be wondering what is a “fandangle”? Well, I’m talking about the Fort Griffin Fandangle in Albany, Texas; it’s the oldest outdoor musical in the state of Texas. For the past 80 years the citizens of this small town in Central West Texas have been using “singing, dancing, pantomime and pageantry” to tell the story of the settling the frontier west of Fort Worth. This show keeps generation after generation coming back for Texas-sized entertainment!
I’ve always wanted to attend the Fort Griffin Fandangle, so I jumped on the opportunity to attend this year’s last show on June 30th. After making the trip to Albany and enjoying the short drive through the town, I found myself in a line of cars and pickup trucks headed out to the Prairie Theater’s wide open parking field, and selected my parking spot. Right on cue a tractor with an attached passenger trailer pulled right up offering a convenient ride up to the theater. As the other passengers and I enjoyed our lift, music from a rare steam calliope rang out; a smile spread across my face as I thought of the many people who have arrived at the Fandangle over the past 80 years in the same manor to experience this same show!
Friendly and helpful attendants greeted me, ready to answer any questions. I made the wise decision to rent a seat cushion for a dollar; seats are metal folding chairs! The free Fandangle program was similar to a tabloid newspaper and contained the history of the Fort Griffin Fandangle with some of the folklore to be shared in the show. The Fandangle was written and directed by noted playwright and Albany native Robert Nail, Jr., and Nail’s friend Alice Reynolds, an Albany native, artist, and musician. With humble beginnings as a high school play, the Fandangle has become an acclaimed professional People’s Theater. Over 250 citizens/actors perform, produce, and stage the big show on an acre-sized amphitheater.
While waiting for the show to start, I decided to make my way to the little concession shack. Who could pass up homemade ice cream? I wouldn’t, and neither should you! Life is far to short to pass up this wonderful treat. The ice cream was delicious!
Around the time the sun was going down, a cool breeze blew and the show started. What seemed like a hundred little kids ran onto the prairie dressed as Indians, mice, cowboys, snakes, and even a buffalo. These kids were so excited to be out there and they did a fantastic job.
For the first time I realized it’s a privilege to be in the Fandangle. Many Albany citizens have started off as little Indians and then worked their way up the show ladder as they got older. One of this year’s actors was a gentleman in his 80’s who has been either participating in the show or attending the show since it began 80 years ago!
As the show continued through the evening, I was delighted by the story that was being brought to life; I laughed, smiled, and clapped almost the entire show. Perhaps my favorite skit involved a drunken cowboy befriending a larger-than-life and soon-to-be drunken rattlesnake. This is probably the only time I’ve ever rooted for a rattlesnake!
In showcasing the area’s ranching heritage, cowboys on horseback drove a small herd of longhorns onto the stage area. As these beautiful and stately creatures paused for the performance of a western tune, I could almost imagine them swaying in time with the music! The longhorns are part of the state’s official longhorn herd from Fort Griffin State Historic Site, located north of Albany.
Throughout the evening the story evolved from outlaws, saloon girls and gamblers to settlers and a more civilized citizenry. The Fandangle ended with a huge musical number that made me full of pride for our great state.
It’s easy to see why the Fort Griffin Fandangle attracts visitors year after year. This is an event that brings the town – young and old – together and the people of Albany put their hearts into sharing their rich heritage. I’ll definitely be back and encourage you to plan on getting out to next year’s Fandangle!