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Jessica Fischer

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Hello Stranger concert will benefit Mendota, Hiltons community cemeteries

April 24th, 2014 10:45 am by Jessica Fischer

Hello Stranger concert will benefit Mendota, Hiltons community cemeteries

Hello Stranger will perform Friday night at the third annual Cemetery Benefit Concert at the Mendota Community Center. Members of the band are, from left, Dale Jett, Teresa Jett and Oscar Harris. Contributed photo.

When Dale and Teresa Jett and their longtime friend Oscar Harris take the stage of the Mendota Community Center on Friday, they plan to open the evening with the Carter Family classic "Hello Stranger," for which the band is named.

But there likely won't be many unfamiliar faces in the "home crowd" of folks gathered to hear them play at the third annual Cemetery Benefit Concert.

"In this busy life that we all live, we don't get to see our neighbors like we used to," said Harris, the trio's autoharp player and a resident of the tiny town of Mendota. "This kind of gives everybody an opportunity to talk. We'll see people we haven't seen since the last show, and some people that we've never seen before, which is really great."

The Poor Valley Girls, featuring Harris' daughter, Heather Pace, will open the show at 7 p.m. and treat the crowd to a sneak peek of material from their new CD, "Times Are Not What They Used to Be," a collection of old-time and Carter Family songs. Hello Stranger will take the stage at 8 p.m.

"(The audience is) going to hear some Carter Family stuff, and they're going to hear some original songs that have been written by us," Harris said. "They're going to hear songs that Dale Jett and Hello Stranger have heard from other artists that we've met during our travels and have got to know and become friends with — people like Fred Eaglesmith, Audrey Auld, Tom T. Hall and Dixie Hall, to name a few. They have shared songs with us that touch our hearts and souls, and we try to pass them along."

Event organizer Eva Beaule said the connection between the artists and their audience is "electric."

"You can almost see that connecting thread when the song 'Farmer's Prayer' is played," said Beaule, whose father is buried in the Mendota Community Cemetery, one of two that benefit from the concert.

Several of Dale Jett's family members — among them, his grandparents, the famous A.P. and Sara Carter, and his mother, Janette Carter, who founded the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons — are buried in the other, the cemetery at Mount Vernon United Methodist Church in neighboring Hiltons, Va.

For more than a century, the Mendota and Mount Vernon cemeteries have never charged for community members to be buried there. Both have operated solely on donations.

"This day and time, cemeteries are a business now, and when you buy a burial plot, that usually covers the price of the upkeep forever," said Harris, a former president of the Mendota Cemetery Association. "Back when these cemeteries started, the only upkeep and donations came from family members of the people buried in them. That mind-set is being lost, and it's actually nobody's fault, it's just what's happening. That is the reason that we chose this to become an annual event, because there's no other funding. Nothing is coming from the county, nothing is coming from the state."

While the concert is vital to covering the upkeep of the cemeteries, Beaule said it's also important to organizers to keep the cost of admission low for the working folks of "Poor Valley" who want to catch Hello Stranger at one of their few local appearances.

Tickets are $5 for adults and $1 for children 12 and younger, and will be available only at the door. A hot dog dinner, complete with chips, dessert and soft drink or water, will be available for $3 beginning at 5 p.m. in the community center's cafeteria. Proceeds from the dinner and the concert will be split between the two cemeteries.

"We make just enough," Beaule said. "We don't make too much. We don't have any excess. We make just enough."

In addition to the benefit concert, organizers are raffling off two quilts — a red and white, hand-pieced, flower garden-pattern quilt made and donated by Linda Nunley, and another called "Crossroads," made by a group of women in the Mendota community. Both quilts will be on display during the benefit concert. Money raised from the raffle of Nunley's quilt will benefit the cemetery at Mount Vernon. Tickets will be sold until the quilt is given away at Mount Vernon's annual homecoming service, held each Memorial Day weekend. Proceeds from the Mendota quilt, to be given away during Mendota's annual community homecoming celebration the fourth Sunday in August, will benefit the Mendota Community Cemetery. Tickets are $1 each.

Last year, Beaule sold tickets on the Mendota quilt to buyers in 40 states and seven countries.

"I sold them in Belgium, I sold several in the Middle East to servicemen. I sold a couple to Ireland, some to Canada, one to Mexico — just different places where people knew of someone," she said. "A friend in the U.K. bought five. The little Mendota quilt tickets were headed all over the globe. That was fun, and this year I'm going to try again. I'm going to try for all 50 states. The countries are just the icing on the cake."

Sponsors of the event include Domtar Paper, Mountain Empire Community College, Food City, Pepsi Cola and Dutt & Wagner.

The Mendota Community Center is located at 2562 Mendota Road, inside the old Hamilton Elementary School in Mendota, Va.

Donations earmarked for either cemetery may be sent to Mount Vernon United Methodist Church at P.O. Box 175, Hiltons, Va. 24258.

Hello Stranger will perform Friday night at the third annual Cemetery Benefit Concert at the Mendota Community Center. Members of the band are, from left, Dale Jett, Teresa Jett and Oscar Harris.

For more information, call Beaule at (276) 466-2000.

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