Media Life: Outlaw country’s Billy Joe Shaver poised to tell a story or three at Auburn gig

Auburn’s Joanne Neft has cookbook hit; Auburn firm marketing disposable French press coffee invention
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Pushing the music aside, which is Billy Joe Shaver’s main meal-ticket – and the reason audiences continue to soak up the 70-year-old Texan’s outlaw country sounds. Maybe Shaver can just spin some stories when he heads Auburn’s way June 18 for Party in the Park at Regional Park. Like the one about the lost fingers, the Mason jar and the lady from Louisiana. Media Life had the chance to link up with Shaver by phone for one of those pre-performance interviews that tend to veer into the queasily self-promotional realm most of the time. But Shaver’s was a tad different, given his penchant for digressing into story-telling mode in song and in word. Which was all right for Media Life and should be a big bonus – if he’s in the mood June 18 – for Party in the Park partiers. Back to the fingers etc. Shaver’s admittedly not much of a guitar player and that’s why he tends to have a talented sideman along for his gigs. In the case of Auburn, music aficionados looking out for the next big thing can check out wunderkind picker Adam Carter, who just turned 16. Shaver said he’s fine with his left, fretting hand but two fingers missing for most of his lifetime keep him from any major picking with the right. WANTED: ONE JAR, TWO FINGERS Warming up to the topic, Shaver told the story of the missing fingers. It goes back to the days in the late 1950s that he worked to make ends meet as a millworker in West Texas. Feeding a door into machinery, his fingers accidentally got stuck in the apparatus and ended up being lopped off. But Shaver had a plan – even while in excruciating pain. He’d read about surgeons in Japan being able to reattach fingers. Unfortunately for Shaver, his Texas doctor informed him that this wasn’t Japan and he couldn’t do the work. Just about the time this revelation was occurring, a woman popped into the picture – a very good looking woman, as Shaver recalls. She was friendly. So was Shaver. And how could he refuse her when she asked him if she could have those fingers. Shaver assented. And just a few minutes later, she was back with a jar to put them in. And just a few moments after that she was gone from Billy Joe’s life, never to return. Shaver learned that his digits wouldn’t be back either. The good-looking lady was headed for Louisiana. Fifty or so years later, Shaver was still wondering aloud to this reporter about what ever happened to those appendages and if they’re still out there somewhere waiting to be reunited with his knuckles. A music legend in Texas and many parts thereabouts, Shaver should be taking the stage some time after 7 p.m. at Party in the Park. That’s June 18 – a Friday. It’s a free event that’s been part of the pre-summer fun in Auburn for a decade. REAL FOOD A REAL SUCCESS Joanne Neft’s new cookbook is cooking. The Auburn agriculture advocate-turned-cookbook author is turning plenty of locals into PlacerGrown converts with a book that provides a weekly recipe guide to wholesome foods grown locally and purchased at farmer’s markets. “Placer County’s Real Food” has nearly sold out of its original press run of 10,000 copies. Just weeks since it started being sold, it has already reached the 7,000 mark. For Neft, who self-published the book, it has been both a triumph and a revelation about the hunger the region has for ways to buy and cook local. She’s already considering another printing. And in a market where self-published books are famous for becoming “million cellars” – leaving “a million copies moldering in the author’s cellar” – Neft has demonstrated that with a good idea, a dollop of hard work on top of that good idea, and plenty of marketing moxie, people will buy and enjoy a locally produced volume. JAVA GENIUS Speaking of great ideas. The New York Times online edition is giving some Big Apple attention to an innovation in the coffee world that’s made by an Auburn firm. It’s called the Xpress and it provides French press coffee drinkers with a disposable – but recyclable – version of the typical glass Bodum press. The Xpress version is given a thumbs up from writer Florence Fabricant as a nifty improvement on drip coffee at coffee bars for people who want the more textured taste of pressed java. The key to the innovation is in an all-plastic assembly in the lid that includes the pump. The lid snaps onto most standard 16- and 20-ounce cups. Xpress cups are the product of SmartCup in Auburn, whose CEO is local entrepreneur Kent Rhodes. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at 530-852-0232 or