In tiny Pea Green Corner, brothers from different mothers revive their show lost during the COVID pandemic
Start in the small town of Delta on Colorado’s Western Slope, then keep going down miles of lonesome roads, past sheep and cows and acres of corn — standing golden and dry in the sunset — until you arrive at a crossroads. You’ll see a closed country store, a shuttered schoolhouse, and the centerpiece of the tiny community of Pea Green Corner: an old grange hall, painted light green.
This dot of a place close to nothing is home to Pea Green Saturday Night. The beloved variety show finally returned in late January, after a nearly three-year hiatus because of the COVID pandemic.
Before the show, Len Willey was poring over his script and watching as a pretty steady stream of mostly older couples arrived.
“Yes, if you were to ask us if we were out of practice, we are,” he said. “But we think the audience might be out of practice, as well.”
Willey started these shows about 15 years ago to give people something to do on long, dark winter nights. Here, he’s Brother Len, and he hosts alongside Dean Rickman, also known as Brother Dean.
Together, they’re the Pea Green Brothers — a pair of Baby Boomers who have different parents and different birth years. But in the world of Pea Green, they’re twins presenting a night of music and comedy for the mythical 1930s radio station, KPEA.
People like to compare them to long-running radio staples, Brother Dean said. Think old stuff like the comedy duo Bob and Ray and the long-running public-radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.”
“Actually, Len and I time travel, and we went back to when those shows started and they were standing around saying, ‘What should we do? What would be interesting?’” Brother Dean said. “And we told them exactly what to say, exactly when to do it.”
Even these radio forefathers were nervous about the momentum they may have lost during the pandemic, however. Brother Len explained that for years, they were so popular, they had to turn away folks at the door.
“When people can count on it every winter, then you don't do it for three winters. What happens?” he asked.
With an hour before showtime, the grange hall was already starting to fill up. Bob and Sally Beeson, from the itty-bitty nearby community of Austin, made a point to get there early.
“Well yeah, we’ve been here before, we wanted to get our seat!” Bob said with a laugh.
And Sally, a big bluegrass fan, added the pair were “joyous” when they found out the night was returning.
So was Nguyen Sarver — and especially her husband.
“He said, ‘We’re going!’” she recalled, with a laugh. “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”
For Sarver, it’s definitely worth the half-hour drive from the little town of Eckert, even though she lost much of her hearing a few years ago. Still, she can read lips and hear some of the music. And she also enjoys getting this chance to connect with others who live in the rural farmland in the surrounding high desert.
“[They’re] so friendly, people here,” she said, smiling.
As the show started, there were still a few empty chairs in the back — something that’s hardly ever happened. But as the Pea Green Brothers stepped onstage in their green, non-matching thrift store jackets, it was clear the audience was with them. They clapped wildly after the brothers harmonized together like a barbershop quartet and belly laughed at their carefully scripted skits, even when a few don’t go totally as planned.
The people nodded and swayed in their seats to the Parachute-based Americana band Stone Kitchen and played along when the group encouraged them to squawk during a song called “Nervous Chicken.”
Later, as the crowd lined up for a potluck, the scene felt like a family reunion in a piece of living history. The grange’s green-and-white interior walls have been repainted and the plaid green curtains have been replaced, but it’s not too different from when it first opened as a community gathering place nearly 100 years ago.
For Virginia Cosby, it’s easy to imagine people then coming together in the same way.
“Cause typically things are slow in the winter, you know?” she said. “It’s a legacy.”
Cosby believes things are so disjointed these days, and young people don’t understand their history, let alone the past of a tucked-away place like this, supposedly named after the hue of the government-issued paint sent here long ago.
“And I love it,” Cosby said. “I absolutely love it.”
She added that even if her husband wasn’t playing tonight, she’d be happy to drive the near hour from Grand Junction.
Brother Len explained that’s pretty common.
“We defy the laws of location,” he said.
And Brother Dean added that before the pandemic, this hall could get so full it could be a little claustrophobic.
“There were people standing shoulder to shoulder in this whole area over here,” he said. “You couldn’t move.”
It got so busy that they stopped advertising at all. The experience sold itself.
“It’s like turning back the clock,” Brother Len said. “We’re back in time.”
And now, Pea Green Saturday Night is back. The Pea Green Brothers think it will be packed again before you know it.
The night closed with the band The Great Western Heritage Show, who did old favorites like “Let the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Amazing Grace.” Even though it went pretty late, almost everyone stayed for the whole thing, grinning and clapping along.
For one night a month, anyone can be a Pea Greener — as long as you can find a seat.
Pea Green Saturday Night continues Feb. 26 and runs through April on the last Saturday of the month.
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