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A Honky-Tonk Cannonball Chugs Up From the Delta

While the other musicians gather around him, Super Chikan shows off other guitars he'd made from a cigar box and the round center of a ceiling fan.

"We always been poor people and we didn't throw away nothin'," he explains. "We did recycling before we knew what recycling was."

These days, Super Chikan, 55, paints tractors and cars on his homemade guitars and sells them as folk art for several thousand dollars apiece.

Now he starts playing the ceiling-fan guitar. "Don't you shoot my rooster," he sings, "cause it crows better than it usta."

Then, as if to prove his point, he starts singing in a dialect of chicken: Buk buk buk buk buk buk.

Soon, Garth Ross -- the cat herder from the Kennedy Center who is running this trip -- calls everybody to lunch in the dining car.

When the waitress reaches his table, Super Chikan orders a chicken sandwich. When it arrives, he takes a bite and chews it, looking a bit quizzical.

"In your expert opinion, Super Chikan," he is asked, "how's the chicken sandwich?"

"Not so super," he says, sadly.

Lunch seems to revive the guys from Grupo Fantasma. Back in their seats, they start beating out rhythms on drums, drum cases, cowbells and the arms of their chairs. They get a groove going and a guitarist and a fiddle player join in. Soon, the Grupo guys are singing in Spanish and the dancers from Tulane are boogieing in the aisles.

When the train pulls into Birmingham, everybody scrambles outside to watch Feufollet, a Cajun band from Lafayette, La. As the band sings a fiddle tune in French, the Tulane dancers bound off the train, spinning, strutting and waving their arms. When one female dancer tumbles to the ground, a train conductor hustles over to help her up, but she rolls gracefully back onto her feet and keeps dancing.

Apparently, Amtrak conductors are not fully trained in avant-garde dance appreciation.


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