There stood Henry Howell, holding a Roy Clark Country-Western album and trying to wow the conservative Southside Virginia farmers like an evangelist at a revival meeting.
Even though Howell won the Democratic gubernatorial primary the night before, much of the crowd of 1,500 people at the annual chicken festival here today did not seem impressed. They signaled to Howell with their boos and their chatter during his brief speech that they had already heard the man they want to vote for: Howell's opponent in the Nov. 8 election, Republican gubernatorial nominee John N. Dalton.
Some of the people said they had voted for Howell's primary election opponent, Andrew P. Miller, but since the liberal-populist Howell surprisingly won, they are now Dalton supporters. They agreed with Dalton that Virginia is a conservative state.
"Henry Howell and I are going to have a good time next fall," shouted Dalton from an open air barn-like pavillion. "Henry Howell is a good guy. I like him. But I think most people in Virginia and particularly Southside believe in the conservative brand of government that John Dalton represents."
To Virginians in Southside, the chicken festival is no joke. Like the pork festival, the seafood festival and the shad planking earlier this year, it has become a major political event. Politicans roll up their shirt sleeves, stick political buttons on well wishers' shirts, shake hands and try to feel the pulse of the voters.
Howell left many of the conservative Democrats here in shock with his upset defeat of Miller. But there were also those who patted Howell on the back, offered him beer and called him a great fighter.
Charles S. (Chuck) Robb, who won the Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial primary, shook hands for a couple hours, followed by a one-man documentary film crew, and volunteered to stick Robb buttons on passersby.
Dalton made his appearance and before long swarms of people were wearing the orange and yellow-striped Dalton stickers. One man said he though the stickers were too modern and cosmopolitan for conservative Virginia.
Many wore Robb buttons alongside those for Dalton.
"I know they're from two different parties but they're the best men," said Guy Smith of Chester.
"Henry Howell doesn't have a chance," said Buck Porter, who voted for Miller in the primary. "Everybody who was going to vote for Howell went to the polls yesterday."
Howell said he was not concerned. He said he and Miller would stick together like two brothers in the same family.
"Democrats together," Howell shouted.
Miller, did not attend the festival even though he had been scheduled to go.
The handshaking and back-patting continued until Howell and Robb nearly bumped into each other. They posed for pictures, exchanging pleasantries and shaking hands, then separated for different parts of the picnic grounds.
Meanwhile, Dalton supporters kissed Eddy Dalton, the candidate's wife. A gray-haired woman ran and jumped into Dalton's arms shouting, "You'd better win. Give me a sticker."
After a couple of hours of talking politics and farm prices, drinking beer and liquor and bouncing to the country-western band, the festival-goers became restless and headed toward the homemade barbecue pits where the festival's chicken was cooking. They were also anxious for the main event, the auctioning of the left-over barbequed chickens.