For the past 29 years, Anna Aldridge and Ginny Lyons have been washing dishes, changing diapers and generally tending to household chores.
Last Sunday all that changed -- temporarily. Exit Mrs. Aldridge and Mrs. Lyons. Enter the singing Burleson Sisters. A return to youth. A chance for stardom.
"We hopefully will get at least one recording out of all this," crooned Ginny Burleson Lyons, minutes before the Burleson Sisters stepped on-stage to make their debut at the 31st Annual National Championship Country Music Contest in Manassas.
As teen-agers, Anna and Ginny Burleson traipsed from barn dances to radio stations belting out country-western tunes as the Burleson Sisters.
Growing up in Newland, S.C., "all we had a pickin', grinnin', and dancin'," drawled Anna Burleson Aldridge.
During their youthful, and brief, career on the country-western circuit, the sisters attracted the attention of a major recording company. But when they were offered a recording contract, an aunt convinced them to turn it down.
Shortly afterward, Ginny moved to Aldie, Va., and married, while Anna stayed in Cherryville, S.C., and did the same.
Although the duo was dissolved, Ginny continued to write songs, and at family gatherings the sisters rarely failed to perform for young nieces and nephews begging for "some of those old songs."
But until last week the Burleson Sisters hadn't sung together professionally for almost three decades.
They learned about the contest three weeks ago, practiced four days, and when they stepped on stage with their finger-snapping, hand-clapping gospel tunes, it was as if the Burleson Sisters had been born to the limelight.
The Burleson Sisters didn't win the gospel singing contest. They placed second. The didn't get an immediate recording offer, although they did get a request to appear on a Northern Virginia radio show. But neither of the sisters seemed to care that instant stardom had proved a bit elusive.
"I feel like a new door is being opened to us," said Anna.
More than 220 other contestants were banging on the same door last weekend. They came from throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains, from all over Maryland, from New Jersey, Florida and Pennsylvania -- hoping for the lucky break that could make their names household words in the country music business.
After all, Roy Clark won the banjo contest at the 1954 championships, which contest promoters claim helped rocket Clark's star to the top of country music business. And Patsy Cline "was just another girl singer" when she won the female vocal category as a high school student a few years later, according to Joe Wheeler, who has auditioned contestants since the festival began 31 years ago.
Chances are slim that another Roy Clark or Patsy Cline will emerge from the makeshift stages at the Manassas Fairgrounds this year, contest judges admit.
"But you never know where you'll find talent," said Ann Tant, who is with the country promotions division of Warner Brothers Records and was serving as a judge for the fourth consecutive year.
And if they couldn't become overnight successes, at least they could share in $5,500 in prize money and the trophies being parceled out in 12 contest categories.
"It's good exposure," said Wheeler. "Whether you make it or not, it's a good place to be seen by people in the business."
That's what attracted contestants like Paulette Gracelyn, an overzealous 10-year-old who conceded she was a newcomer to the music scene.
"I never knew how to sing until three months ago," boasted the sixth-grader from Chantilly, who has spent most of her elementary school years as a speed skater. Now Paulette is determined to try out for the lead in the road production of "Annie" this fall and has decided to be a singer when she grows up. She admitted her mother, a local professional singer whose stage name is Mary Dallas, could be an influence on her new-found interest.
Like the Burleson Sisters, Paulette didn't take home a first place prize. But win or lose, this was a contest to take seriously.
Minutes after the announcement that his band had been selected for the finals, one distaught participant raced to the officials' booth bellowing, "I've been sabotaged! Someone just ran up, pulled my shirt off the hanger and threw it in the mud."
The thrust out a pale yellow shirt covered with mud. "All the band members were supposed to dress alike for the show tonight," he muttered.
Other would-be contestants cursed the auditioning judges. For the first time in the show's history, there were more competitors than available stage time, and the auditioning judges had the thankless job of culling the contestants to determine who would get a precious three or four minutes before the audience.
About 30 musicians and singers didn't make the cutoff. A handful returned to heap loud verbal abuse on the judges.
Not all contestants were trying to earn a place at thetop of the music charts, however.
"I've been coming to the contest for 10 years," said one band member. "I lose every year, but I still enjoy playing."
And there were the weekend musicians. Take the Fredericksburg Country Thrills: a truck driver, a restaurant owner, a plumber, a carpenter and a paramedic, who were drawn together by a newspaper ad and who play two nights a week at a Fredericksburg club.
"We're just in it for the fun," said manager Jim Peverill.
So were the nearly 10,000 country music-lovers who created a small village of campers, umbrellas and lawn chairsk for the two-day festivities at the fairgrounds. They stomped their feet to harmonicas, danced to fiddlers, munched hot dogs and barbecued chicken as they sat through a long line of vocalists and between-performance waits.
From noon to midnight Saturday and Sunday, a constant parade of sequins, cowboy hats, boots and bandanas flashed across the two plywood stages.
For the past 30 years, the event has been sponsored by the Warrenton-Fauquier Jaycees. This year, the contest drew an additional sponsor, Carrier Air Conditioning, and moved from the mud and sparse facilities of Lake Whippoorwill in Warrenton to the rolling hillsides and livestock barns of the Prince William County Fairgrounds.
While members of weekend bands gulped beer and while weekend fans baked in the sun, nervous stage mothers (and fathers) primped their youngsters for the show.
The parents of last year's junior vocalist winner, Penny Chaney of Edmonston, Md., were searching frantically for an electrical outlet to plug in Penny's curling iron. The found relief in the fairgrounds arts and crafts building.
"Now if you'll just wash those dirty feet," admonished Mom.
After all the prepping, practicing and praying, winners in the 12 categories were:
Blue Grass Band: Alvin Breden and the Virginia Cutups of Earlyville, Va.
Fiddle: R. B. Frazier of Warrenton.
Guitar: D. E. Williams of Earlysville.
Junior Band: Kennie Menzies of Mechanicsville, Va.
Junior Vocal: Shane Gooker of Stafford, Va.
Gospel Performance: Richard Gwen and Vernon Saint Myer of Woodbridge.
Female Vocal: Bobbie Menzies of Mechanicsville. Male Vocal: Larry Alger of Charlottsville.
Traditional Band: The Saint Myer Family of Woodbridge.
Contemporary Band: Shades of Blue from Gaithersburg, Md.
Banjo: Thomas Gardner, no hometown available.
Miscellaneous: Harmonic-playing by Tom Rogers, no hometown available.