It's been almost 20 years since customers bucked and rocked atop the mechanical bull at Frank Gosman's Big Dipper Country Ballroom in Beltsville, but memories of the beast are still fresh for the old-timers gathered at Remington's of Laurel on a recent Sunday afternoon. They slap their thighs, whoop and whistle as Baltimore country singer Kenny Ray belts out his honky-tonk tune:
I came on down from Baltimore
Just to meet you
Have cowboy hats and pickup trucks
Made the fool by you
Here I am at Remington's
Where the hell are you?
Judging from the way Ray jerks and sways across the stage, the ghost of the bull can't be too far off. Ray snaps his head back and forth to the drummer's beat. His heels slap the stage, and his fingers strum so wildly the guitar pick pops out of his fingers, sending him scrambling after it.
Back in 1980, Ray was one of thousands of customers who tangled with the mechanical bull that dominated the dance floor at proprietor Frank Gosman's Big Dipper Country Ballroom in Beltsville. Hundreds of patrons lined up for a $3 ride on the bull, which was all the rage thanks to the hit film "Urban Cowboy."
"Hell yeah, I rode the bull," Ray said. "I got on it, but I didn't stay on it long."
The fad cooled after about a year, and Gosman got rid of the bull. But before he closed the club's doors in 1986, Gosman hosted country music greats such as the late Ernest Tubb and Grand Ole Opry stars Jack Greene and Lester Flatt.
Despite the Big Dipper's demise, the spirit of the bull and of country music has survived and flourished in Washington, thanks in part to Gosman's record company, the Country Showcase of America.
The company produces the live Sunday radio show "The Country Showcase of America Jamboree" for Annapolis-based WRYE (810 AM). Gosman, 74, emcees the show, which is broadcast from Remington's and features area country vocalists trying to make names for themselves. Gosman also is writing and self-publishing an area history of country music, "Country Music 1950-2000 According to Frank Gosman and Friends."
"Country music to me is just a delight," Gosman says, his silver hair snaking around his ears and into a ponytail. "I love the atmosphere and the friendliness between the band and the customers."
Gosman, a divorced father of three and grandfather of five, took up drumming in the early 1950s and gigged at clubs in Virginia, Maryland and Washington. He traveled door-to-door hawking milk, eggs, meat and groceries to pay the bills.
But Gosman wanted a place where his band could perform permanently, so in the late 1960s he opened the Tin Dipper, which later became the Big Dipper. He soon realized that he couldn't both run the club and perform in the band, and he became a country music promoter instead. He's been doing it ever since.
After a 12-year hiatus from the nightclub racket, Gosman got back into the business last year when he opened Remington's. He performed the renovations himself to recreate the down-home atmosphere that the old Dipper crowd loved.
Its wood-paneled walls accented with neon beer signs, Remington's is lit by multicolored track lights and foggy with cigarette smoke. Whole families, couples and singles sit at the tables sipping beers and munching on Remington's famous Texas-style burgers. Some regulars two-step on the hardwood dance floor
"It's a family," Gosman says of the bond between the artists and the audience.
"It is a special relationship between the artist and the people. The artists aren't on a pedestal so much. They're down-to-earth."
Remington's performers are regular folks such as L.G. "Little George" Booker of Savage, Md., who stands 6 feet 5 inches and weighs 305 pounds. The 38-year-old says he's waiting for the day he can quit his day job as a mechanic.
There also are young people such as Destinie Doyle, a recent Meade High School graduate, whose blond hair flows from under her white cowboy hat and spills over her turquoise shirt. The ambitious 18-year-old says she has already completed three songs for her first album, and Gosman introduced her as "Miss Nashville Herself."
And occasionally, Remington's patrons get a special treat. Bill Harrell, 64, whose bluegrass singing career has spanned 45 albums and 44 years, stepped up to the mike for a couple of bluesy songs. At the end of this month, Berryville, Va., will celebrate "Bill Harrell Day" to honor the singer's contributions to music.
Gosman gives Harrell the same glib treatment as everyone else, ribbing him for being "old as dirt," someone who "doesn't sing as good as he used to but sings as long."
This draws chuckles from the audience, which is clearly enamored of Gosman and grateful that he's back.
"I would say that Frank is keeping [country music] alive, giving local talent a chance," said Anne Holland, of Camp Springs, an old-timer from the Dipper who also performed in this week's "Jamboree."
"I don't want to see the bands give up, 'cause there's nothing like it."
Remington's of Laurel is at 3340 Fort Meade Rd., in Laurel. The club is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. "The Country Showcase of America Jamboree" takes place from 3 to 8 p.m. every Sunday. For more information, call 301-490-7000.
CAPTION: Remington's owner Frank Gosman, with hands in the air, introduces the club's live radio show "The Country Showcase of America Jamboree" for Annapolis-based WRYE (810 AM).
CAPTION: "Country music to me is just a delight," says Frank Gosman, 74.
CAPTION: Frank Gosman, center, goes over the lineup of performers for the radio show that is broadcast from his club, Remington's of Laurel.