Candy corn

Or: What do cake walks, the Backstreet Boys, and Jon Cunningham have in common?

Resuming the series would be in Freeman and Cunningham's best interest. "The Children of the Corn Mo" shows seem to be the best way for the duo to showcase their countless alternate identities, a list that gets longer every time one of them has some free time. Practically every other band in the Dallas-Denton area has something to do with one or the other.

Freeman is especially prolific: Starting a new band seems to have become part of his daily routine. One of the bands, The Meat Helmets, which counts The Darlingtons' bassist Angelique Congleton and Beck among its ranks, will make its recorded debut sometime this summer. The band recently spent a weekend in a studio finishing up tracks for its first album, but Freeman isn't sure when it will come out. Both he and Cunningham are too busy with preparations for their trip to New York to worry about anything else. That is, except for the parts they're playing in the Good/Bad show: robots.

"There's a lot of different stuff going on with it," Freeman says. "The whole thing is set up like a museum of natural history, like a fake history that Good/Bad made up. One part of it is this tribe of Indians that worship Rondo, that old citrus drink from the '70s; they're called the Rondo Indians. At the end of it, people will go into this little basement area, and Jon and I will be standing there like animatronic figures. You know, 'If you want to know more about the Rondo Indians, press this button.' And when they press it, I'll play a song I wrote about Rondo Indians." He laughs. "It's pretty cool."

John Freeman (in gorilla suit, with Dave Wallin) and Jon Cunningham (in scarf, with Ian Bjornstadt) go pop, pop, pop!
John Freeman (in gorilla suit, with Dave Wallin) and Jon Cunningham (in scarf, with Ian Bjornstadt) go pop, pop, pop!
Pops Carter is Dentonís Rhythm Man, baby.

Before Freeman and Cunningham can sing any songs about imaginary Rondo Indians, they have to raise enough money to get to New York. That's why the pair has put together Bonanzaganza, a benefit concert that isn't really a concert, but more like a musical carnival hosted by Tim Burton. More than 50 different shows will take place, from musical performances to magic workshops to puppet theater to God knows what else. If all goes according to plan, the nickels and dimes and quarters that each event will charge for admission should be more than enough to allow Cunningham and Freeman to leave on a jet plane.

"Tentatively, there's going to be 50-cent shows and 75-cent shows," Cunningham says. "The 50-cent shows are going to be booked as duds, and the 75-cent shows are going to be booked as high-quality entertainment. And there'll be a cake walk with cakes made by real artists with rock celebrity autographs on the cakes. And an artist teaching spin art. You know when you go to a carnival and they give you a fishing pole? You cast it over this board, and someone on the other the side puts a grab bag on the end of your string and tugs on it, and you get whatever's in the grab bag. That's going to be there. It's pretty much a grab bag show."

With Cunningham and Freeman, it always is.

"Children of the Corn Mo" happens June 17 at Liquid Lounge, with performances by Corn Mo, Rocky Horror Rock Band, and Golden Vipers. Bonanzaganza takes place June 19 at Good/Bad Art Collective, 120 Exposition in Denton.

Pops go the Funkmonsters

Eighty-year-old bluesman Pops Carter may even be more of a fixture around Denton than John Freeman and Jon Cunningham -- if that's even remotely possible -- hopping from bar to bar around the University of North Texas campus for the past 30 years. Everyone, it seems, has a Pops Carter story, some of them actually involving his music.

However, most of the anecdotes take place in the dimly lit bars near the intersection of Fry and Hickory streets-in meat markets such as Cool Beans or Lucky Lou's, where Pops sightings are as frequent as bad pickup lines. Since the charismatic Carter and his wife Minnie Lee (a cousin of the legendary Lightnin' Hopkins) moved to Denton in 1969, after a construction job led Pops north from Houston, he has found a second home in the area's clubs. Almost every night, he can be found prowling about, sitting in with other bands and leading his own. Most notable of the bands Pops has been associated with is the outfit he's played in for almost a decade, the Funkmonsters, rounded out by guitarist Chris Tracey, bassist Clarence Pitts, and drummers Jesse Hall and Jeremy Bruch. Late last year, U.R.O.K. Records released the Funkmonsters' Rhythm Man, a six-track EP designed as a taster for an album due later this year. Rhythm Man is a fair introduction to Carter's music, mixing into the stew everything from jump blues to hip-hop drumbeats, aided and abetted by guest musicians such as guitarist Texas Slim and Brave Combo's Jeffrey Barnes on harmonica and saxophone. But it misses the point a bit -- Pops is best heard onstage, not on a record.

Carter says the new album, his first-ever full-length, will come out when the rest of the band comes back to Denton "and settles down." (Tracey is currently in Sweden, working on cancer research. Not exactly what we'd call wild times.) In the meantime, Carter soldiers on, continuing to play shows, including his recent annual birthday celebration gig at Dan's Bar on June 6. The band is also scheduled to perform a free concert on June 19 at Denton's Fred Moore Park. The years of secondhand smoke and firsthand experience with everything else have played hell on Carter's pipes; his gravel growl makes any conversation with him a strictly one-way affair. But it must keep him young: Pops has been singing the blues for 65 years. God, you think they'd have cleared up by now.

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