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In Istachatta, a down-home gathering spot

Hannah Montana may be all the rage at the mall, but out in quiet, sleepy Istachatta, when someone talks about being a Montana fan, they're talking about Patsy Montana.

Patsy was the first female country singer to sell 1-million records. It was I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart, back in 1935. She went on to sing with the likes of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and was active until she died in 1996 at the age of 87.

The woman called Istachatta's Patsy Montana is Irene Maki, 83 — who, dressed in her red sequin blouse, blue skort and white Kilgore College Rangerette-style boots with the leather ties swinging on the sides — sings and yodels away during the regular Friday night music shows on the tiny outdoor stage by the Istachatta General Store and Cafe.

The two-story building — the largest in town — is the heart of the tiny village, looming at Lingle Road and Magnon Street, catty-corner from the small, white Istachatta Baptist Church ("bikers welcome") and across the street from the post office trailer, the town library and the senior center with shuffleboard court.

It borders the Withlacoochee State Trail, formerly a railroad line, and the store and cafe often get hikers and bicyclers looking for lunch or provisions.

The store is stained red, with dark screens, some of them ripped loose, and it has seen many a year. Inside, a large U.S. flag hangs over one window; an equally large Confederate flag hangs across the other.

The owners are Mark and Mellissa Stacey, ages 39 and 38, respectively. They and son Mark Jr. run the place, with help from Marjorie Perry on music nights.

Mark also works at the nearby Sumter Correctional Institute. Mellissa worked for the previous store owners until she and Mark bought the place 31/2 years ago.

Time for the show

"I'm the keeper of the guest list," Ms. Maki tells a visitor in a perky voice. For almost three years, she has signed up the singers and musicians who show up to perform with the Back Porch Pickers band during the second half of the two-hour show.

Sort of like live karaoke.

Marilee Martinson plays guitar and is lead singer for the Pickers. On a recent night, she was joined by banjo player Jan Ladd, stand-up bass player Marlyn Stone, all of Nobleton, and guest musician Kathleen Hall of Spring Hill on mandolin. They did gospel, blues and a little pop.

As the sun sets, the people on Ms. Maki's guest list start lining up to perform.

Myrtice Lichtwark is introduced as Istachatta's Kitty Wells, but by the time her turn comes, most of the Kitty Wells songs have been done, so she sings a Loretta Lynn number, You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man, Hank Thompson's Wild Side of Life and winds up with Ms. Wells' answer to Thompson's song, It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.

Bristo McGregor-Skinner, who has been singing and playing guitar for 50 years and now sings with First Baptist Church in Bushnell, does a gospel ballad.

Ms. Maki yodels and sings.

The audience sitting in their folding chairs in the grass is small but appreciative. Their numbers swell to 250 to 300 in the winter, Stacey said.

Before the music starts, store owner Mark Stacey and his son Mark Jr. fry up a big mess of fish and hush puppies as Peggy Ford cooks grits and someone else makes coleslaw. There are also plump chickens on the roaster and barbecued beans with hunks of meat in them. The food is served from 4 to 8 p.m., or until the kitchen runs out, so it's a good idea to show up early.

Slim pickings

The Istachatta General Store's sparsely stocked shelves offer a few boxed items, sweet onions from Fabens, a few canned goods, bread, cat and dog food, chips, ice cream and soft drinks — the kinds of things the 200 to 250 people who live nearby wouldn't want to have to drive to Brooksville or Inverness to get.

The cafe seats 12. If more than a dozen people want to eat at the same time, there's a long, oilcloth-covered table with benches out in the grocery store or the rough picnic tables outside.

Breakfast of omelets, pancakes, french toast, eggs, homemade biscuits and gravy is from 8 to 11 a.m. Lunch of fish, shrimp or clam baskets, or pizza is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. summers, to 3 p.m. winters.

The atmosphere is country friendly inside and outside, by owners, employees and patrons.

So the little sign on the wall of the cafe has to be just for fun:

"This is not Burger King. You don't get it your way. You get it my way, or you don't get the damn thing," it says.

>>fast facts

Vittles and tunes

What: Istachatta General Store and Cafe.

Where: 28198 Lingle Road, Brooksville (turn east onto Lake Lindsey Road/County Road 476 off U.S. 41 north of Brooksville; turn north on Lingle Road/County Road 439).

When: Summer hours for the cafe are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; for the store, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day but Tuesday, when both the cafe and store are closed. Fish fry on Fridays only, from 4 to 8 p.m. ($8 all you can eat; $7 to go), music from 6 to 8 p.m. Store and cafe are open daily starting Sept. 1.

Show: Outdoor concerts of gospel, blues and popular music are from 6 to 8 p.m. Fridays with various bands. Free, but a donation jar is prominently displayed.

In Istachatta, a down-home gathering spot 08/07/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 11, 2008 3:08pm]
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