When a foursome of community members and literary artists set out to create a unique writers' guild in Southern Illinois, they picked a distinguished name that carried a sense of class. It didn't last long.
In those formative stages, the group operated under the banner Blue Mountain Writers Group, paying homage to the majesty of the Ozarks and their fingertips that reach up into Union County in places like Alto Pass. Perhaps the name was too long; perhaps too formal for a laid-back place like Southern Illinois.
"It quickly degenerated to Blue Hillbillies, and even that didn't last long before it fell off to just Blue Billies," said Elaine Ramseyer, owner of Longbranch Cafe and Bakery in Carbondale and one of the group's founding members.
The group's activities are almost as off-the-wall as the story behind its name. Founded in 2012, the Blue Billies stretch the boundaries between the written word, music and live performances, while maintaining a common literary thread throughout. The concept started when two founders, Ramseyer and Dave Schultz, learned of each other's passion for writing.
They decided that because they had a venue -- Ramseyer's Longbranch -- and material, they'd give it a go and organize a live showcase.
"It was very innocent and childlike," Ramseyer said. "Like when you're a child and want to perform for your family, it wasn't much more mature than that."
The Blue Billies are now gearing up for their third annual performance, which will feature a double-header at Longbranch, 100 E. Jackson St., on Friday, Oct. 10, and the outdoor stage at Carbondale's Sufi Park, 500 N. Springer St., on Saturday, Oct. 11.
Each show is thematically different, and this year's event, "Portraits of the Dark," will celebrate October's Halloween spirit and will experiment with themes of the absurd, the macabre and the dark side of humanity.
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Those in attendance will witness a variety of artistic expressions, including a haunting photographic display, stories ranging from southern gothic romance to the zombie apocalypse, a theatrical recounting of bizarre historical events and songs of varying sincerity.
The show not only features Blue Billies members Ramseyer, Schultz, Hilary Chandler and Scout Schultz but also guests Alan Scalpone, Hugh DeNeal and Heather Smith.
Scalpone, a Chicago native living in Nashville, Tennessee, will entertain audiences with a rare performance on a theremin, the instrument used to create sound effects typically associated with UFOs and other sci-fi creations.
DeNeal, known on the local music scene as a founding member of Woodbox Gang and a current member of Hobo Knife, will be reading selections from his novel, "Swallow the Tail."
Smith, a local photographer and graphic designer, travels the world photographing memento mori, artistic and symbolic elements representing death and the departure from earthly life and existence. Her installation at "Portraits" is a sneak peek into an exhibit, "Bone Yards and Back Racks," which will be showcased at Longbranch in the fall 2015.
Ramseyer said Southern Illinois as a region is renowned for its arts and entertainers. The Blue Billies add another dimension, as well as a bit of color. It's also a chance to move some of the culture away from the university, where much of it is focused, and plant it as a grassroots effort.
Tickets for "Portraits of the Dark" are $10 and can be purchased at the door. In the event of inclement weather, the Saturday show will be moved to Longbranch.
For more information, visit the Blue Billies' Facebook page.