Visitor dances for charity

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By Cindy DiFazio

Staff writer/photographer

Choctaw Jim’s on U.S. 421 has been a suburban Campbellsburg fixture for many years. The store is packed to the rafters with Native American jewelry, western wear, motorcycle gear and handcrafted furniture.

Last Saturday, Choctaw Jim Thompson stepped out of the box to bring a whole new dynamic to the store by introducing Perry Joe “P.J.” Gabbard, a 34-year old Cherokee entertainer to Henry County.

He performed virtually non-stop from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday. There was no charge for the concert, but donations were accepted for Choctaw Jim’s favorite charity, Wolf Creek Habitat and Rescue Inc.

Gabbard plays guitar and Native American flute, and writes and sings original songs as well as some by Hank Williams and Elvis Presley.

He started performing by singing Elvis songs at nursing homes and sharing his originals with high school classmates in Brookville, Indiana.

“The Brookville post office even hired me to perform when the Elvis stamp came out,” he said.

What sets Gabbard apart from other entertainers is his gift for Native American dancing.

“My favorite is the Buffalo Dance,” he said. “I started dancing at pow wow in 1996.”

Gabbard was dubbed “Spirit Dancer” by a Cherokee holy man. “He said he could see our ancestors dancing beside me when I was in the circle,” he said. “I then started to write more songs about my life and Native American viewpoints.”

Clad in deerskin, bone and feathers, he performed the Cherokee sneak up dance in moccasins on the hard concrete in front of Choctaw Jim’s.

The sneak-up dance replicates and honors the hunting party’s advance on prey, Gabbard explained. He squatted low to the ground. A turtle shell shield was in his left hand and he wielded a battle hammer in the right.

Saturday’s crowd was small but appreciative. Choctaw Jim’s manager Tom Worley said that changed somewhat on Sunday.

Worley estimated the audience held at 50-60 people consistently throughout the day. He attributed the growth in numbers to Gabbard’s performance at Cross Roads Church Sunday morning.

“It just happened that a few of the members stopped by Saturday,” Gabbard said, “and after hearing me play Amazing Grace on the Native American flute and singing it in Cherokee invited me to visit their church.”

At the church, Gabbard “spoke about my ancestors and the things my family had gone through,” before answering questions.

Gabbard also performed an original song named “Bury the Hatchet,” which is about coming together as one people. He followed it up with “Akua Tuta” that gives thanks for who you are and ended, once again, with “Amazing Grace.”

“Everyone was very interested in what I had to say and enjoyed the music,” Gabbard said.

Thompson and Gabbard already have made plans to do it again Oct. 17-18 to raise money for a Henry County charity as well as Wolf Creek.

“I enjoyed the whole weekend very much,” Gabbard said. “I made some new friends and had a great visit with some old ones.”

Gabbards’ CDs and handmade Native American apparel can be found at www.perryspiritdancerdesigns.com.


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