The Village Idiot’s phone rang off the hook. And a little church in the middle of nowhere, by simple word-of-mouth advertising, suddenly became the epicenter of Ohio’s hottest T-shirt sales for a day.
Strange things happen, indeed, when northwest Ohio is about to be reunited with a starry-eyed woman known for her dreadlocks and an acoustic guitar that Melissa Etheridge autographed for her in Chicago.
A 24-year-old woman who also, incidentally, appears to have won over America with her Janis Joplin-meets-Bonnie Raitt vocal chops.
After months in Hollywood, Crystal Bowersox is coming home.
It’s just a one-day reunion — yet it’s one that both Bowersox and the region have been mutually anticipating.
By now you know the basic storyline: Single mom from modest background in nondescript Elliston, Ohio — a place out in the country with a smattering of old homes standing on either side of busy railroad tracks — yearns for the chance to provide financial security for the little boy she gave birth to 11 months ago.
The nation’s economy is in shambles. She’s had diabetes since age 7, complicating the financial outlook for her and her young son. So she picks up her guitar, gets national exposure on American Idol, and, now, is on the cusp of achieving her dream.
Yada, yada, yada. Happens all the time, right?
Well, no, and that explains why the region is going bonkers.
The Village Idiot in Maumee, a tavern where Bowersox performed in relative obscurity every Monday night for 1 years, got mentioned by Bowersox at the end of Wednesday’s Idol broadcast, when host Ryan Seacrest asked her and others for an anecdote of what reminds them of home. Bowersox mentions her gigs there, and her desire to someday be reunited with her bass player, Frankie May.
Riiiinnnng! The passing remark got the tavern at least 60 phone calls by 4 p.m. yesterday, many from people wondering if she’ll be playing there on this trip.
She won’t, owner John Schafer said.
He cited restrictions of her American Idol contract.
But that didn't stop Mr. Schafer and other Village Idiot employees from getting goosebumps.
“Yeah, that was pretty sweet,” Mr. Schafer said of Bowersox's passing reference to his tavern on national TV. “It just makes you feel really good about her and the whole thing. We've always loved her. It just kind of chilled us a bit. It brought a tear to our eyes. It's so nice she's still thinking about us.”
Ditto on that sentiment from executive chef and jack-of-all-trades Tom Sullivan, who stopped short of calling himself manager because, he said, it's a down-home place with too much camaraderie among employees for real management structure.
He said Bowersox fit in because she's every bit as genuine as she appears on television. He said she reminds him of his daughters.
“Believe me, if she was a jerk, I'd tell you,” Mr. Sullivan said.
“I think she's just a really nice girl. We hope things really go well for her. She got diabetes when she was young. She could use a break.”
Mr. Schafer also said Bowersox is as genuine as people come.
“There's a certain truth and honesty to her that she'll always have,” he said. “She wasn't coddled. She did this all on her own. That's the biggest thing for her.”
Bowersox arrived at Toledo Express Airport about 10:15 last night.
“It's good to be home,” she told a reporter from WUPW-TV, Channel 36. She was then driven to the studios of the station, a Fox affiliate that televises American Idol. She arrived at the studios just before 11 p.m. She signed autographs and posed for fan photos.
She signed autographs and posed for fan photos.
“It's a little intense,” she said as the cheering continued. “I don't know what I'm feeling. I'm here. I'm chill. I'm very cool,” she told the station's anchors. Then to the crowd: “This is a little crazy, guys.''
She sang “Holy Toledo” and “Grey-Haired Rock Star,” both her own, as well as the classic “Me and Bobby McGee.”
“I'm going to play some of my stuff, because I don't get to do that very much any more,” she said, before she sang and played guitar on “Holy Toledo.”
The crowd erupted. Tears welling in her eyes, she said, “I started playing when I was 10, and I have never in my life as long as I've been playing heard that big of a cheer for one of my songs.”
The region's love for Bowersox keeps pouring out at Trinity United Church of Christ in Elliston, in Ottawa County's Benton Township and about 20 miles southeast of Toledo. The church is next door to the house where Bowersox grew up and her father, Bill Bowersox, still lives.
Hundreds of people have made it a weekly ritual to watch Bowersox perform on Idol from the church's fellowship hall, now the tiny town's ad hoc meeting place. The town itself, founded in 1867, has about 75 residents.
Bowersox's name is on signs at both ends of Elliston. Photographs of people enjoying themselves during one of her many Idol showings adorn the hall's walls. To the left is a large banner that reads: “Keep a Song in Your Heart. Crystal Bowersox — Elliston's Idol.”
Awaiting Bowersox is a chalkboard signed by ‘tweens and toddlers, each making the point of how she's been a role model. “Crystal — You rock my socks off!” one of the messages said.
Scarlet-red T-shirts proclaiming Elliston's affection for Bowersox went on sale weeks ago and have raised several thousand dollars for one of Bowersox's favorite charities, Diabetes Youth Services of Maumee.
The latest item, unveiled just in time for Wednesday night's show, is a black T-shirt with a picture of Bowersox on the front and a listing of all the songs she has performed to date.
Predictably, it sold like hotcakes that night. Then yesterday, without warning, a steady procession of people continued to show up at the church.
Volunteers accommodated them. They sold thousands more shirts throughout the day. Now, most are gone. Even some sizes of the original red shirts are sold out.
“It was unreal,” said Robin Hansen, a Trinity volunteer and Oregon nurse.
The remaining shirts will be available for purchase today at the Ottawa County Fairgrounds, where Bowersox is scheduled to perform. Sales are limited to before 4 p.m. and after 6 p.m. because of restrictions placed on the event by American Idol while Bowersox performs, according to Ms. Hansen.
The red shirts also can be purchased via the Internet by going to www.crystalshirts.org. There are no plans to sell the black shirts on that Web site, she said.
The free concert at the Ottawa County Fairgrounds is one of several stops for Bowersox today. Those who wish to sit are asked to bring their own folding chairs. Because of thick mud, the Ottawa County fair board canceled its plans to set up seating beyond the existing grandstand, Ms. Hansen said.
One previously unannounced event has been added, a 10:30 a.m. stop at an AT&T store at 4906 Monroe Street in West Toledo.
Chris Bauer, an AT&T spokesman, described as a “meet and greet” with fans that will last up to 30 minutes.
“She will be on stage thanking hometown supporters,” he said.
No performance is scheduled there. But some breaking news is expected: Bowersox will be handed a cell phone that contains a text message, identifying the name of the song she's been assigned to perform on the show Tuesday night, Mr. Bauer said.
After that, it's off to downtown Toledo for a parade that begins at 11:30 a.m., starting in front of Owens Corning and traversing Summit Street and Madison Avenue before winding up at Promenade Park, where Bowersox is scheduled to give a free, 45-minute show starting at 12:30 p.m.
Elliston plans to follow up with a parade of its own shortly after her Toledo appearances. She then will deliver her show at the Ottawa County Fairgrounds, starting at 4 p.m.
The fairgrounds is at 7870 West State Rt. 163, about eight miles west of Port Clinton and 35 miles east of Toledo.
Gates open at noon, with other music and festivities before Bowersox arrives. For more information about the fairgrounds event, call the Lake Erie Shores & Islands Welcome Center at 1-800-441-1271.
After Bowersox finishes there, she will be escorted by Ottawa County sheriff's deputies to Fifth Third Field in downtown Toledo. Bowersox is scheduled to arrive at 7 p.m., then throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and sing the National Anthem before the Toledo Mud Hens game. The game's starting time has been pushed back to 7:30 p.m.