“Ladies-n-gennelmen, you heard it right here, ladies-n-gennelmen…”
When we first heard the effusive, rambling introduction of the Carpetbaggers that the Minneapolis trio snuck onto their latest release Sin Now … Pray Later, we knew we had to find out where it came from. Turns out it was taken from one of the band’s appearances on “Viva and Jerry’s Country Videos”, a cable access TV show in Minneapolis that frequently features guest performances by local and national acts. We dispatched our trusty Twin Cities correspondent down to Viva and Jerry’s World Headquarters to investigate further. Here’s his report:
Across the Mississippi River from downtown Minneapolis, in one of the oldest sections of the city, lies a sprawling brick-and-mortar complex known as St. Anthony Main. Although it still houses a handful of bars, what was once a bustling shopping and entertainment complex for the tragically hip has now become mostly office space. Travel up a flight of stairs and down a hall of hardwood flooring, and you enter the Minneapolis Television Network, home of “Viva and Jerry’s Country Videos”.
Every Tuesday in Studio B, Viva and Jerry Beck, along with their crew of three, create another episode of their cable access variety show. What began five years ago as a vehicle for showcasing their favorite country artists has launched them to full-blown cult status and is carried weekly by 10 cable companies in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The show is a spontaneous mix of country music videos, humor, and live music segments. Remaining true to Viva and Jerry’s original mission, each show features a handful of current videos by artists both young and old. In addition, they occasionally catch a national act passing through town; they’ve treated viewers to live guest spots with the Moffatts, Kim Richey and Jeff Carson.
Enthusiastic supporters of the Twin Cities music scene, Viva and Jerry have also made live appearances by local bands a regular part of the show. The Carpetbaggers were the first musical guests, and judging by the ever-present photo album stuffed with pictures of the band, they are among Viva and Jerry’s favorites. (That’s Jerry introducing them on the final cut of their recent HighTone release, Sin Now … Pray Later). When no other bands are scheduled, Jerry himself fills in. With a repertoire of hundreds of songs and a genuine country voice (he does a killer imitation of David Ball), Jerry has become a viewer favorite for his own performances.
Musical segments of the show are bound together by such regular features as “Tender Moments” (usually a close-up of a touching family photo or painting) and “Viva’s Spoofs”, a collection of skits, jokes, bell ringing, horn honking, food sculptures, garage sale treasures and about anything else that comes to mind.
Viva is clearly in charge of the show, and carries nearly all the narrative duties in her thick Estonian accent. Meanwhile, Jerry stands beside her with his trademark “thumbs up” sign (the show’s official secret handshake) in perpetual motion. Although his verbal contributions consist largely of, “Hey hey, ladies-n-gennelmen, I love it!” or “You betcha, ladies-n-gennelmen!” followed by his hearty laugh, he’s always got a joke or a limerick on the tip of his tongue.
Their “no-retakes” policy on the live segments adds to the charm. On any given Tuesday, they can be found squeezing in a final sentence before the credits, or looking at each other searching desperately for another 30 seconds of material. In spite of the potential for danger, the spontaneity serves to highlight their genuine love and enthusiasm for the show, their fans and each other.
On a recent show, Viva was explaining how she had grown attached to one of her garage sale purchases when Jerry interrupted. “Ladies-n-gennelmen, I’ve been attached to Viva for years and I love it!” Caught at a rare loss for words and clearly touched, Viva turned to Jerry and firmly planted one right on his lips.
The true magic of the show lies in Viva and Jerry themselves. The sincerity, the down-to-earth quality, and the genuine goodness of this couple prevent “Viva and Jerry’s Country Videos” from being a caricature of itself. Instead, one gets the feeling that this show is just a couple of friendly folks having good clean fun. That approach transcends age and social status, and has led to their steadily growing popularity.
Their notoriety also reaches beyond their home turf. They once appearanced on the now-defunct Jon Stewart Show and have been in contact with David Letterman’s crew about a possible guest slot. They’ve also captured the attention of music-industry players in Nashville: They receive new videos regularly, and are seated either front-and-center or backstage for nearly every country event that comes to town.
Viva and Jerry hope to someday turn their popularity into a career in commercials. For now, it’s reward enough to be recognized at a local garage sale, to be approached in public with the “secret handshake,” or just to be able to present some of their favorite musical performers on live TV…
Ladies-n-gennelmen, you heard it right here, the Carpetbaggers! They’re gonna do another song, and after they finish their song, ladies-n-gennelmen, we’re goin’ downstairs for another great interview from Viva and Jerry’s Country Music Videos. So here again, ladies-n-gennelmen, three great guys, aw, they’re super, they’re great friends of mine, and I tell ya, you guys sound absolutely wunnerful tonight. I dunno how you do it.”