Rodeo in Salem gets unexpected song rendition
A man purportedly from Kazakhstan launched into a diatribe instead of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
By Laurence Hammack
The Roanoke Times
No one knows for sure who he was, that Middle Eastern man in an American flag shirt and a cowboy hat who was supposed to sing the national anthem at a rodeo Friday night in the Salem Civic Center.
But he sure shook up this town before leaving in a hurry.
Introduced as Boraq Sagdiyev from Kazakhstan, he was said to be an immigrant touring America. A film crew was with him, doing some sort of documentary. And he wanted to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" to show his appreciation, the announcer told the crowd.
Speaking in broken English, the mysterious man first told the decidedly pro-American crowd - it was a rodeo, of all things, in Salem, of all places - that he supported the war on terrorism.
"I hope you kill every man, woman and child in Iraq, down to the lizards," he said, according to Brett Sharp of Star Country WSLC, who was also on stage that night as a media sponsor of the rodeo.
An uneasy murmur ran through the crowd.
"And may George W. Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq," he continued, according to Robynn Jaymes, who co-hosts a morning radio show with Sharp and was also among the stunned observers.
The crowd's reaction was loud enough for John Saunders, the civic center's assistant director, to hear from the front office. "It was a restless kind of booing," Saunders said.
Then the man took off his hat and sang what he said was his native national anthem. He then told the crowd to be seated, put his hat back on, and launched into a butchered version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that ended with the words "your home in the grave," Sharp said.
By then, a restless crowd had turned downright nasty.
"If he had been out there a minute longer, I think somebody would have shot him," Jaymes said. "People were booing him, flipping him off."
Rodeo producer Bobby Rowe, who by then had figured out that he was the victim of some kind of hoax, had the man escorted out of the civic center. Rowe told him that he and his film friends had best leave right then.
"Had we not gotten them out of there, there would have been a riot," said Rowe, who has been bringing his Imperial Rodeo Productions to Salem for years.
As his wife, Lenore, put it: "It's a wonder one of these cowboys didn't go out there and rope him up."
Saunders agreed. "I was concerned for his personal safety," he said.
Once the film crew members and their star realized the severity of the situation, Bobby Rowe said, "they loaded up the van and they screeched out of there."
After apologizing to the crowd for being duped, Rowe was left to wonder who pulled such a hoax, and why. Months ago, he was approached by someone from One America, a California-based film company that was reportedly doing a documentary on a Russian immigrant, Rowe said.
The outfit asked if Sagdiyev could sing the national anthem at the rodeo in Salem. After listening to a tape, Rowe said sure.
By Saturday afternoon, Jaymes had observed that Sagdiyev looked a lot like the title character of "Da Ali G Show," a Home Box Office production that often catches its guests and audiences unaware and then records their reaction to "shock value" material such as Friday night's performance.
The show has a character named Borat from Kazakhstan, according to the HBO Web site.
Jaymes said she recalls that one of the five cameras was turned on her and others on stage, as if to catch their reactions.
"I looked at Brett and said, 'Why do I feel like I'm in the middle of a bad "Saturday Night Live" episode?'" Jaymes said.
As Rowe prepared Saturday for a second night of the rodeo, he was playing it safe on who would sing the national anthem.
"It'll be a tape," he said.