The Fort Griffin Fandangle is an annual outdoor musical drama produced in Albany, Texas, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings of the last two weeks in June. Its focus is the historical and cultural development of the area along the Clear Fork of the Brazos River in northern Shackelford County near Fort Griffin, the military outpost that from 1867 to 1881 provided protection for settlers in the region and gave rise to a community in the flat between the fort on the hill and the Clear Fork.
The story is recalled through the memory of an old-timer of the region, a cattleman who sits on the porch of a ranchhouse to reveal the past as he remembers it. The production consists of a series of segments, each based on historical material introduced by the narrators and then interpreted by one or more songs and dancing.
The Fandangle can trace its beginning to a performance in 1937. Inspired by the Billy Rose show in Fort Worth and the Cavalcade at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas honoring the Texas Centennial, Albany native Robert Edward Nail, Jr., directed, with the help of local music teacher Alice Reynolds, the Lions Club Cowboy Ball. The successful show was performed in December in the high school gymnasium and raised money to benefit the needy at Christmas. The following spring Nail produced Dr. Shackelford’s Paradise, an outdoor musical pageant presented by the senior class that portrayed the history of Shackelford County. The play was so well received that it was expanded to include adults in the cast and was produced that summer under the name Fort Griffin Fandangle. A sponsoring organization, the Fandangle Association, was first incorporated in 1947. Nail established three rules: first, anybody with ties in Shackelford County could be in the show; second, the show would have to be publicized by word of mouth, not by paid publicity; and third, there would be no profanity in the show.
Alice Reynolds was active from the beginning in writing songs, in designing sets and the numerous banners associated with the play, particularly the steer-head and fiddle emblem that represents the Fandangle, and in sketching some of the elaborate costumes. For many years she also played the organ for the performances. She died in May 1984.
The title of the show was chosen for its alliteration and euphony. Fandangle is a provincial version of Spanish fandango, a fast dance. Originally only traditional or folk music and dances were used, but as the show was repeated in later years by popular demand, new material was written and included in the performances, a practice that is still followed. Although material is repeated from year to year, each season's version varies from any previous show in both content and focus. In 1979 the Sixty-Sixth Texas Legislature designated the Fort Griffin Fandangle as one of four official state plays of Texas.
In addition to Nail and Reynolds, numerous other citizens have contributed significantly. Songs written by James Ball, Elsa Turner, and later Luann George, who replaced Reynolds as organist in 1983, have increased the store available to the production. Marge Bray, long-time choreographer for the show, assumed the directorship after James Ball, who served for four years after Nail's death in 1968. Of particular significance to the development of the Fandangle over the years is the work of G. P. Crutchfield, local craftsman, who built the authentic replica of the Butterfield stagecoach, the machine representing the Texas Central Railroad train, a self-contained blacksmith shop on wheels, and the steam calliope, which is still played regularly before performances. All of these works and many other entries, bands, and horse units appear in the annual parade, which occurs on Thursday afternoon of the second week.
The early performances were held at the local football stadium. The Prairie Theatre, west of town, was constructed in 1965, on land leased for a dollar a year from the John Alexander Matthews estate. Performances have been held there since that time. Full-scale productions are held only in Albany, but short versions have been given in many locations over the years. These are usually performed in the spring and serve as the core around which the major show is built during June. These "samplers" were performed in Europe in 1967 and 1976 and in Washington, D.C., in 1984. After Marge Bray’s death in 1994, Betsy Black Parsons assumed directing responsibilities. In 2008 the Fort Griffin Fandangle celebrated its seventieth anniversary as well as the sesquicentennial of Albany. A "sampler" show was performed at the LBJ Ranch that year. The Fandangle held its seventy-fifth production in 2013 with more than 300 cast and crew members.