Sunday, July 6, 2008

"I Play the Necktie"

"We need rain" is a frequent comment we hear from the locals, so when rain was forecast we changed to Plan B and headed for Meadows of Dan, a village just off the Blue Ridge Parkway about 50 miles from our campground (via I-77 and Route 58).
We drove past Christopher's Pizza before realizing it, partly because it was hidden from view by the carousel in front of a row of shops which included Christopher's. We're not sure what the significance of the carousel is, but we think it may be part of owner Sharrol "Shu" Shumate's plan to construct about 300 small cabins and make this into a destination resort with a domed amphitheater built into a old quarry. But I digress . . . .

After a couple of weeks on the Crooked Road, we've learned that there is no unusual place for a jam session. So, when we entered the former grist mill warehouse turned pizza shop, it seemed perfectly natural to see a stage, microphones, and a dance floor.
Shortly before 2:00, participants began to arrive for the three-hour jam. When all were assembled, there were nine people on stage (from left to right: Jack (guitar), Stan (dobro), Harvey Holtz (guitar), Linda Mayo (singer, seated behind the emcee), Sue Nester (guitar and emcee), Mr. Gardner (more later), Elaine Kincade (singer), Bulis Kincade (electric guitar), and Kenny Grubbs (guitar). I mention all these names because Ms. Nessler introduced each participant, and each, in turn, selected the tune he or she was going to play or sing.

Even though the group consisted of six guitars and one dobro (played by Stan on the left), the afternoon was special. The people were real, the performances genuine. It was the sense of community that made the sounds and voices much more than a song. They played and sang songs of life, a life they lived every day.
Mr. Kincade, called "Cowboy" by members of the group had a strong voice and capably filled any eight-bar break in a song. He took his playing seriously and did not engage in the banter among members of the group. He and his wife, Elaine, seemed to be the respected elders of the group--along with Mr. Gardner, who joined the group about mid-way through the session.

He was always called "Mr." Gardner by Sue Nessler.He had just turned 90 and was known by all the others in the room. With the first song after his arrival, he began strumming his necktie. It was then that we realized that he was playing a necktie-shaped washboard. When it was his turn to lead the group, he played the harmonica and also sang. He fit in well and drove himself home at the end of the session.

You can also see the binder that Linda Mayo used to select songs she wanted to sing. She sang "Password," a song she had written, for the first time this afternoon. Two members of the audience joined the group for selections. Shu also joined the group to sing "This Little Light of Mine" in a magnificent bass voice; he then returned to the kitchen.

When I took this photo of "Shu," I thought he was taking our finished pizza out of the oven to serve it. He said, "Folks here like their bread (dough) dark brown, so I had to figure out a way to prevent the cheese from burning." He then added much cheese and sausage and put it back in the oven to finish the baking. By the way, any "extra cheese" people need not ask for it on his pies. The pizza was very good and the cheese melted just right.

We talked with Shu about the difference in the performances between theaters and the pizza shop. He believes there is something in the walls of this old warehouse that gives any group a different sound here as compared to a theater. He thought it was all the past musicians that were still connected to the performers just because of their love of playing--playing for the sheer joy of playing.

It is this sense of connection that he referred to in this anecdote of his: "Last night there was a brain surgeon sitting at this table talking to a man who couldn't write his own name. All that mattered was the love of the music."

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