Saturday, July 26, 2008

"There's something about these four walls."

The band "The Country Boys" was appearing tonight at Christopher's Pizza--yes, I know we've talked about this little place before, but there is something that draws us back to Meadows of Dan. Shu, the owner and Big Dream Planner (see July 13 entry), says, "It's these four walls that draws you back." This is his explanation for the force that draws people in, but his modesty prevents him from identifying the role he plays in this attraction. He is the greeter, the pizza maker, the server when really busy, the checker-on-how-you're-doing, the singer in a duet during the break for the main performers, and a joker. These behaviors carry over to the staff and especially to the performers and people in the chairs. It is the warmth of the people that Shu ignites and that keeps Shu energized when it is returned to him. It's a powerful force--so much so that we passed up a concert by Robin and Linda Williams two musician/singers that we've often heard on Prairie Home Companion to attend an evening at Christopher's with the people and The Country Boys. We had been advised to get there early. And for good reason.

Fair or not, accurate or not, I have come to believe that I can tell within a few notes whether or not I will enjoy a group's performance. This assessment is based on sound, that is, can five musicians sound like one, can three or four vocalists sound like one. The Country Boys grabbed us in the first few bars--banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandoline, and bass sounded like one. There was a wide range in sound, but all instruments sounded equally strong. The result was a group that presented a wide range of musical tones, yet sounded like one instrument. (Until I learn how to include audio in our blog, this awkward description will have to suffice.)

This ability to make one sound from five instruments extended to voices. There were no wide variations in voice lines, that is, no clear bass, no clear soprano/tenor. Instead, there was a very tight harmony among the three or, sometimes, four voices. I don't know for sure, but I think this quality helped the Country Boys earn a victory in the highly competitive band competition at the Galax Fiddlers' Convention about three years ago.

It was also surprising that the members could change from lead to harmony roles from song to song. I spoke with Donald Clifton, the bass player, during the break about this, and he said that they will try a song with different lead singers before deciding on who will sing lead. All this results in a versitile, highly-skilled group. This skill is especially in the a cappella gospel songs. Very moving in word and sound. Their two-and-one-half-hour performance was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

During the break, I went up the sidewalk to Dee's Ice Cream Parlor. Shu had told us, "If you don't think this is a swinging place, the ice cream is free." As you can see, I don't think anyone has collected on that offer.

Christopher, Shu's son, was serving the ice cream at Dee's and shows many of the same magnetic personality signs as his father. He had been studying veterinary medicine, but he now says that he feels more comfortable working wherever needed to help his father's dream become a reality.

Two retired teachers from Stuart, VA, joined us at a table for four for conversations about music, travel, and the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain area of southwest Virginia.

Gertrude, Shu's sister, welcomed us to Christopher's and introduced us to a friend of hers from Marion, VA. With time only for a few words, Gertrude encouraged us to see the restored Lincoln Theater in Marion. When we said we had tickets for next Saturday night, she said, "Call Nancy; she'll arrange a tour for you."

There really is something special in that little pizza shop.

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