My Kinda Gig
It was my kind of gig; a crisp fall day with clear blue skies. The trees had so many colors they looked like they were right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. We knock off the chill with black coffee and pinto beans and gallons of hobo soup in a big cast iron kettle. I go back for several refills. The soup is hot and the fire is warm. Soon we smell like hickory smoke.
Leonard sings songs like “Church at Hickory Grove,” and we pick “The Black Mountain Rag.” Phipsy the car dealer thumps out perfect time on the bass. Someone in the crowd asks if we know “Rocky Pass.” Phipsy is a relative newcomer to bluegrass (five years) and knows I’m a veteran. He scans my features. He realizes I don’t know the tune, and decides it must be obscure.
He asks, “Do you mean ‘Rocky Top?'”
“Maybe that’s it.”
Ben kicks it off on the banjo. The lady breaks into a big smile. It musta been the one she had in mind.
We take a break. I get some boiled peanuts and go look at the tractors at the show in the parking lot. One is a restored John Deere from ’38 or so; one of the old kerosene burners. Another is a Massey Ferguson about like Leonard’s. I used to pick cotton on my grandmother’s farm. I can’t understand why folks think we have it so hard nowadays. Leonard and I both remembered when we still had mules. Hard way to make a living.
The tow-headed Moore Brothers arrive. Jacob tugs on his Mama’s arm. “Hey Mama, Dr. B’s here.”
“Honey, your imagination’s gotten away with you. Dr. B doesn’t live around here.”
She was right in that it wasn’t my neck of the woods, and it wasn’t my band. Leonard’s fiddle man was out for surgery, so I filled in. (I stuck with the mandolin and didn’t try to sub on fiddle; I didn’t want to ruin their reputation.)
Soon she realizes the child is correct. “Dr. B, what in the world are you doing up this way?”
The Moores invite me to sit in on a few tunes. The Dad handles the guitar back-up, Mama sings a few, and the two talented young’uns wow the crowd. We jam some twelve bar blues. I think back to when mine were little. The circle is unbroken.
We play a second set. A young woman and several middle-aged men set out a plywood board and clog. It reminded me of John Hartford. The Moore boys wanted to take a picture. I tell Jacob to say hello to Wayne. “Tell him if he keeps working with that old gray-haired doctor he might make a mandolin player out of him yet.”
He smiled. “Yes, sir.” The Moore brother’s parents are raising them right. It’s the bluegrass way.
I ride home with Leonard and nap part of the way in.
Marfar has another pot of soup on and pours up a bowl. I could live off soup. “How was the gig?” she asked.
“It was great. Leonard and the boys were tight and the Moore Brothers were there and I got to jam with them. I think we raised a fair amount of money for their church.”
“Very cool.” She put on some coffee. “Awful cold out there today. Good to have you home.”
My life is so simple modern people often don’t believe it’s true, but that’s how we live. I wouldn’t change anything. Today’s another day in the salt mines. I’ll go back to the tough modern medical world and do the best I can to treat folks with grace and dignity. I do what I do because in my prayers I’m told it’s my job, and I hope I’m pretty good at it.
People ask why I play music. My answer is always the same. “It’s so I can continue to be a doctor but still get to be human.” Modern medicine is a very hard business.
As my daughter would say, “Some things never change, Daddy, and you’re one of ’em.”