In my last post, I talked about how, for the past year, I have actively sought out meaningful performances rather than gigs. I’m not playing as often, but when I do play, I generally feel great about it. Most of the time, these are paying gigs. Sometimes they pay less than what I’d normally ask, but they make up for it in other ways. Recently, I was extremely touched by a performance, so much so that I am still thinking about it days later.
Last weekend I played some music for the 13th Annual Old Timey Seed Swap which is put on by a fantastic organization called the Southern Seed Legacy. My audience was made up of farmers, cultural anthropologists, professors, students, home gardeners, and a few farm dogs. I sat on the porch of a log cabin from the 1800s and sang some of my favorite Irish & Appalachian ballads, as well as some originals.
There wasn’t a traditional seating area or stage, and most folks didn’t applaud after each song because they were too busy picking out plants or seeds to take home, but I wasn’t bothered by that. Almost everyone caught me eye as they walked by and smiled, or stopped me later (as we were in line for some awesome BBQ) to say how much they enjoyed the music.
The most meaningful part of the day actually happened at the end of the Seed Swap. One month ago, Dr. Robert Rhoades, the founder of the Southern Seed Legacy and true custodian of the Earth, died after a long fight with cancer.
I never met Dr. Rhoades, but this was my second visit to Grove Creek Farm, and I can say that the place rings with the sound of him, it is full of his fingerprints. I feel I know him a little just by exploring this place he took such care with. His daughter, Daniella, took me aside and asked if I would be willing to play a song to honor his memory after a small award ceremony.
We gathered around a bonfire as the rain started to fall again, huddled in raincoats and galoshes, and one gentleman was kind enough to provide an umbrella for my guitar. Around the circle, former students, colleagues, and family members spoke about Bob and how he touched their lives. They, too, were full of his fingerprints, in a way. Each of their lives had been somehow changed, just by coming into contact with this extraordinary man.
And for his part, according to his friends & family, he did not think of himself as extraordinary. He simply followed his passions and beliefs relentlessly, and was so devoted to his vision that others couldn’t help but be pulled in, too.
While we all looked at the fire and two people held umbrellas above me and my instrument, I sang Stephen Foster’s song “Hard Times Come Again No More”. I hadn’t picked this out ahead of time, because I didn’t know we’d be having this spontaneous memorial ceremony. It came to mind because it mentions cabins, which Dr. Rhoades had a collection of (no really) and because it talks about remembering those who struggle while we are celebrating. It just seemed right to me.
- Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
- Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
- Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
- Oh hard times come again no more. – Stephen Foster
After the song, Dani gave me a big hug and told me I could not have picked a better song to close the circle. Apparently, he loved that song.
I drove home that night thinking about the influence one person can have on so many others. I thought about how we are creating experiences and moments for people even when (maybe especially when) we don’t know it. There is so much joy in ordinary days, and so many tiny ways to ease the suffering of others.
Music can celebrate community, open and close sacred ceremony, solidify important moments, and express the full range of human emotion. I was reminded of all of that last weekend.