There is magic in a song

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 20, 2010

“Everything’s gonna be all right, rockabye, rockabye…”

Shawn Mullins’ voice, joined by a standing-room-only crowd singing his hit song, “Lullaby,” echoed through the space at Shorty’s. It was a scene repeated many times during the inaugural 30A Singer Song Writers Festival held in venues along the scenic Florida beach road, 30-A, from which the event got its name. The festival, the brainchild of co-founders/producers Jennifer Steele Saunders, Paige and Mark Schnell and Russell Carter, had as its producer the Cultural Arts Association of Walton County.

In November my husband spotted an event poster. One of the artists caught his eye because the singer’s CD was on his listening list at the time. I saw Shawn Mullins’ name and knew I’d like to hear him.

So we purchased tickets and set out for a weekend of music; exactly what we got.

We experienced the incredible talent of Susanna Hoffs, a member of the Bangles, heard amazing well-known songwriters Matthew Sweet and Gary Louris, and lesser known ones like Effron White. We stood across the room from famous mandolin player, Sam Bush, and my husband heard Rodney Crowell talk about writing and performing music. In fact there was so much talent, including the Indigo Girls and John Oates, it was hard to decide who to hear.

Finally on Sunday night crunched together dodging waitresses bringing in food and taking out drinks we listened to Shawn Mullins. Our daughter, who loves music perhaps because it reaches through the confusion of her autism, stood beside me, smiling when she heard the familiar Lullaby lyrics.

Just before that performance, I’d been impressed with a local guy, Reed Waddle. When he sang, about sometimes being the train and sometimes being the station, I understood what he described.

Then we left Shorty’s headed for the Fish Out of Water restaurant to hear first Susanna Hoffs and then Gary Louris. Sandwiched between those performances was Evan McHugh, not anyone I’d heard of before this weekend.

As he came on stage, guitar in hand, there was a rumble of soft conversation and tinkling glasses going on in the audience. Most were probably like me, open to hearing him but really there to hear the “bigger” names.

He sang his first song to a polite response. Then something unexpected happened; he leaned into the microphone explaining the genesis of what he was about to sing.

His said his wife left the day before to visit her grandmother who, as he put it, was nearing the end. Thinking about that experience he wrote a song and was about to perform for the first time something written the day before.

He strummed a chord and starting singing. About two lines into the song, a hush fell on the room and by hush I mean all whispering stopped, all clinking glasses fell silent. It was so quiet you could hear people breathing.

I looked at my husband knowing he was feeling the same thing I felt, the same thing every person in the room felt. As he played the last note, there was a split second of total silence followed by thundering applause.

Even the artist realized something special took place.

“I’m not sure how to follow that,” he said.

As he sang his next song, to a now quieter crowd, I thought about what happened, how for a few minutes a group of people, many of us strangers to each other, felt time stand still as his song joined us soul to soul.

And that, I think, is what this weekend was about, perhaps what music itself is about. It’s the magical way a song touches so many different people; how music unites us.

It is why we sang together, “everything is gonna be all right,” and in that moment believed it.