Ode to Henderson bluegrass

Published 8:32 am Thursday, October 14, 2010

Beams of golden sun shone through the branches of huge oak trees as curls of smoke from a nearby barbecue wrapped themselves around the light, riding it up and up toward the October blue sky. In the shade of the old tree, a circle of musicians gathered to pick and sing.

The sound of guitars, banjos, fiddles and mandolins blended with sweet voices singing old familiar bluegrass songs, some filled with longing for home, some mourning a lost love and others declaring faith and the hope of salvation. As the notes rose and fell even the shadows on the ground seemed to move in harmony.

The smoothness of the sound was like a river gently rolling along its path. And, sometimes like a river that gathers speed as it races over rocks, the pace of the playing built as fingers flew across strings.

Sitting on a blanket spread just outside the circle, I looked up at the shafts of sun sparkling through the leaves as the music swirled around me. I closed my eyes letting the sound carry my spirit, sometimes sending it soaring beyond the trees into that vast blue sky, other times rocking it gently along the smooth current of flowing notes and then suddenly stirring it to dance with the sound of a toe-tapping celebration of life.

Scattered all around and mingling among the pickers were others like me, content to listen with a sense of appreciation for the talent and love present on this bright fall day. All afternoon players and singers rotated into the circle then stepped back to allow others to move into the mix. Between the songs, stories and laughter took center stage as old friendships renewed themselves through the shared memories of other days spent playing together.

Even though my husband, my youngest child and I were first-timers at the gathering, the moment we arrived, we felt embraced by a big bluegrass family always ready to welcome new relatives. From the first hello hug from Richard, the official “Backyard Mayor” to the final goodbye embraces from several of our new friends, it was one of the most relaxing and laid-back days I’ve enjoyed in a while.

As we drove home Saturday night, I thought about the experience, about the people and the music, about our friend, Margo, who invited us to come along with her, about our other friends, Marsha and Darlene who shared the joy and fun of the day with us.

“It was a great day,” I said to my husband. “I’m so glad we decided to come.
“Me too,” he said. “I’m ready to come back.”

The miles ticked by as we traveled dark back roads that wound through four South Alabama counties. I knew that even as we made our way home, the circle was unbroken as pickers played on long into the autumn night lingering until the final note sounded ending this session of Rex’s Bluegrass Festival.

I often wonder about that spirit that created us, think about where it resides and how we find it, know it and feel it.

On Saturday afternoon, as I sat under a huge oak tree looking up at beams of sun shining through the limbs and listening to the sound of sweet old songs, I felt that spirit and I knew God was in Henderson, Ala., picking a little bluegrass.