Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Nearly every evening forever, it seems, thunder comes from the east as the sun sets. The thunder comes closer and closer and, after dark, rain falls. If it doesn’t rain during the evening, it rains during the day. Dealing with the leak in my dining room window has become a sort of game, an engineering project with tinfoil and tape to channel rainwater into a bucket that has, right now, an inch of dirty water at its bottom.

Oh, well, I am far more fortunate than many people who endure far worse during these storms.

In early June, I spent countless hours – because I don’t want to add them up – building a small stage under a very big, very old tree down near the lake, and clearing space on a natural, gently inclined amphitheater where as many as 75 people could sit in the shade, feel the breeze from the lake, and listen to music. I removed underbrush (including poison oak), cut down a couple of small trees, and smoothed the ground.

The last time I was at the site, nearly two weeks ago, I saw two young deer flee deeper into the forest. I watched the birds over the lake and, on my skin, felt the breeze and the insects.
I was preparing the stage for a July 1 show – fiddle, guitar, vocals – with Amanda Shires, who wrote and sang my favorite song from last year, “Hearts Are Breaking,” and Rod Picott. My dream: a small, simple concert site designed to peel away layers of “civilization” as people drove from the interstate to the asphalt road to the grass road and parking, with a short walk into the deeper woods by the lake to shed the last of anyone’s cares.
Didn’t happen. Rain. Comically severe mud.

So. My sister arranged an alternate site: the nearly gym-size living room of Caruth Byrd on his 325-acre wildlife preserve about three miles away. He was a good host for Amanda, Rod, and about 30 people, including our parents. The show was good, too. One man in the audience was so enthralled, so early, with the show that he text-messaged his wife to come right away; she did. Another thought the show, if it had been taped and were marketed properly, would have made Amanda and Caruth a lot of money.

The overall kinda feel from some of the folks: “Hey, we didn’t know we could hear music this good right here in East Texas.” That’s not true, but you’ve gotta know where to look. A night earlier, at Crossroads Coffeehouse in Winnsboro, 70 or 80 people, including me, heard Emily Elbert and Sydney Price, both recent high school grads from the Dallas area, do enthralling, jazz-folk performances. Emily has a four-year scholarship to the Berklee School of Music near Boston and Sydney’s already going to the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City; in 2005, Sydney won the international BMI John Lennon Songwriting Scholarship contest.

So. Young people with dreams and plans. Amanda’s 24. Rod’s a little older but, to me, still young. Caruth liked Amanda and her music, as I knew he would. He’s worked with Tammy Wynette, Tanya Tucker, George Jones, and many others. He’ll end up working with Amanda, too, if the long conversation they had after the show comes to fruition.

So. I didn’t get to host my concert under the trees by the lake. But some good stuff happened anyway.

One of my half dozen muses – another musician – emailed recently that, to deal with stress, she continues to dwell on the idea of a vast lake turbulent on the surface and calm at the bottom. She craves the calmness in an often chaotic world.

I told her that when I was 12 and nearly drowned in a lake, there was indeed a calmness as I swallowed water and my young life flashed before my eyes in a rainbow arc from right to left. Not exactly pleasant, but strangely calm. I see the appeal of her calm lake bed beneath turbulence. And I love the emotional imagery.

Amidst everyone’s dreams and plans and desires for the calm at the bottom of the lake, the lakeside stage awaits, empty and wet, in the mud under the trees . . .