Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Front Porch Music, Part One

Riverfront Stage

My time in Oriental, NC has been much less dramatic than my voyage down here from Washington. I had come in order to volunteer at the Ol’ Front Porch Music Festival. A volunteer orientation meeting was on Saturday, the day after I had arrived. The rest of the week I worked on some computer stuff and did some boat chores. I had anchored Ruth Ann past the bridge and into Greens Creek, a peaceful spot near enough but also far enough away from the quiet bustle of the tiny town of Oriental; which is still a working fishing village. 

There is a public dock a half mile from Ruth Ann. After rowing over, it is just three or four blocks into “downtown” and just six blocks to the park where the main festival stage was set up. Friday afternoon I enjoyed some music and that evening did my shift as a golf cart shuttle driver.  

As a part of their festival appearance, some of the artists give small seminars. I was lucky enough to have caught one by Christie Lenee, Guitar World’s “2020 Best Acoustic Guitarist in the World Right Now.” She spoke about creativity in general and her approach to creating music. From her I learned about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book called Big Magic and of earlier times when creativity was considered a gem to be discovered inside someone rather than the modern idea that some people are talented while others are not. We all can be creative geniuses if we are open and receptive to that possibility. It was absolutely sublime to sit in a small church sanctuary with just thirty people and witness such an amazing musician and open-hearted human. 

Ms. Lenee had been stuck in traffic and arrived a little late to the church. While we waited, the Emcee had told us about the grand piano. The former organist at the church was the sister of the current mayor of Oriental. When the organist sister passed away, she had donated the piano to the church. It was a wonderful, small town story, but I could just see the top of the piano behind the front row of pews. I have no idea what kind of piano it was, but it must have been special for it had attracted the eye of our musician as soon as she arrived. After her talk and having played her guitar, as the Emcee called time and solicited one last question, Christie asked if she could play the piano. She gushed that she could not resist the beautiful instrument. The Emcee shrugged and casually deferred to someone in the audience who must have been connected with the church. No one said “no,” so Christie snuck over to sit at the piano, lifted the cover, and began tinkling at the keys. 

Just as when she had started a tune on her guitar, Ms. Lenee first seemed to just explore the keys, searching for what song might be hiding inside the instrument just then. Soon she seemed to catch the wisp of something and began an ethereal rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” I don’t think anyone in the sanctuary drew a breath until she had finished. It had been an amazing hour and my heart had swelled as I left the church. Auspiciously, right outside the front door was the festival’s transportation hub where my volunteer shift was about to start.

Sunset on the river behind the stage

During my afternoon at the festival, I had run also into a local guy. The Carolinas are full of military bases and therefore lots of retired military as well. I had been standing near the river and the main stage; passing time, listening to the music, and observing. My hands were behind my lower back and my feet comfortably below each shoulder. I often stand that way; basically standing at ease as we were taught in marching band. The local guy approached and, with a slight reverence, asked if I was ex-military. I answered that no, my father and brother had been, but that I had not.

He said that he had noticed the way I had been standing and thought that I was maintaining some kind of militaristic situational awareness. Besides dodging any further discussion of the military or my lack of it, I said that I was a writer and that people-watching was an occupational hazard.  

“A writer!,” he exclaimed, “so am I. I am working on a novel.”  

He proceeded to tell me that he had a project that had been approved by Random House and that it was going to be the best novel ever. His story was a love story that takes place in part along the IntraCoastal Waterway and in the various local cultures. The novel was apparently not getting onto the page easily. He asked me about my writing and expressed that he was kind of blocked. Perhaps I could talk to him about writing and about his novel. He wanted to know how good I thought it was or was going to be. Of course, he wanted me to sign a non-disclosure agreement before discussing it in detail. I feel I can tell you all that because I did not sign, nor ever saw, any kind of agreement.

Another guy had been hanging nearby, a friend of the local guy apparently. I think this friend was mostly motivated by the twelve pack of cheap beer strapped to the rack on my new friend’s electric bike. “Stay right there,” the local guy told his friend. 

And then he proceeded to tell me all about the plot of the novel that I was going to have to sign an NDA to hear about. It sounded interesting; definitely fertile ground for a novel in the right hands. At one point, he even said that he wasn’t looking for a ghostwriter, but that he really needed some help. I told him that I was going to be around for a few more days, that I would be happy to talk to him about writing, and I gave him my card.  

“What are you doing tomorrow morning, nine o’clock at The Bean,” he said all in one breath. 

I consented to meeting at The Bean at nine. 

By this time, I had doubts. I couldn’t really discern if my ‘friend’ was actually a writer, a run-of-the-mill crazy person, or perhaps just the town drunk with a good story about a story. 

My plan all along had been to spend Saturday at the festival. The music didn’t start until noon, so I would have had lots time in the morning, but now I had agreed to be at a coffee shop by nine. 

To be continued ...


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