In the evenings we sprawl across a trio of futons unrolled from the corner of the barn, and the seven of us – four humans, two cats, one dog – slumber shoulder-to-paw, hip-to-tail. While we sleep, the fire dies and the barn goes cold, and in the morning the single-pane windows are opaque with the frozen accumulation of our exhalations. I light the fire by headlamp, slip out of the barn, shuffle to the house in the newly-fallen snow – every night now another inch or two – and light a second fire. I make coffee and wait for daylight. Then chores.
On Saturday, we traveled to Burlington to see Davy Knowles. You may not be familiar with Davy – he’s not exactly a household name – but for anyone drawn to contemporary blues, or for anyone who appreciates prodigious musical talent, or for anyone who simply wants to hear SOME OF THE MOST FRIGGIN’ AMAZING MUSIC ON THE FACE OF THE GREAT SPINNING BALL OF SOIL AND STONE WE CALL EARTH, I cannot recommend him highly enough. (Try this, this, and especially this)
We do what we always do at small, general admission shows, which is arrive early enough to stake a claim at the very edge of the stage. As such, I could tell from the moment Davy and his bandmates walked out that this was going to be a good show – I could see the smiles on their faces, the bounce in their steps, the frequent brief exchanges between them. In short, it was clear they were happy to be there. Maybe they were excited by the size of the crowd, which had grown to 300 or perhaps a bit more. Maybe they were still riding the buzz of a fine meal, a beer or two. Maybe they were just in a good mood. But for whatever reason, they were into it, and I could tell. Everyone could tell.
Davy is young (late 20’s), and a guitar prodigy. Story goes he started playing at 11 when he heard Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing on the radio and figured it out by ear; Mark Knopfler is not exactly your standard beginner’s material. A lot of technically proficient musicians seem to sacrifice something to their proficiency; call it “soul,” if you will, or think of less-trite terminology. Or maybe it’s exuberance that’s lost. Yeah. Exuberance. I think that might be it.
There was no exuberance lost on that stage, that’s for sure. About halfway through the show, I realized my face hurt; I’d been smiling so widely and constantly, the muscles in my cheeks actually ached. Yet still I could not stop, for there was such purity of joy in the performance, it simply could not be denied.
At the end of the show, with the crowd erupting, Davy and his band walked off stage. As Davy was departing, he came to where we stood, knelt down, and gave each of my sons a big smile and one of the guitar picks he’d just used to play the music that had made my face hurt. Then he was gone.
I can’t quite stop thinking about Davy’s performance (and his band – because Davy’s a bit of a guitar hero, his bandmates maybe don’t get as much attention as they deserve). But equally, I can’t stop thinking about his gesture of graciousness toward my sons. It was nothing, really – just a couple chips of nylon, just a couple seconds of his time – but it was one of those small acts that transcends its own boundaries, if that makes any sense.
Someone once explained to me that kindness is like throwing sparks. You throw and you throw and you throw, and most of the time, those sparks just sort of sputter and die. Or they land in water. Or they’re simply rebuffed. Because there’s a certain vulnerability to kindness, there’s a certain inherent risk, and as such, it’s easy to get discouraged. It can feel as if it’s easier to stop throwing, stop risking.
But every so often, one of those sparks strikes a bit of tinder. I believe that’s why I’m still thinking about that concert. In part, it’s because I was witness to an artist entirely in his element, and as a so-called “creative,” I felt the impact of that deeply, and with it, the desire to capture some of Davy’s energy in my own work, although I have no idea whether or not that’s possible, though I think it is.
But it was Davy’s small kindness toward my sons that struck me the most, because it forced me to acknowledge the ways in which I have not been similarly gracious. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, it makes me uncomfortable when people email me to say that something I’ve written has touched them, and so sometimes I simply do not reply, leaving them exposed in their vulnerability, and worse yet, perhaps less likely to risk such vulnerability again. From time-to-time, something similar happens in person, and I although I am generally a fairly warm and out-going fellow, I suspect I do not always respond with equivalent grace.
Now I wish I had a guitar pick to send to everyone who’s every emailed, or left a comment, or just read something I wrote. But I don’t, and maybe that’s good, because the logistics are frankly a little overwhelming. So I guess I’ll just say thanks and resolve to be better about responding with the sort of graciousness everyone deserves. For those whose notes have gone unanswered, I am sorry. I’ll try to do better next time.
Finally, if I may be so bold, I’d like to ask a small favor of you all. If you are ever in a position to do someone a small kindness like the one Davy did for my boys, please, please don’t pass it up.
To be sure, nothing may come of it.
Then again, something might.
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Speaking of kindness and whatnot, we are working to establish a scholarship fund for our Teen Wilderness Program through Lazy Mill Living Arts. If any of you have the ability and inclination to contribute at any level, it would be deeply appreciated. All funds go directly to paying our mentors a livable wage, while enabling us to include children who would not otherwise be able to attend. Please email us firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss. Thank you.