Britthaven has had a lot to put up with, having a famous man (and his writing daughter) in their midst. I hope that Britthaven is also starting to feel the benefit of the evening programs that Dad has been able to bring to their program in Chapel Hill. On August 25, the Tarwater band (Clyde Edgerton on banjo, Susan Ketchin on guitar, Bill Henderson on fiddle, and Bill Butler on dobro and electric bass) played in the Britthaven Cafeteria for an audience of about 30-40 residents. Even in a cafeteria, with pots and pans banging in the next room, and acoustics like inside plaster of paris, it was an uplifting event that once again demonstrated to me how music can transport people out of time and place, like a little dose of heaven. (Hmm, would nursing homes benefit a lot if they had the same facilities that schools usually have--like auditoriums, or multipurpose rooms? Boy, I bet that costs a lot.)
Dad and I warmed up the audience by singing "Farewell to You Amelia Erhart," a song I learned in the Westside Theater when the cast of Diamond Studs was warming up. Dad loves that song, not only because of his fondness for Amelia Erhart, but also because as the lyrics point out, we must not forget her plane.
The Tarwater Band plays a variety of tunes ranging from popular bluegrass tunes such as "Rocky Top" and "The Orange Blossom Special" to more old time tunes like "Sally Goodin." At Britthaven, they wisely varied their set to include several of Dad's favorite songs and some rousing bluegrass tunes. They demonstrated their sensitivity to the demands of the setting by keeping the energy in the room alive with some really upbeat, energetic tunes that everyone could relate to. I wish you could have seen Bill Henderson play that "Orange Blossom Special"--a master of timing and anticipation, and then letting loose on that thing a steam train running down a mountainside, or a trailing hound on a midnight hunt.
Among the many other highlights of the evening, were Clyde and Susan and the band singing in harmony on the modulating chorus of "Fox on the Run"! Aware of how much Dad (and probably mostly I) loves gospel harmonies, they sang "I'll Fly Away" and "Amazing Grace." (I got carried away on this one and Dad reminded me near the end to get back with the group and end the song. He has helped me with such little performance tips from time to time since I've been singing with him.) In this same vein they also performed one that the Original Red Clay Ramblers used to do--one that the Ramblers also learned from listening to Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers--"This World Is Not My Home." Wow, that brought back memories. Dad was sitting there singing his heart out like he used to. Clyde's voice was deep and full of emphasis on "Rolly Polly Daddy's Little Fatty". The banjo and dobro breaks were wonderful on "Wreck of The Old 97" as were Clyde and Susan's harmony on the gospel tunes as well as "Keep On the Sunny Side" and "You Are My Sunshine." But the one that got me most of all was "Give Me the Roses While I Live" from the Sacred Harp. The Ramblers used to do that one, too, but it was so full of meaning there at Britthaven in the Cafeteria that night. During this, one of the most emotional songs, a Britthaven kitchen worker tried to wheel a metal cart through the cafeteria and the double doors to the kitchen. Dad was sitting right in front of the doors, and try as she might, she could not wedge that cart into the kitchen behind him without moving Dad. In spite of the brief and humorous interruption, a great time was had by all, and the momentum was not lost.
A delightful surprise for Susan, her great friend Mrs. Melba Brandes, who is a resident at Britthaven, was there. She is a lover of old-time music and told me that she was very pleased that the Tarwater Band had performed there. Mrs. Brandes also told me that she likes the Red Clay Ramblers and was glad to see Tommy. She was very friendly and kind when Susan introduced us at the end of the concert, even though I was completely scatterbrained and going in ten different directions.
Dignified and articulate (in her own unique way), Ms. Hester, who is from the same unit as my father, sitting in the front row, just shut her eyes and moved her body to the music. She thanked the Lord afterward, and looking at Clyde, she said "Halleluja!" Michelle, Kris, and Maurice, the Activities Aide, Activities Director, and Maintenence Engineer, respectively, graced the back of the room, leading the residents in clapping and singing along. Eyes were brightly shining all around, most of all mine.
The experience taught me again that music--especially this kind of music, can temporarily lift people up out of the present, out of our troubles, and take us to a place where we are all the same. Dad was glowing afterward, with the old sense of a performance well done. He was elated.
Downstairs again, a few minutes later, Dad was a little anxious. When will we do it again? Can we just get together and play music even if it's not an all-out concert? He knows I have other responsibilities, but do I "think we might be able to play and sing some more soon?"
The answer to that is yes--absolutely yes. We're not finishing something at Britthaven, we're starting something new. Many of Dad's old friends are reaching out to him and to all the residents of Britthaven, wanting to help Britthaven in its efforts to provide its residents with an enjoyable and meaningful activities program. There is a need out there, in the Long Term Care Facilities everywhere, for events such as this one.
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Tommy's section of the site, the following pages
are also related to Jesse and Tommy:
Blurred Time "The Sleeper": the aftermath of Jesse and Bobbie's car accident
Mike Craver's "Visiting Tommy"
Roots of the Red Clay Ramblers:
Fuzzy Mountain String Band: Jesse's mom, Bobbie, recorded with Rambler Bill Hicks and others
Hollow Rock String Band: Tommy and Bobbie Thompson named this band for their community
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February 17, 2000