Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, March 10, 2016, 11:11 a.m.
The highlight of many recent years has taken place in Texas, hard against the Red River and the Oklahoma border, in a small city known as Gainesville, where my friend Vince Pawless builds his remarkable handmade guitars and raises money for a Cooke County charitable organization called VISTO.
Next month, when, by rule, my income taxes must be completed, I will likely make my lonely way across the South, gearing the route either south through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, or drifting north through North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas.
Or some combination of the two. It may depend on which minor league baseball teams are playing at home. I’ve already uncovered possibilities in Birmingham, Alabama, and Jackson, Tennessee. Two years ago, I watched the Mississippi Braves play near the other Jackson and the Frisco Roughriders north of Dallas, Texas, last year. Three or four years back, I saw the Montgomery Biscuits get figuratively slathered in molasses.
I will serve as the master of ceremonies for something known as VISTO Days 2016. I’m opening a concert on Saturday night in the State Theater.
I’ve been taking part in this hootenanny for enough years to have forgotten exactly how many. It started out in the country as Pawlessfest. For a year it was at an indoor arena at the fairgrounds. Now it’s part of a general festival that raises money to help kids in Cooke County. Playing songs for a half hour or so will be a minor part of the job. More important will be hyping the various activities, drawing tickets out of a box, or a hat, or something, introducing bands, and snapping the occasional photo or video from the wings.
My experience is that being an emcee requires a knack for keeping things on schedule while being as little of a jerk as possible. Last year wasn’t one of my better performances, but there wasn’t really enough for me to do. I was planning on passing it up this year, but Vince wrote me an email before I wrote him one, and realized I needed more to do, and promised me I would have it.
In other words, I’ve gotten what I wished for, also known as, possibly, enough rope to hang. Fortunately, I’ve been to rodeos before. It would be great if this was one.
Click right up. Read all about it: http://www.vistoevents.com/#!2016-concert-for-visto/c1fx5
Now that I don’t hop, skip and jump around the country regularly, I also don’t play as much music onstage. Back in the NASCAR days, I regularly played at little joints — barbecue, seafood, sports bar, combination of the three — near tracks, and a few people would stop because they’d heard of me or because they were fellow gypsies on the world’s fastest carnival circuit. Sometimes they’d even drink enough to think I was good.
It’s still over a month away, but, man, I’ve been planning. I’ve been taking breaks from writing things like books to play my guitar and practice songs and what I’m going to say while wandering among them. I felt like I needed to play music in front of people, so last night I drove up to Greer and played a couple tunes at Singer/Songwriter Night at a wonderful music venue known as Rhythms on Trade. The last time I was there, it was Rhythm & Brews. Undoubtedly, the new name has something to do with it being located on Trade Street, but a lot of people were there trading rhythms.
It was a talented 15-year-old, Zelena Hull, who I had met last fall there, who sent a social-media message out noting that she and her mother, Valerie, were going to participate. That was Monday or Tuesday. On Tuesday, I started thinking about it, and, on Wednesday, I decided to go, and I became sure of it when I got about 10 miles up Interstate 26 and had no defensible reason to turn back.
So, I had chicken wings and two Michelob Ultras, the latter being because I’m dieting and hadn’t had a beer at all in … months. The wings may have made me bolder, and the beer may have relaxed me, but I wasn’t aware of it. It wasn’t until I got through playing that I realized it may have been the first time ever that I played music in front of a crowd without being nervous. I was so relaxed, I didn’t notice it.
It was a nice crowd. Zelena has the youthful urgency of a kid who desperately wants to show the world how good she is. There was a rocker from Ohio, and several who’ve spent their entire lives in Greer or nearby, and a veteran musician who beat a drug addiction and decided, what the hell, sober I might be able to write some good songs because, hey, I got some real good material.
They were all right, which led me to say, several times, “All right!”
The other time I was there was last fall, and I didn’t remember what songs I played, but Zelena and her mother both remembered “Scuppernongs and Muscadines,” and though that memory proved that they liked it, I didn’t want anybody to say that I did all right but played the same two songs every time. I’ve got at least two dozen I could just play right off, and probably that many more that require a few run-throughs because I’ve damn near forgotten I wrote them.
I went with old standbys, though. I performed an inspirational song, “Your Independence Day,” and then hyped my novels, so that the patrons could understand I have more to fall back on than my idiosyncratic fingers bumping a row of strings. Valerie was kind enough to video my “set,” and I returned the favor by shooting Zelena’s. I got home and spent half the night editing the video on YouTube. Here’s “Your Independence Day”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooXMMkLcxr4
I finished with one of the first songs I wrote after I achieved the necessary goal of being able to play a guitar roughly halfway. The first verse of “There You Are” is made up of observations of people I used to encounter in NASCAR media centers. Then it moves on to various and sundry other foolishness.
Here’s “There You Are”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTRglclX0Xg
I’m quite pleased, which is unusual, because, ever since I wrote a book about musicians and songwriters, I’ve been painfully aware of how bad I am.
I was relaxed, though, not just acting like it. I’m good at acting like it. The sudden profusion of sweat keeps me from fooling myself. Last night, I was goose-like loose. Wait. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I wasn’t that kind of loose. I was relaxed, and, as a result, bold with my voice, and playing it, as an instrument, much better than the one hanging from my neck.
I might just go somewhere and play music tonight.
As you may have noticed, I use these blogs as a promotional tool for my novels. One, Crazy of Natural Causes, has been out since late July of 2015. In the interest of peace, love, and understanding, I’d love for you to give one or two or (soon) four of them a read.
Another, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, will be out soon. It’s a crime novel about corruption and patronage in a small town. The tale unfolds across two generations at the same time. It’s got sex, drugs, corruption, murder, and frank language. Very little, if any, rock and roll, though.
The Intangibles (2013) is based on boyhood memories and is set in a small Southern town amid the tumult of the 1960s. The Audacity of Dope (2011) is a freewheeling yarn about a pot-smoking songwriter who somehow becomes a national hero, and that comes with complications.
Crazy and Trespasses are my third and fourth novels. I’m working on a fifth, Cowboys Come Home. Most of my books can be examined and purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1
My short fiction, reviews and essays can be found here: https://wellpilgrim.wordpress.com/
Follow me on Twitter @montedutton, @hmdutton (about writing) and @wastedpilgrim (more humor and opinion). I’m on Facebook at Monte.Dutton and Instagram at Tug50. Look for me by name at Google+. Whew. It’s too much.