Monday, August 31, 2009

Their casa was our casa

It was the best of times, it was...well, the best!

Had a great a trip to my college town of Knoxville this past weekend. But as much as I enjoyed the usual reminiscing and rekindling of friendships (Facebook can't replace a beaming smile and a handshake from an old friend--or fist-bump when that friend has swine flu), it was more about right now than remember when.

My first stop on Friday evening (not counting a couple of errands on the way out of town and a quick visit to at Wendy's off the highway) was the home of Bryan and Wanda Smith, hosts of Pine Ridge House Concerts. They open their home on a regular basis to high-caliber musicians and the folks who love to hear what they do, and their living room becomes a performance hall. Chris West and Keith Garrett of the country/bluegrass group Blue Moon Rising were the featured guests. I hope to return to Pine Ridge again, preferably as a performer as well as a music lover.

Afterward, on the 30-minute drive to my motel, my "check engine" light came on. Since I had checked to make sure the engine was there before I left, and had hard evidence it still was, and since the car wasn't exhibiting symptoms of sickness--and mainly since I doubted I could find a mechanic at midnight on a Friday--I could only keep driving and give up my plan to sleep late the next day so I could have someone check it.

Next morning I found a Firestone around the corner that was willing to take my money to turn off the light. In the process they told me I needed new oxygen sensors, and a few new light bulbs, and new wiper blades. Wiper blades? That computer diagnostic gizmo must be SMART. I made the assumption that 1) I should probably get the oxygen sensors in case they were actually needed; 2) I should probably go ahead and spend too much on lamps and bulbs to reduce the chance of getting pulled over (those really can be tough to get at, according to the other mechanics that charge me less to replace them); 3) I should draw the line at their offer to replace my wiper blades for over $30...gotta be tough or they'll run all over you; 4) they probably wished they had more customers like me. I chose to consider it a blessing (and close enough to a sign for a Baptist) that the Firestone was so close to the motel. Convenience can take on divine significance when you're on the road.

Then it was off to the campus of the University of Tennessee (my ties to UTK go way back) for the original reason I decided to make the trip. The Baptist Collegiate Ministries (formerly known as Baptist Student Union, before these young upstarts messed with tradition and renamed it) has expanded and renovated the historic house where the organization formerly known as BSU has been housed since the early 60's. So they were showing off the results of the work of thousands of volunteers, and the prayers of even more. Bob Hall (no relation) has been director since before I attended, and was there despite his flu, bumping fists in lieu of handshakes and no doubt thrilled to cut the ribbon on the "new old" structure. A mix of long-haired, gray-haired and no-haired students and alumni gathered in the new worship center upstairs for the program followed by tours of the building ("that's where I lived"..."that's where I stayed up typing my papers"..."that's where I was 'trapped' in my room while I overheard Jeff break up with Melissa, because our rooms had those open-slat doors that were designed to offer only partial privacy; awkward times").

Then it was on to what had by now become the Main Event for me. Got to Doug's house and relaxed a little. When our featured musician Pat Terry got there--and after the downpour allowed him to get out of his car--we started setting up in the basement for the concert (too wet outdoors--fine with me!). We couldn't get rid of a electrical buzz in my amp so we used Doug's sound system instead (oh, well, I needed that lugging exercise anyway).

Folks eventually trickled in and we all shared a potluck dinner; just sitting with someone with Pat's musical experience and sharing stories and commentary would've made the trip worth it for me. It went too fast.

Downstairs, flanked by walls full of books that gave an intellectual air to the proceedings, I opened the concert with my usual mix of mostly-lighthearted banter between imperfectly-presented songs; the folks squeezed into various chairs around the room were very receptive to both.

Then Pat Terry came up and proceeded to captivate the audience on a whole new level, alternately making us laugh and think (sometimes even simultaneously) with songs like "Jump On It" (Granny's on the front porch/Spittin' in a cup"), "The Gift of Mercy," and one of my favorites from his new CD, "If Jesus Was Like Me." He shared stories about meeting country luminaries such as Travis Tritt and Alan Jackson, having them say "I think you sang at my church once," and then eventually seeing them record his songs. Jackson had actually sung one of Pat's songs at his own wedding; that song was included in a CD insert in Denise Jackson's book about marriage. Wow.

And having been made acutely aware of how many fans of his old stuff there were in the room, he obliged by pulling out some gems from the 70's & 80's and delighted us all. "Common Bond," "Yard Sale," and "In My Dream" were among the songs that introduced me to Pat's talents in college, and I was privileged to play them on WUTK. Such a cool experience to see the "artist" side of hime shine on these songs.

After the concert, I shared in a short jam session with some guitar buddies, then had a late night sandwich and living room chat with my hosts. I finally went to bed, no doubt to the relief of Doug's patient and gracious wife Kelly.

On the way home, I attended church with my college roommate Dan, and had lunch with him along with his wife Kimberly, also a college friend (they say I introduced them, but I don't remember), and their two boys (who apparently share my taste in restaurants; good for them).

After an escort to the highway by the family (thanks, Dan...I didn't really need for you to go ALL the way to I-40; hope you were going anyway!), it was "on the road again." I made it to within 30 minutes of home before I made my first gas stop of the trip. That's why I didn't qualify for the Cash for Clunkers program; I was too responsible in my car choice to begin with. That's how I'm spinning it, anyway.

Can't wait to go back! What'cha doin' next week, Doug?