The home stretch! George and I rose early-ish on Memorial Day and drove all the way from Austin to Memphis. Google clocked it as 647 miles, and it sure felt like it.
The next morning we drove to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. George has been attending Middle Tennessee State University at Murfreesboro and recently transferred to Glenville State College here in West Virginia. He was anxious to see some friends on our way through, so we did what we could to make that happen. I went into Nashville and eventually found myself at Douglas Corner where I signed up for the open mic. That’s what a songwriter is supposed to do in Nashville, right? I was glad to meet up with my old buddy Ray Sisk, whom I knew from Asheville back in the 1980’s and haven’t seen in 35 years or more. Hi Ray!
George and I met up the next day and drove to Beanblossom, Indiana, where we attended the John Hartford Memorial Festival.
John Hartford was a remarkably talented musician and songwriter and one of the most creative and prolific entertainers ever to pick up a banjo. Or a fiddle. Or whatever he darned well felt like. He wrote the song “Gentle on My Mind” when he was in his late 20’s. It was a huge hit for Glen Campbell and remains one of the most beloved and performed songs in the world. The success of “Gentle on My Mind” afforded John a rare and precious opportunity to follow his creative impulses wherever they would lead him. And they led him down several interesting paths over the next three decades. He wrote many more wonderful songs, became a accomplished instrumentalist and was a champion of old-time music in Nashville. He also became an avid riverboat enthusiast and wrote and performed many songs on this theme.
During the last decade of his life, John spent a lot of time in West Virginia researching the music and life of Ed Haley, considered by many (John included) to be the best fiddler of all time. John was working on a book on this subject at the time of his death in 2001.
I recently wrote a song called “When John Hartford Met Ed Haley” and submitted it to the John Hartford Memorial Festival Songwriting Challenge, and won third place. Part of my prize was a pass to the festival and an opportunity to perform the song on the main stage of the festival.
George and I enjoyed the festival. It as a little hot, then a little rainy, then a little hot, and on and on like that, but we still had a good time. I think George had other things on his mind than taking photographs, so I have borrowed some additional images from the Web site https://www.johnhartfordmemfest.com/home
Tired and muddy, George and I decided to head home on Saturday – one day earlier than we had originally planned.
It was a most excellent adventure and a time I will never forget. I loved the scenery, the generosity and kind hospitality we received, the opportunity to play a lot of music, and the chance to see friends and family. But without a doubt, the highlight of the trip for me was getting to experience it with my son George. Few fathers and sons have this opportunity to spend 24 days together, travel more than 5,000 miles, and share the music and experiences that George and I have had during the past month. I love you, George!
Photograph courtesy of Gary Mortensen.