He plays a banjo downtown, Crestview, Florida. He’s a big fella, thick-bearded, with a personality so jolly he makes Santa look like a jerk.
“Whatcha want me to play?” he asks a few kids.
Somebody's mother asks, "Do you know ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken?’”
He does. And he plucks through it like a man whose beard is on fire. He plays this music like he belongs in a different world. An older one.
The world your great-grandparents came from—long before twenty-four-hour news channels.
He was homeless for a long time, and it's been hard on his body. He uses a wheelchair. Once, he even died on an operating table from a collapsed lung.
But he's a cheery son of a banjo.
He fingerpicks the tune, “I’ll Fly Away.” And even though I've never met this man, I know him. Just like I know all the verses to this song. It's a melody which sounds like a hymn, but isn't. It's more than that.
It's a rural church, with wood floors. Where preaching is more like shouting, and the
pastor rolls up his sleeves to pray for folks.
It's a funeral procession made of cars with headlights on.
The music is salt peanuts in Coca-Cola, straw hats, and side-of-the-road boiled-peanut shacks.
Like the peanut stand I stopped at last week, outside Dothan. The old man filled my bag until I needed a forklift to move it.
“It's on the house,” the man said.
I paid him anyway.
The banjo-man isn't playing for onlookers at all. He's playing for men who hunted coon with oil lanterns, and women who could grow camellias in red clay dirt—and did.
Women like Miss Flora, whose hair is whiter than Elvis’ Resurrection suit. Who still remembers when the biggest news in the universe wasn't Facebook politics, it was a war in Europe.
“During the Great War,” Miss Flora says—tapping her foot to the banjo rhythm.…