2:49 P.M.—A farm in LaFayette, Alabama. There are hardly any structures around for miles, only cornfields and silos. My band will play a concert here tonight. A hoedown, if you will.
Our band’s only mission: Fun. With a capital “F.”
When I arrive, the band is already waiting on me. I have been playing music with these men for many years. We’re not great, but we’re okay.
Tom (bass) sits on a porch swing, overlooking miles of corn. Jimmy (drums) leans against his car, smoking a cigarette, lost in a moment of spiritual reflection.
“Gosh,” Jimmy says, “I wonder where people go pee out here?”
The sound-guys are erecting speaker towers. And I am watching a copper-topped boy in a cowboy hat run in circles.
3:32 P.M.—Soundcheck. Tom tunes his upright bass. Jimmy tightens his drumheads. Aaron is on fiddle. I’ll be playing guitar and accordion tonight.
I have played accordion since my early days. The accordion is not an instrument per se, but more of a family embarrassment.
4:08 P.M.—Cars arrive by the dozen. People are mingling. There is an old man drinking out of a Mason jar, clear liquid. I doubt it’s water.
4:32 P.M.—Copper Top approaches me and says, “Is that a REAL accordion?”
“And are you REALLY gon’ play that thang?”
When I was a boy, I took up accordion because I wanted to be like my grandfather. But I learned to play with a bad habit, I stomp my right foot in rhythm. Sometimes I stomp so hard that I develop knee issues. But it’s fun. And that’s the keyword tonight.
5:11 P.M.—The parking area is now overflowing with cars. People have brought folding chairs and coolers. There is a taco truck in the distance.
The old man with the Mason jar is having an animated conversation with a cow.
5:34 P.M.—There are tons of people here. A woman from Georgia drove many miles to be at this shindig. A former probate judge from Alex City. A man from Virginia. A young couple from South Carolina. Someone from Texas.
There are welders, dentists, realtors, farmers, pipe fitters, brick layers, librarians, English teachers, preachers, and a group of women celebrating their sixtieth birthdays together.
“We’ve been friends since kindergarten,” says one of these women. “That’s forty years.”
“No,” says another lady. “That’s FIFTY-FIVE years”
“I can’t do math,” says the woman, “this is my third glass of wine.”
5:37 P.M.—The place is packed. People are cheerful and loud.
And it starts to rain.
These are torrents like something from the Old Testament. People scurry inside the barn. Imagine, a few hundred people, huddled inside a pole barn, sweating, laughing, drinking beer.
The sound-guys wrap speakers with tarps. We might have to cancel.
Mason Jar doesn’t seem too worried about getting wet.
6:01 P.M.—The rain stops. People cheer. Some have to use the bathroom—all that beer has to go somewhere.
But we are in the middle of nowhere. So, many people decide to sneak into the cornfield to answer the Call of Nature. And when I say “many people,” I am talking about upright citizens in the community, such as PTA members.
6:29 P.M.—Showtime. I start by playing “Jambalaya” on the accordion. I am not a good accordionist. My music has often been compared to the sound of a water buffalo in heat moaning along with an over-inflated whoopee cushion.
Then I switch to guitar. I am not a great guitarist either, but Mason Jar thinks I hung the moon.
6:47 P.M.—The band sounds pretty good tonight. During one song, our drummer sneaks off to visit the cornfield.
7:18 P.M.—I am singing church songs. I cannot play music with my friends without singing the music of my ancestors, it ties me to those who came before me. I know a million hymns.
7:42 P.M.—I am still playing and telling stories. The audience is nice enough to laugh at my jokes and clap after tunes.
7:58 P.M.—Our last song is “I’ll Fly Away.”
8:33 P.M.—Since we finished, I have been hugging the necks of people who attended. And I feel silly knowing that people drove so far to see a redhead playing music in a vegetable stand.
Mason Jar is lying in the grass, counting his fingers.
9:45 P.M.—The last car departs. The sound of the night is nothing but crickets, frogs, and wind rustling among corn stalks.
Copper Top says, “Man, I gotta learn to play one of them accordions.”
Soon, everyone is gone and we are all driving home. We may never have a night like this again because that’s the way life works. The most special moments of your life only happen by accident, and you can’t duplicate them, no matter how you try. My father used to say that.
10:11 P.M.—We are driving dirt roads. I am looking out the window, thinking about how life is so rich, but I don’t always recognize it. Foolish little accordionist, this is your life, pay attention.
10:12 P.M.—I receive a text from my drummer. It reads: “Love you, Sean. That was so much fun.”
God, it really was.