John Green left the fifth string guitar store open like he does every Thursday night. And the faithful were gathered there like usual. And we were burying them beneath the willow, and singing about how a hundred years from now we’d still be crying, and we were old home placing and all the usual. And it was probably an hour into the jam, when Terry the marine started playing “When I take my vacation in heaven” and I got to thinking about how Sister Crystal White played that song at my daddy’s funeral, and when he finished I asked for every bodies attention, and I told them about my daddy’s funeral and Terry said I’m sorry if I brought back painful memories, but those were good memories, because my daddy lived a good life and be left me proud when it was his time to go. And I told my picking buddies I was gonna sing the song that we were singing when my daddy died, and I sang Beulah land, Sweet Beulah land, and when I finished Craig Townsend played Angel band, and his mandolin break brought tears to my eyes and sent goose bumps walking up my arms, and then somebody, I don’t know, it might have been Rags Ragland did “I saw the light“, and bluegrass Bob ripped into “Where the soul never dies” and if you don’t believe in God, you might have, about that time, because it sure felt like heaven in that place. Of course, Mel brought us back to planet earth with some Ernest Tubb honky tonk and the moment was lost but…here at the fifth string, you never know what you’re gonna get. I’ve been here when the picking was so bad it made you want to take up the banjo, and I’ve been here when the electricity was snapping and popping and the energy was lifting you out of your seats and you wished there was a dance floor to dance on. I remember one night when Kathy Barwick and Keith Little dropped in when we could have sold tickets, we were having so much fun, and the night Pat Calhoun brought her accordion over from Napa and we were romping, I’m telling you, whooee, we were romping. And there was the time some gospel group (I still don’t know who they were) showed up, and played a few for us. And there the guy that brings his flute, and accordion, and guitar and God knows what else and plays a little folk and Celtic, and that James Taylor sound alike that confused us all with his fine finger picking. And I’ve seen people who weren’t sure which end of the guitar you were supposed to pick, slip into this jam and play for a few week, and what do you know, all of a sudden they’re just picking like everybody else, doing their part to add to the mix.
And it’s a place you go where every body knows your name. No, wait a minute, that’s Cheers. No, there’s always somebody whose name I don’t know. That’s part of the charm. We’re a society locked in isolation, chained to our televisions and computers, drawing further and further into ourselves.
The fifth string, and many like minded circles serve as community centers for the soul. A place to connect at a heart level with people from all walks of life. A social melting pot of like minded souls. Remembering what’s important. Gathered together to sing of Love, family, good times, hard times, life and death, and forever.
And this particular night, we closed singing “will the circle be unbroken”
And I’m thinking about all the faces that have passed through this place, and I’m hoping that circle won’t be broken. I’d sure like to spend forever, picking with my friends. <