Hog cookings in the rural South are a big event. A co-worker of mine invited me to one in the county he was born and raised in couple of counties north of where we lived.

     This was an annual party which had been going on for many years which always drew a large crowd with plenty of food and drinking. They also had live acoustic bluegrass music from some Florida deer hunters who had been leasing land in that area for many years and had become staple entertainment for the event.

     My friend thought I would enjoy it and encouraged me to take my guitar to play with the bluegrass guys. It was in the nineties long before I had played a solo gig but did have the courage and skill to play songs in front of my closest friends…when I was drunk. I put the date on my calendar. 

     Distinctly I remember being nervous as hell, even though I had already had several beers, getting out of the truck with my guitar after parking. Bluegrass music was coming from the center of a large crowd. The party was was in full swing.

     Making my way towards the music I heard my friend holler my name telling me to come join in with the band. I stepped up to the circle of musicians as they finished a song, they acknowledged me and the rest is kind of a blur.

     I don’t remember the song we played but I do remember they all had straps on their instruments and I didn’t even own a guitar strap at the time. Since we were standing it was difficult for me to hold my guitar because I was accustomed to sitting while I played.

     The blur ended acutely after the first song when the guy playing guitar to my right looked at me and said, “You can’t fucking keep up can you.”

     Certain I heard him correctly but in disbelief some guy I had just met had the balls to be such a douche bag to me, I looked him in the eye and said “Excuse me.” hoping I had heard him wrong.

     “You can’t fucking keep up can you.” He repeated exactly as I heard it before.

     Already being self-conscious because I was inexperienced as a musician coupled with being surrounded by a large group of people most of whom I did not know, hearing those words was like being punched in the stomach.

     “I guess not.” was all I could mumble. I eased away from the circle with my ego crushed, feeling terribly embarrassed and on the verge of tears.

     An epic ass-whipping the jerk avoided only because I was a long way from home around a bunch of strangers and I didn’t want to be the asshole from out of town who beat the shit out of a skinny ass guitar player with a big mouth.

      That weasel might have weighed one hundred and sixty pounds dripping wet. I am a little over six feet tall and at the time was less than ten years removed from playing college in the S.E.C., was a solid two hundred and twenty-five pounds and had a strong propensity for violence when provoked. 

     The large fire surrounded by hay bales was deserted as everyone was gathered around the ‘bluegrassholes’ (I don’t feel that way about all bluegrass players only those guys) who were already playing their next song. I sat on a hay bale with my guitar and a bottle of Jim Beam, my drink of choice in those days, licking my wounds and staring at the flames wishing I could become invisible.

     “Do you know any Merle Haggard.” the thick tongued slurring voice stammered. I did not acknowledge or even look towards the direction of the sound. Next I heard stumbling foot steps and felt a body with arms flailing wildly fall into my side almost knocking me to the ground.

     Already on edge, I had the guy pinned to the ground by his throat with my left hand and was about to smash his face with my right fist before I realized what was happening. Getting embarrassed was one thing but I wasn’t about to walk away from being jumped on.

     Being choked prevented the guy from making a loud noise but his garbled squeal was submissive enough for me to know he did not want to fight. Helping him up it was obvious to me he was drunk as hell. He bobbled around on the hay bale I sat him on like a bowling pen you weren’t sure was going to fall over or stay upright.

     “Do you know any Merle Haggard” he said again as if all the commotion we just experienced together never happened.

     I couldn’t help laughing out loud at the deadpan serious expression on this guys face as he mumble for the third time “Do you know any Merle Haggard.”

     Soon enough I was only slightly less drunk than my new friend and we were belting out every Merle Haggard song I knew together as I banged on my guitar.

     The two of us were having a ball oblivious to anything going on around us until I heard someone say, “Do you know any Hank Williams Jr.” 

     Before I knew it, my drunk new friend and I were surrounded by a large crowd of folks who were all singing along with us. And when the song was finished everyone would cheer loudly as they shouted out more requests. Mainly drinking songs which were right in my wheelhouse at the time.

     My embarrassment from earlier was the furthest thing from my mind until someone tapped me on my shoulder and as I turned to see what they wanted it was the ‘bluegrasshole’ from earlier who meekly said, “Hey man, can we play with you.”

     Guess what I said to him. Wait for it…wait for it…here it comes…

     “Sure man.” And we all played, sang and partied well into the early morning hours.

 

     Without realizing it at the time, I learned a valuable lesson about performing music in front of others which has never left me. It is not about me or how good I am. It is all about who you are performing for and helping them to have a good time along with you. 

Comments

JB Rutland January 08, 2016 @07:25 am
What an awesome story!
Champ Wallace August 18, 2015 @01:49 am
I would have had to tell the jerk when he asked to play with you to fuck off.

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