To Make the World Dance, by Carlton Leatherwood
Oh, my god, seven hours of glorious music to herald the New Year, 2016. There was in all probability more—in Terlingua.
Mark Lewis, fiddler extraordinary, is too cautious when he says we are becoming a music town. We are there. Otherwise, there's no explaining the three-hour Townes Van Zandt Tribute hosted by resident Butch Hancock on January 1 at Starlight Theatre and the four-hour “legacy” the following night at refurbished La Kiva.
And I was sitting at what Butch calls spitting distance all that time without motivation for a beer.
The Tribute featured Butch and son Rory, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and son Colin, The Mastersons (the sound man put the mic right up to the guitar), local singer/songwriters Jim Keaveny (and wife Anna Oakley on fiddle), and Hank Woji. And a “cast of thousands” who had new friend Teresa beating on my chair as she exclaimed to the lyrics of Townes.
Newly wed, river guide, and Starlight waitress, Sandi Turvan, took seriously the serving of a party of 10 nearby.
The next night, late La Kiva owner Glenn Felts was remembered as the Hancocks, the Gilmores, and the Whitmore family, including Bonnie and Eleanor, all took the stage till midnight. Marti Whitmore sang “Over the Rainbow,” a favorite of my childhood, and she and husband Alex sang their “Little Opera Girl,” with her favored high notes.
As was proved in opening performances of the New Year, Terlingua is not only a music town, it is a family town.
Meanwhile, a young man who plays a mean saxophone when he comes to town is casting a scholarly eye on its music scene. Chase Peeler, a university student, is writing a dissertation on it for his Ph.D. He chose the border community because he loves the Big Bend and there's a lot of music.
“You typically associate vibrant musical communities with big cities,” he said, “at least I always have. And coming down here and seeing how many musicians there are and how much music is happening on a daily basis got me really excited about spending more time here.”
"As you may know," he explained, "I'm working on a doctorate of music at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I'm in the final stages of it. I'm writing the dissertation right now." But he also loves the outdoors. He is employed by a fly fishing shop and has hiked the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail.
I gave passing mention to fiddler Mark Lewis.
He says, “I try to be a student in all things. A fiddle is no exception.”
In the previous year's Townes Tribute, he had played fiddle in the closing number with the Hancocks and the Gilmores. Earlier in the evening, the Ghost Town Porch Dawgs—Mark and Hank Woji—had played.
What was that night like for the performer? I asked.
“Hank and I play quite a few Townes Van Zandt songs,” Mark answered. “One I sang at the Tribute I had played in California with my bluegrass band for years. It's called the 'White Freightliner Blues,' and I've always loved it. It's one of Townes' songs that has the capacity to drive like a bluegrass song. So that's what we opened with that night.
“After we were done, I stayed up there, off to the side of the stage,” Mark said. “I went back and sat in the doorway so that I couldn't be seen. But I watched the whole show, and watched those two fathers and their sons play, see another generation coming into music. I saw a guitar not necessarily being passed, but shared.
“At the end of their set, Butch said anybody who wants to come up and play with us, come on up. We're going to do this last number. I thought, how can I miss an opportunity like this? So I grabbed my fiddle and tuned it up. And then they launched into the tune 'Pancho and Lefty.' I found the melody and enjoyed being part of the music process. The music process brings me joy whether I'm sitting with my buddies on the Porch or on the stage with my heroes, like those guys.”
Before you and Hank got together, I noted, you were playing quite a bit on the Terlingua Ghost Town Porch.
“I still do. I'm a street musician. I started out as a street musician, playing for the joy of playing rather than seeking an audience and a recording contract. I seek joy from collaboration. And when I find a friend and we sit down to collaborate—and we begin to find each other musically—that's as good as it gets for me.”
In his conclusion of the interview, Mark said, “...I'm not sure what Terlingua is becoming…but it might be turning into a music town...”
And I close this blog with the story of a musical romance.
“Yes, the Porch brought us together,” Moses Martinez said quietly.
His wife, Brandi Humberson would elaborate later that they “played our first music together on the Porch late one night. But the first time we really played together was at open mics at La Kiva. We had our first kiss there, and I made my first $20 playing with Pablo (Menudo) there.”
And Moses would add, “That's where we grew. Glenn (Felts) gave us the opportunity to get comfortable with an audience, to really hone my guitar skills. I miss him for that. He's very missed.”
Is Terlingua a music town?
The wife commented, “I'm pretty sure anywhere Moses plays is going to be a music town.”
And the husband's dream: “I have a fantasy of all these musicians on the road in a traveling caravan. I believe that we are good enough to make the world dance!”