When I was a kid, our family spent a majority of the summer weekends camping in the foothills outside of a little hole-in-the-wall called Grizzly Flat. My dad would rig up our fly rods at the crack of dawn every morning. We’d be out on the forest stream with the mosquitoes, pointing our rods ahead to lead the way through the prickly brush, poised to catch our limit of trout. Daddy was proud of his girls and bragged that Margaret and I could out-fish any guy on that stream.
“What you catch, you clean” he’d say, and we’d both be bending down with our little-girl hands in that freezing, mountain water, gutting our rainbow trout, and feeding the slimy eggs that came out of our catch to the other ravenous fish.
In the hot afternoons, Mar and I would hike down the back side of Mr. McGee’s Christmas Tree Farm to get to “the falls,” the favorite swimming hole. The boulders were tilted at just the right angle that we could slide down the rushing waterfalls and into the pool below without killing ourselves. Mom would let us swim until our lips were blue, then we’d have to get out and warm up in the sun.
“Town” consisted of one long building—a relic from the gold mining days—that had been turned into a cafe-by-day-bar-at-night and a little market. The bar, “Peart’s Place” was the land mark for giving directions or meeting up. The interior of Peart’s was lined in fuzzy, old, dark wood with rusted gold-mining gear on the walls. The square tables had a sketched portrait of a local painted on each corner. At one end of the musky room was a wall-to-wall carved wooden bar, and at the other was a honky-tonk-ish piano with Jack Peart’s drum set in the corner.
Most nights Peart’s was packed with locals coming out of the hills for a bite, a beer, and some down-home music. Musicians came in from all over to play with Jack and he’d always give them a grand welcome, waving his hand like he was ushering in royalty from another country. “Weeeeell, we’ve got Brownie and his fiddle here tonight…. Come oooon down, Brownie!” he’d shout over the bar clamor.
During that time in my life, my dad would pay me a quarter for every one of his requests that I learned. “Somewhere My Love” and “Sentimental Journey” were like dessert after my usual fare of Bach, Beethoven, and Schmitt exercises.
I’d go into Peart’s during the day and practice my pocket-full of standards on that out-of-tune piano while Jack was visiting with the rough and tumble locals.
One hot night—I was about 11—the smoky bar was fulled to capacity as usual, with locals, musicians and lots of happy music. Mar and I were sitting in the dark, back corner listening with Daddy—kids weren’t really supposed to be in there at night, but Jack turned a blind eye. Brownie was on the fiddle, Jack on drums, some old local with a beard that hung down clear to his over-sized belt buckle was on the wash-tub bass making it sound like he’d just arrived from a club in New Orleans. Jack had empty moonshine jugs on the tables and the listeners were “playing along”, blowing into the jugs in rhythm, contributing their part of the evening’s experience. Daddy, as always—with that big grin on his face—was playing the heck out of the spoons. That man could make those spoons sing!
That evening, like he did with each of those musicians that walked into his place, Jack hollered over to me in the corner and, with a wave of his hand said, “Weeeell, we have young Miss Janine here with us tonight… come oooon up honey, and tinkle those keys!!”
My eyes were like saucers at that moment, and I looked at Daddy, not knowing really what to say (a rare moment I suppose). He said, “well, get on up there!!”… and so I did.
I started to play the pocket-full of standards that I’d memorized. Brownie stood next to me and coached me a bit… “now play it again an octave higher…” “now again, and lay off the melody so I can take it”. And so it went. My first paid gig. 25 cents.
That evening, old man Jack Peart gave me an invitation to join him in the magic-making. He lead me from the world of the peripheral spectator to the world of an engaged co-creator. The difference between the two was like night and day.
I imagine that, in those evenings at Peart’s Place, some seed was planted in me. I’m not sure what, really. Was it that making music is relational? Or that the experience of the people participating together created a more powerful moment for everyone? Was it that co-creating leads to transformation: of individuals and communities, even if that community is a small group of musicians playing late into the night somewhere in a dark bar in the mountains?
Somehow I think old man Jack Peart instinctively knew these things. Thank you, Mr. Peart, for sharing with me….