Knowing When to Come Home
My friend Laura Thompson has been asking me to do a benefit performance for The Arts Center in Orange (TACO) for years now. She serves as the Executive Director for the organization, and until a few weeks ago, for various reasons, we just couldn’t seem to get our timing down. It certainly wasn’t because I didn’t want to support their efforts. TACO works very hard to bring fine arts and music to children and members of the community who don’t always have the opportunity to experience the arts. Add to that the fact that I actually began my singing career at a 4-H talent show in Orange, Virginia, at the age of 10…and of course there was no question I would come home to sing! Much like my childhood, though, it seemed to be a matter of knowing when to come home.
Timing is everything, really, and the scheduling of this recent show turned out to be just right -- as if all the pieces were set in place years ago. The room that night was filled with friends going as far back as childhood – people who had actually been in the audience when I won the talent show in fifth grade singing, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” dressed in a coat and carrying a suitcase. Also at the concert was Orange County resident Phil Audibert. This was sweetly apropos because not only is Phil a long-time family friend and fellow musician -- he is also the person who gave me my very first guitar lesson back when I was 13. It is because of him that I can play a rolling “Travis Pick.” More than a few decades have passed since his initial coaching, but it didn’t stop us from joining together during the show for a rousing finger-picking duet of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice.” Talk about coming home!
Earlier in the week while I was rehearsing for the benefit concert, I started thinking about all of the other songs I used to sing on stage as a kid for community and school functions – Lyon’s Club shows, variety shows, etc. The repertoire was amusing, to say the least. In honor of all of the time that had passed since those early days of singing and the fact that we were all gathered together back in Orange again, I thought it only fitting to perform a short medley – in chronological order – of some of my old standards during the show.
I started with my big debut number “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and the audience immediately began singing along. Then I broke into “Brand New Key” – that little ditty from the ‘70’s by Melanie: “I got a brand new pair of roller skates, you gotta brand new key…” From there it was “Take Me Home Country Roads” which prompted Thomas Gunn, my fabulous guitar wielding side guy, to immediately chime in with harmony. Then I moved on to -- get this – “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from the Jesus Christ Superstar sound track. A teacher of mine thought my voice would be “perfect for the song,” but I can’t help laughing out loud when I think now about the lyrics: “I don’t know how to love him, what to do how to move him. He’s a man. He’s just a man. And I’ve had so many men before in very many ways. He’s just one more.” Yup – fifth grade school variety show. I kid you not.
Making the evening truly special was the venue. The benefit performance was held at The Light Well restaurant, run by the daughter of former proprietors of the Firehouse Café – a once popular Orange eatery where many musicians performed for years (myself included). Partly owned by Buzz and Marty VanSantvoord, it was known for great food, community atmosphere, and music. The Firehouse Café closed its doors a handful of years ago, but recently, Emily VanSantvoord – all grown up now -- opened Light Well just down the street. It’s still a family affair. Emily runs the place, Marty keeps the books, and Buzz helps out with beer selection. In her 20s now, Emily is obviously not the same kid who ran around her parents’ café 15 or so years ago. Buzz, Marty and I, on the other hand, picked up right where we left off, as if no time had passed at all.
Like the little coat I wore on stage for my singing debut at 10, everything about the evening seemed to fit. And as Thomas and I were just starting our first set, I knew the timing of the show couldn't have been better. Much like the way I felt singing in Orange many years ago, I wasn’t nervous – I was in my element. Some people say you can never go home again, but I don’t agree. I say it’s just a matter of knowing when and making sure to bring all your old friends with you.