I awoke this morning from a dream, in a seeming fit of torment, partly from tears of joy and partly from the fact that I had failed to mention something very near and dear to my heart to a person to which I had been speaking.
In my dream, I attended what appeared to be some sort of event. From the appearance of who I was waiting on to speak with in person after the show indicated that it must have been a Bluegrass Festival. The man whom I patiently waited to talk with was Doyle Lawson. Doyle had just announced his retirement from touring the multitude of festivals he and his band, Quick Silver, attended each year. Doyle was a showman. His presence at a festival and his band’s performance on stage were the earmarks of quality and perfection. Someone had posted on social media a photograph thanking Doyle for his contributions to Bluegrass and wishing him well in his retirement. The image showed Doyle walking away from his gold-brown touring bus, rhinestone-studded jacket, and signature cowboy had perched proudly on top of his manicured white hair, at his side, his mandolin case; the image was the icon of his legacy.
As the crowds died away and as the stage workers began taking down the sound system, Doyle lingered speaking to friends and fans, to which he had many. On the side, waiting so that we could be alone, I uncomplainingly waited. The coffee in my white styrofoam cup had long ago lost its warmth. The sips were now more of habit than need which helped pass the time. It wasn’t clear to me what I wanted to say, only that there was a deep, heart-felt gratitude that must be shared – nothing else.
Finally, when my turn came, Doyle came over, and we began talking. There didn’t seem to be words conveyed in the dream, but rather a feeling of sharing of thanks and gratitude. It must have been moving because Doyle began to cry, as had I. A lady came over, who must have been his wife, and joined in our passionate sharing. Eventually, he put his arm around me and thanked me for this fond farewell. He stood by my car as I got in to leave, telling me to be careful and to have a safe journey. We said our goodbyes, and he walked away.
As I got in my car to leave, contemplating the route to take to go home, the stage crew continued their work. Finally, Doyle packed up the last of his own gear and headed off toward the bus with his wife. It was the end of an era, the last of a dying breed. As I drove away, there was a deep sense of finality to it all. But, before my vehicle had traveled very far down the road, the memory of something special, something that had changed the way I thought about Doyle, returned. It was something that I should have shared with Doyle but somehow forgot.
My memory was about something that happened 11 years ago in May when my family and I were attending the Doyle Lawson and Quick Silver Bluegrass Festival at Denton, NC. The week had been a multitude of fun, fellowship, and play. My son Jonathan and I had stayed for the Sunday model church service, where brother Dale Tilley would deliver the sermon. As was the custom, my son and I arrived early so that we could sit up front behind Doyle’s band, who always sat on the left side in the two front rows. There, we patiently waited for the church to fill and finally for Doyle and the boys to make their entrance. Sitting behind them and hearing brother Dale deliver another fiery, enlivened sermon and hearing the most beautiful congregational singing, one couldn’t help to be thankful. But it was toward the end when my son leaned over to me and said that he wanted to stay after and “Be Saved” that my heart melted.
When the time was right, I motioned to brother Dale that my son wanted to speak with him. So, as all the people, including Doyle and the band, filed out, we patiently waited. There in that little model church in Denton, NC., my son gave his life to Christ. It was just he, Dale, and myself. Tears fell from my eyes as I heard Dale walk Jonathan through the texts in Romans 10:9 and to hear my son confess his sins and accept Christ into his life. Brother Dale prayed us out and we rose from our kneeling position off the floor. We walked feeling a renewed sense of life toward the back door, the only exit out of the church. It had been nearly 15-20 minutes. Brother Dale had taken his time to make sure my son was confident and that what he was about to do was something not to take lightly. So, the feeling that we would emerge from the walls of that white clapboard building alone, just us three, was all that I anticipated. However, when we opened the doors to exit, there, lining the steps going down from the front door, stood Doyle and all of his band. Doyle certainly had other destinations to get to and a schedule to maintain, but he stood there at the top, waiting to congratulate my son on his decision. The tears flowed even more.
Yes, that was the day that my previously made image of Doyle Lawson, one of thinking that he was purely a showman and that his faith was simple to make the audience more engaged, was washed away. There outside that little church in a dusty field, a man that spent his life sharing his music with strangers, a man that made it his life to support his family through the difficult challenges of traveling the festival circuit, became a man to me who walked the walk.
That was the feeling that I awoke with, thinking that had I only shared that with Doyle, “Surely it would have made him feel even more blessed about his retirement, that he had done something wonderful for yet another person in his journey of life,” I thought to myself as I realized the sun had yet to rise. So much for all the fanfare, the awards, notoriety. To know that a man made his living around a gift from God, and that along the way, touched people’s lives by quietly sharing his faith, not as a boisterous performance, but as Christ would have done, without pomp and circumstance, but with humility and grace made all the difference in the world.
Yes, this will forever be the real Doyle Lawson to me.
Thanks for all you gave and all that you have done, Doyle. May your retirement be rich with countless blessings from the Lord.
Thanks be to God.