Tag Archives: bluegrass

Thank you Doyle Lawson

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.

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Grass that Withereth…

“For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever.”- 1 Peter 1:24-25

With so many things in life, something began to stand out to me the other day that hadn’t seemed so obvious before. It is sometimes stunning what we lost in a matter of just a few years of life. While inviting people to like the new page for my book, The Light in the Darkness, I kept running across pages of dear friends and loved ones that have passed away. All of them had been here when my first book had been published. They had all liked it, and as such, were some of the first ones to come up to be invited back to like the new page. In a matter of four years, we have lost so many. Each time I would go back in and look to invite more people, their names kept moving to the top of the uninvited; a solemn reminder that they were no longer with us.

I let it go, and as usual, tried to move on.

Tonight, while sitting in church listening to the sermon, the passage of 1 Peter spoke to me. So many friends and family, like those blades of grass in the field, hath withereth away. The thought of all those who had died came back again. I had been in prayer for two other friends, both facing incurable cancers, both looking toward the end of their life’s journey; both too young to leave this world with so much left undone.

There were just so many.

With each one that goes on, they leave behind a little bit of themselves with each of us. Their stories only kept alive by our own existence.

I can still see Randy Shumaker in his golf cart at the Bluegrass festival, up before all the others with his fishing rod in hand. The sun was just barely on the horizon of the cow pasture behind our campers. I caught him heading out to his favorite fishing hole at Denton. With that infectious smile, he called out to me, “Great is the day the Lord hath made.” Together, we finished, “Let us be glad and rejoice in it.” We had as much fun hanging out, cooking get-together meals, and just sharing stories as we did playing music at the festival. He left behind a loving family that still pain from his death and many friends that will never forget his memory.

Thanks to Carol McDuffie Photography

Then there was David Murph, the founder, and leader of the Gospel Plowboys. David and I had also met at Denton. Both he and Randy were brothers in Christ, both devoted to living the word. David would ask me to write a story that he had hoped would someday be published in the Our State Magazine. We had begun working on it while he and his band were at Denton, but one thing led to another, and we never finished it. As I was busy answering my calling to serve and moving a farm and family, I had one last phone call with him. He was still upbeat that things would get better for him medically. He longed for the time we’d be back together, not only to finish the piece we had started but to just revel in one another’s fellowship. Before we knew it, he had too left us for that home on high. One of the last songs the band recorded was “Welcome Home.” After David passed, I found the song and played it, over and over. The words touched my heart beyond measure. It was as if David was speaking to us from above, through the words in that very song. Again, another friend gone before his time, so much work had yet to be done.

Then there was the slow, painful story of Ronnie Joyce. He battled his brain cancer longer than any thought possible. He had become the calm, assuring principal to so many during his lifetime, both in the public schools and at Chatham Charter. I can recall one of the first times I met him, playing music in a pasture at Dwayne Hart’s bluegrass festival. He and several others, probably Bryan Goldston for one, were all there making beautiful harmonies. Ronnie shared with me his love of the mountains and the bluegrass group, IIIrd Tyme Out. He told me that they didn’t sing a bad song. Now, when I drive down some winding mountain backroad, and IIIrd Tyme Out comes on the radio, Ronnie crosses my mind. There were some that lead by example, but to me, Ronnie led by grace. He lived long enough to make it to his daughter’s wedding, but left us not long after, leaving behind a void that will take many years, if ever, to heal.

Duane Hart, a friend to so many, passed as well, and without him, the Hart’s Pumpkin Festival will never be the same. He was my neighbor for as many years as we owned our farm, but he was also someone that encouraged me to reach out in ways that I hadn’t ever thought possible. Sharing the love of music and teaching, we spoke to thousands of school children each fall when they would come out to his farm to tour the Pumpkin Farm and hear how the pumpkins grew. Each year, I would add another instrument to the barn show, until I eventually could play almost all the bluegrass instruments. Duane was not only an encouraging soul, he too was another brother in Christ. Meroney’s Church and the surrounding community will never be the same without him.

There are many more that have passed; some that I knew, while others were only acquaintances through friends of mine. Each of their stories caught a little piece of my heart and took it with them to their new home. With each painful loss, we turn again and again to find comfort in God’s word. There, we find the voice of Jesus, giving us hope and a future. We know that we can face tomorrow for we are not alone.

When my parents passed in these past four years, I was blessed to tell them both goodbye, knowing that they were about to leave us forever. Each one, in their own way, left behind a legacy.

For each one that leaves, those that remain have the burden to carry their torch, to share that story. Yes, it is up to each of us to carry on.

Yes, the grass withereth, the flowers will fall away, but the Word of the Lord will endure forever. Like those precious memories, the Word is with us always. He is our comforter in times of darkness and loss. We may be without those loved ones, but God gave us a gift that would never leave us lonely. Each of my friends and family mentioned here were all brothers and sisters in Christ, and each one had their own walk with Jesus. To this day, I know that someday, we shall meet again on that golden strand, on that far distant shore.

Hug the ones you are with and don’t let a day go by without telling them you love them.

Don’t wait until their face appears on your invitation list to remember that they are gone.

His love endureth forever, and even though they are gone, you are not alone.

Thanks be to God.

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