Tag Archives: Dave Murph

A Song of Old – The Return to the Denton Bluegrass Festival 2020

by Timothy W. Tron

While the past few days have been a blur, there were many poignant moments upon which to reflect. Gazing out across the fervent green pastures before the light of dawn, the cattle were making their way across the begotten landscape. It felt almost as if I was back on the farm in Chatham, there with my cattle grazing before me. As I sipped my campfire percolated coffee, there was a peace of mind that passeth all understanding. Perhaps it’s only in the blood of someone raised in the country, or perhaps, it’s just knowing pleasures of a simpler life. While this was not my land, nor my farm, it was still a homecoming in many ways. This was my first real trip back not only to a place, not only to an event but more so to a collection of souls that had been part of my life before I crossed over that great river. When that journey began, there was a song that spoke to me when the challenges seemed to be uphill, no matter where I turned. The tune was called, “Wide River to Cross,” performed by the Bluegrass group Balsam Range who hails from Canton, NC. The song goes like this,

photo by Marty Tew

“There’s a sorrow in the wind
Blowing down the road I’ve been
I can hear it cry while shadows steal the sun
But I cannot look back now
I’ve come too far to turn around
And there’s still a race ahead that I must run

I’m only halfway home
I’ve gotta journey on
To where I’ll find the things I have lost
I’ve come a long, long road
Still I’ve got miles to go
I’ve got a wide, wide river to cross”

Once there was a life that was not well lived. The vessel was hollow, but none could tell from the outside. It wasn’t until that day when the decision was made, to cross that great divide – to serve God in all that I do – that life began to change. While we, my family and I, eventually made it across that great divide, the journey never ends until the day we are laid into that final resting place. In essence, we are only halfway home. While that road we have traveled may seem long, we’ve still many miles to go. Yet, once you make that leap of faith, you are reminded that you’ve come too far to turn back. Each day becomes another opportunity to serve Him in all that you do. There is not a day that the scripture from Colossians does not come to mind, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.[1]

When we take that leap of faith, there is no turning back. Yet, those who have been left behind seldom know the reason, but only that someone has left the presence of their life, be it good or bad. Meanwhile, life goes on. The clock ticks, the wrinkles grow like furrows in the cornrow as the setting sun casts its shadows. One by one, the soldier’s fall – Randy Shumaker, Dave Murph, and so many more. Yet, these two were special, especially on this return trip to the Denton Bluegrass Festival. God had placed them in my life for a reason. We had met through our shared experiences of camping at Denton. Randy’s fellow band members and their families, along with other campers on that hill by the cow pasture, became my extended family. He was one of the founding members of the Second Chance Bluegrass Band, was always there, first thing in the morning regardless of how bad his cancer had progressed, and would say to me, “Great is the day the Lord hath made.” The first time he said it to me, I could only smile. At the time, I had only heard the scripture quoted, but didn’t know it well enough to respond to the pause he had purposefully extended on my behalf. Later, I would come to welcome his pre-dawn greetings with a, “Let us be glad and rejoice in it,” reply.

David Murph, the founder and former member of The Gospel Plowboys, was with me through the crossing of that river. He became like my lighthouse to the incoming ship. He assured me that God was using me in a mighty way. In their final days, both men impressed upon those whom they left behind a sense of urgency and a clear understanding of what it looks like to serve the Lord to the end. Both men passed too early for our earthly understanding, but are now with Jesus in that far brighter land. Each of my dear friends are healed and waiting for the day we can walk along God’s golden shores together, laughing and singing as in days of old. God had allowed them a time and place for which the seeds had been planted for many more. From a distance, we hear of their passing, but from that distant home, we can only know that they are waiting for us for that ultimate day of rejoicing.

My time in Denton this past weekend was not without quiet moments. Though the bed be weary, there was a bequeathing of the solstice in the sounds of raindrops falling upon the tarp above my tent. Warm and dry, the night passed into slumber as strains of stringed music wafted across the hollar. As campers hunkered down under canopies from the formidable precipitation, it failed to dampen their spirits. From one hilltop to the next, like waves of promise buoyed upon the breezes of jubilant voices soothed the weary soul. Like sunshine breaking through the storm, there was a rekindling of a consciousness of life. Like the traveler returning from a long, extended journey, my welcome home had been more abundantly received than ever imagined. It was heart-warming, and impactful at the same time, as one after another of my long-lost friends greeted me like a brother. Like, true friends, we picked up where we left off as if there had never been a separation in time. Some had only heard of my return and stopped by to see if it were so. Like a ghostly figure, we too are only a vapor in the midst of time. So with respect to the admiration of one another, there were some things left unsaid – those that had parted this world for the next, for one, were those often silent moments where words had no place. Randy’s daughter, Jessica, stopped by during one of our jam sessions and sought to say hello. There was so much that I wanted to ask and say to her, but at the moment it didn’t seem right. Instead, as she spoke briefly about her life, my thoughts returned to when I could hear her singing along with her daddy, Randy, at those late-night jam sessions. Later, I regretted not stopping and pulling her aside and just taking the time to sit and dwell in the moment. While she said at one point, “I have never missed a festival for the past 14 years, and I’m not going to start now.” In that defiant voice, there was the sound of her father’s tone ringing true. When she said that, my mind could hear Randy say the same thing, and emotion welled up in my throat. Quietly, I choked back what would have sounded contrite in comparison. Too soon, she would move on, but the memory she had invoked would tarry like the sweet aroma of a freshly baked apple pie sitting on the window sill cooling.

Here and there little children would be riding their bicycles past the campsites and the memories of my own children, and those of my friends would return. Their happy, garish voices would echo back in time. Their joy came not like ours but just living in the freedom of the moment, riding on their own up to the country store to buy another soda and slice of hoop-cheese, or wandering down to the pond to go fishing. The safety of the festival’s confines provided them an opportunity to step back into another time, akin to our own. To grow up in a sleepy little town, like New Harmony, where our only limitations were how many bottles you could collect in order to buy a bag of candy from the five-and-dime. Our energy seemed boundless. We never stopped. We were either running in play across fertile green pastures or riding a bicycle around our little village from sun up to sundown. When the evening baths were complete, there was no sleeplessness. As soon as your head hit the pillow, you were waking up to a new day.

As the gray light of dawn found its way into the corners of my tent, the raindrops could not silence the lowing of the cattle. Some had stopped their music only a short while before. Many would not rise until long after the sun’s arc had reached midday. It was this time of day, the predawn, that made the recollections of previous festivals drift back into one’s mind. Like Randy’s early morning greetings, there were other familiar sounds, but less obvious. Intently, if one listened, the coffee grumbling at the heat from the fire could be heard, shortly before the burp of percolation began. The crackling fire, like the last vestiges of the whippoorwill, united with the sounds of water still dripping from the trees. Here and there another acorn would fall from the many oak trees that shaded our camping site. There were no more sounds of singing or instruments being played – this was the morning after. Like that return across the river, once you have been to the other side, there is an appreciation for all things now.

While you will never be the same, there is a certain contentment in seeing or hearing how some things will never change; albeit, some may be less industrious than others. While our instruments of choice are the same used by our ancestors’ centuries before, our campsites are lined with tents and RV’s which would have made the cover of Popular Science at one time. Yet, there are still the fires to warm the chilly hands and feet when the darkness of night falls.

It is there, in that moment of time, where the past meets the present; when we are afforded the opportunity to return to a place we once knew, to show others that it can be done – to wade across that wide river and find that far distant shore. There is an inspiration of choice, to which each person is offered. It is when we make that journey, we are changed, and when we are allowed to return, as Moses came down from the Mount, the radiance of his being was too great for those to see – likewise, we are changed. Our light can become that for all to see.

As Delmar, in the movie “Oh Brother Where Art Thou,” waded back from his Baptism to tell the others, “Step into the water boys, there’s plenty of salvation to be had for all.” Let your sins be washed away, and someday, you too can reach that far distant shore. There weren’t just two men who lived their lives serving until the bitter end, but three. Jesus led the way and was an example to all – by the blood of Christ, we are all washed clean of our sins. Randy and Dave would have wanted you to know that this was their calling. Someday, it maybe yours too.

As the campfire fades, the time slips away and soon, it is time to say goodbye once more. But this time, unlike before, it is, “until we meet again.” Whether here on this earth, or on God’s golden shore, we shall meet again, and what a day of rejoicing it will be.

Thanks be to God.

[1] Colossians 3:23-24 KJV


Filed under Inspirational, Music

Welcome Home, Dave, Welcome Home…

 Another soldier, and brother in Christ was called home today.

Brother Dave Murph went to that far distant shore. The first words he might have heard were, “Welcome home my son, I knew you’d come. Welcome home, you’re here for good. Look around, was it worth the wait? Welcome home, step through the gate.” These were the first few words of the chorus to the song recorded by Dave and the Gospel Plowboys called “Welcome Home”.

Tonight these poignant verses touch my heart deeply. One cannot help to sit and listen to this beautiful rendition of “Welcome Home,” by the Gospel Plowboys and think of Dave.

His passing has touched me in a way I can’t describe in mere words.

To know Dave was to know true faith.

Seeing him and the rest of the Gospel Plowboys for the first time, a few years back, in person at the Denton Bluegrass Festival was a treat in and of itself. I had heard them on recordings and videos on YouTube. I knew that someday our paths would cross. On that peaceful May evening, I heard the band like never before, in person. That is when I came to know the real David Murph and what his calling in life was meant to be. His witness there on stage that evening was nothing fake, no façade of an image for the sake of selling something, it wasn’t an act, it was the real deal. With his hand raised in testimony as he spoke, there was no rush for the need of getting to the show, for the sharing of God’s Word was what he felt in his heart and on his lips. Standing underneath the stage lights, their crisp white shirts stood in stark contrast to the blue of their Pointer Brand denim overalls and red matching ties. There was a statement in what they wore which matched as much who they were as much as what they were about. They were truly living for God.

It was that same moving evening that Dave had found me. It seemed we both had wanted to meet for some time. God had finally put us together, and from there a friendship grew. Our kinship was in Him, and through our personal commitments to follow God’s plan, we had crossed paths, and as such, we had a common goal; to share His Word in all we did; Dave through the music I loved, and myself through my writing. That weekend we met and talked about all that we shared and what Dave had hoped would someday be an article that we would hopefully submit to “Our State” magazine. In my interviews with the band, I learned how they would always pray on stage before starting their show or performance, regardless of where they were. One evening, at a Fiddler’s Convention Contest, they debated whether to pray before their competition. Knowing that they could be disqualified for praying beforehand, Dave told me, “It didn’t matter if we won or not, we were there to lift up God, and that’s just what we did.” That evening, they were never disqualified, never stopped, for after praying, they went on to play the winning songs that they became known for, and never looked back. It was who they were, there to serve Him.

However, that article we worked on that precious weekend was not meant to be. One thing after another kept putting off our editing and publication request. They performed near where we lived at the time at Cumnock Baptist Church. Looking back, I didn’t realize it would be the last time I would get to see Dave. We never know when or where we’ll be called home, but I know in my heart, Dave was ready. A few months later, I called Dave after seeing Rita, his devoted, lovely wife,  post an update on his health; it concerned me. When he answered the phone, we picked up right where we had left off; a friend is a friend no matter the distance or time. He shared with me his battle with his disease and how he knew God would lead him through whatever this world would put in his way. He wanted to know where I was in my life, so I talked with him of my own personal leap of faith. That day I was literally driving down the road on the way to start my new journey as the Director at the Trail of Faith. I told him how he had inspired me to go further in my faith, and for that, I was forever grateful. Once more, my friend was doing what God had intended for him to do, lift up others through his message. Although he was suffering and battling the disease that eventually claimed his life, he was not complaining, nor discouraged. He only wanted to get better so that he could continue the ministry God had placed before him. We said goodbye hoping to meet again soon, but it never happened. Dave went on to get well that particular time and eventually he and the Plowboys would make it to the Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival where I’m certain they found many more to whom they could share the faith. In the meantime, he and the Plowboys went on to record what would be Dave’s final album, titled, “The Gospel Plowboys – Welcome Home.”

The title cut says it all in a prophetic message that cannot be denied.

It wasn’t but just a few days ago that his wife Rita posted how he had become gravely ill. It didn’t seem right to know that a man my own age was so near death. It didn’t seem fair. He had so much more to give. But when the Father calls you home, you do not tarry, you do not delay.

As I walked home from Church last night, I could hear the sound of a lonesome whippoorwill calling. It was almost dark by the time I found the porch steps. The deep woods call of the lonely bird made me think of souls that had gone on and how in their journey to Heaven’s shore happens in the twinkling of an eye, leaving us sorrowful souls behind, alone in the dark to sing praises singularly until we too will one day be called home to sing in that Heavenly choir. Dave and our other bluegrass buddies like Randy Shumaker are surely there, jamming around that campfire along with so many who have already gone on, singing and rejoicing in the glow of God’s graces. They have so much to look forward to, and so much to share with us on the glorious day of reunion.

Somewhere I have the article that we started. I might find it and glean pieces from it that speak about Dave. Perhaps it will inspire me to write something, perhaps not; either way, there’s a wake in his passing that I cannot ignore.

A great man, a loving husband, a dear grandfather, and a brother in Christ has left us, and God has gained another angel.

See you soon Dave, until then, give God the glory and tell Him I said, Thanks.

Please lift up prayers for Rita and the rest of Dave’s family as they struggle through this time of loss and sorrow.

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