Why did I leave the plow in the field…

Not long ago, my father turned the ripe young age of 73. As our gift for such a milestone, my wife and I took him and my mother to one of his favorite barbeque restaurants in small-town Kentucky. It was one of those places you might see on a Guy Fieri Diners, Drive-ins and Dives episode, full of regulars, pit smoke and home-spun stories.

…and look for a job in the town?

Tucked into the front corner of the restaurant was a small stage area for performances. We had heard that on occasion, instrumentalists will gather to perform for patrons, typically intoning the acoustical sounds of Bluegrass guitar, mandolin, fiddle and banjo with high-lonesome voice accompaniment (I should note that my father loves–absolutely loves–Bluegrass music, and considers himself to be somewhat of an amateur historian of the genre).

Much has been written about the contemporary condition of life absent a sense of belonging and community—a yearning for an old home place.

While digging into a slab of smoked ribs, a group of musicians began to assemble and perform various standards, including one of my dad’s favorites, Old Home Place, by J.D. Crowe. The song’s lyrics tell of a man who returned home after years of working in the city, only to find his home place ruined by neglect. He sings “I’ve lost my love, I’ve lost my home and now I wish that I was dead.” Much has been written about the contemporary condition of life absent a sense of belonging and community—a yearning for an old home place.

The combination of the song’s lyrics and the impromptu gathering of local amateur musicians started me thinking about the power of the arts to encourage, and make these kinds of cultural gatherings possible. I also reflected on the fact that I reside in a state where these kinds of events occur quite often in rural settings; in living rooms and backyards, during family reunions, church events and local festivals. I once knew a farming couple in Avenstoke Kentucky who, about once a month during the winter season, would shove all the living room furniture to the wall to make room for “pickers and foot stompers” and invited friends. These occasions were highly valued by members of their small farming community.

I marvel at the ability of the arts to enable this kind of sharing and reinvigorating a sense of community and belonging.

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