Sunday, April 17, 2005

A Little Rurality

Talk about your different career paths.

Laurette and I drove down to the Red Bud Festival in Saxapahaw, NC yesterday at the invitation of an old friend of mine from Davenport, Iowa.

I first met Bob Faris in my 7th grade homeroom at Sudlow Junior High. I was small for my age, and he was big. He used to pick me up under my armpits and pin me against the wall, in an entirely good-natured way. He had a part time job digging graves at the cemetery off Eastern Avenue and had incredible upper-body strength.

Bob used to tell me that he wanted to hop a freight train with his guitar over his shoulder and become a musician, and that's pretty much what he did, except that he didn't do it in the 7th grade.

Through high school, I spent many Friday nights at Bob's house learning how to play bluegrass. Bob played guitar and was learning to play fiddle; I had taken up the 5-string banjo. We played in a number of bands in high school and in one year of college. I reached my musical metier as a banjo artist that year, in a band called the Corn Palace Conquistadors, which consisted of Bob, Bruce Millard, Chris Carringon, and me. The others went on to greater musical pursuits; I became a classics professor.

Bob married a little country girl named Michelle and headed for the big time, touring as Reba McIntyre's fiddler and working in Branson, Missouri until the road life got to be too much. He and Michelle had four boys, and he taught them all how to play.

I got to see them all performing as the Faris Family on Saturday at the Red Bud Festival. Bob, Michelle, and I are no longer young. Their four boys are all young men. And can they all play and sing. Better than Bob and I did at that age, and soon they'll be better than their dad ever was, if they're not already.

After the show, Bob introduced me to his oldest son, James Robert. "Oh, I've heard about you," he said. "Let me shake your hand." He did so and said, "Now I can say that I've shaken the hand of an educated banjo player!"

My claim to fame.

I can hardly imagine a life of touring bluegrass festivals across the country, and I'm sure Bob can hardly imagine a life of teaching Latin poetry. But it was awfully good to see him, Michelle, and the boys.

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