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The Last Windrow: The night the music stopped

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A broken guitar string in the middle of "Your Cheatin' Heart" stopped the music.

We have a bluegrass festival coming to our community this week. It's a great assembly of some of the best bluegrass bands in the nation. Thousands of people from all walks of life will be filling those lawn chairs in front of the stage, tuning into the tight harmonies and great guitar, banjo, mandolin, dobro and bass music. Tickets have been sold to folks from all parts of the United States and southern Canada.

My dad played a great rhythm guitar. He came from a musical family. His granddad played clarinet in the Sioux City Symphony once upon a time. His sisters all played piano with gusto. He made sure his kids all learned to play an instrument or at least tried.

Music, you could say, was in his blood.

While I listened to professional guitar players pick at the bluegrass festival last year, it brought back a memory of a time when my dad was asked to play at our country church social. It was to be his only appearance to a group that I ever witnessed.

He had a buddy, Larry, who also played guitar. Both of those guys picked up the guitar while serving in the Army during World War II. They were both self-taught and could play any tune by ear. I loved watching Pop make those grand bars on the neck of the guitar as he changed chords playing the "St. Louis Blues."

The church was trying to raise money to build a new church and this normally stoic congregation decided that a little guitar playing might just bring in a few dollars toward the cause. Hence, they invited Dad and Larry to come and play a couple of tunes during a fundraising evening.

The plates were still clattering in the kitchen when the duo took to the stage to muted applause. They tuned their guitars and warmed up with a tune once sung by Hank Snow, "I've Been Everywhere." The song is quite complicated with the use of a bunch of cities across the nation.

But, the two of them went through the list singing the song to perfection. When they finished the applause was a little stronger, but still not what you call an ovation.

Their next choice seemed a little risky to me, allowing for the fact that this particular congregation seldom found reasons to challenge the morals of society. With a heavy C chord, Clyde and Larry banged into the famous Hank Williams tune, "Your Cheatin' Heart." They sang with fervor and in tune. I watched as a few in the audience kind of squirmed in their metal chairs while some of the big, stone-faced men sat, not blinking with their big, hairy arms crossed across their chest.

There wasn't much emotion to be seen.

In the middle of the grand finale, Larry's D string broke with a twang and the song came crashing to an early halt. I think I heard three people clap meekly. One of them was my mother and the other was Larry's wife. No one was really smiling.

I don't know how much money was raised that night in the church basement on the hill in rural Iowa, but suffice it to say that the funds from the event didn't help the building fund much.

I'll think of those two guitar players and that congregation as I listen to the bluegrass music this week being played flawlessly from the stage. I doubt they will stop for a broken string.

See you next time. Okay?

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