My hometown of St. Marys cast a certain spell on me from a very young age. The town was small, but my youth was alive with adventures shared with my childhood friends, many of these adventures of our own making, utilizing our raw, boundless imaginations. We were blessed to have endless settings to stage our stories as St. Marys and the surrounding state of West Virginia provided a plethora of striking landscapes for our backgrounds, like the rolling hills of our county park. In every scenario, music provided a vital soundtrack to our experience; whether it be it from the gentle spin of a K-Tel album, the small, dusty Magnavox radio in my Dad's garage or the jukebox at our county pool. I returned for a visit to St, Marys recently for an event that evoked all of these things and I felt myself woven into the hometown spell once again.
The setting is one of my current favorites: Abicht's Landing, where my friend Kaki's ever-charming store The Greenhouse resides in her husband JB's stately childhood home. The event was Music by the Lake, a celebration of local and live music, set on a stage stunningly set against the property's shimmering, sunlit lake. The characters were many of my favorites, of course: best friends like my bestie Kristy and family like my sister Shirley. Music by the Lake is a happy by-product of a larger music event that occurs down the road the next day called Waverly Woodstock. Both of these events emerged from the musical mind of our ever-inventive friend Connie. Connie has for years gathered with like-minded musical talents that would jam for hours and were called the Fuzzy Mothers. The group is a mix of homegrown talent like the irrepressible Willie and out-of-state musical wunderkinds like Tommy Teachout. I've been fortunate to bear witness to mere snippets of the heavenly harmonies that these Fuzzy Mother jams create and indeed there is something almost otherworldly in the raw, melodious beauty of the music they create.
The weather on the evening of Music by the Lake was blessedly beautiful; a sharp contrast to the shredding my hometown region took in the wake of the superstorm that blew through that derailed these events a year ago. While the musicians were setting up on this Friday night, the Greenhouse was prepping a fabulous repast that both fed and supported the musicians. Most of the mouth-watering fare the Greenhouse creates for events like this fittingly features the wide array of gourmet food lines that they also sell. These creations are quite often grilled as well as the GH also sells primo Weber grills. I'm always gobsmacked by what the latest grilled wonder is but they really threw me with the Grilled Lemonade. Christine demoed the grilling of the lemons which fires up the fresh lemon that when mixed with simple sugar, makes the finest glass of sunny lemonade one could imagine. The rest of the Greenhouse menu served as not only some perfect picnic grub but also as a nod to the our hometown history. Connie's parents Doug and Peg Dale were childhood food pioneers to many of us as the proprietors of both the corner grocery store The Economy Market and the local ice cream shop The Dipper D. Peg and her sons Richie and Greg were coming to the event to support Connie, and the GH recreated the Dipper D pizza burgers as a nod to Peg's visit and a tribute to her and Doug's legacy. The meaty burgers topped with tangy sauce and melty mozzarella were a perfect tribute to the Dipper D and the cherished place it held in many of our childhood hearts(and stomachs). Of course, the rest of the meal was no slouch: bright and crisp grilled corn on the cob, hearty and spicy Steven Raichlen-style Smokelahoma beans, and my personal favorite, savory grilled green tomatoes. Soon, old friends and music fans were pouring in by the carload, lawn chairs and beverages were being unloaded and mini-reunions were happening everywhere. It was an utter delight to see so many old friends like Diana, Mendy, Jeffy and Joe (who also writes one of my favorite blogs; a faith-based wonder called The Awesomeness Conspiracy) who came bearing a Growler of Marietta Brewing Company's Buck IPA. My sister Shirley also joined us and for a brief few minutes, so did John (one of other sister Mona's best friends) who has been going by the moniker Trapper John on his new reality show Mountain Monsters. Soon, we were swept up in the sweet tunes coming from the stage, cheering on especially when young Lane joined in on the drums. Before long, the night became a party, complete with a line of "backup dancers" being led by dance captain Barbara Reckard (aka Kaki's Mom and my favorite teacher). Soon, the dancers lined the road reveling in the beautiful music.
The night ended in an almost serendipitous fashion. The power had gone out on the stage and the performers found themselves singing in an unexpected but not unwelcome acoustic manner. The last song of the evening was fittingly Country Roads and the band took advantage of their "unplugged" situation and stepped into the middle of the crowd and led a rousing rendition of those familiar "Almost Heaven" lyrics with everyone surrounding the band and joining in. At this time, Kristy and I were walking back to the stage but everyone was obscured from our sight at that point, so we could only hear the singing as it grew voice by voice and soared above the treetops. I heard Kristy whisper "listen to that," and I felt a chill go up my spine as those harmonies floated over us, settling like mist over the lake. It felt as if it were a siren song from the valley itself; calling its children home.
Almost heaven, indeed.