Sunday, October 29, 2017

So long, Salley

Maybe it's because I'm retired and had nothing else productive to do with my free time, but I became something in my old age I never thought would happen:

I became a band groupie.

My wife and I have been following Underhill Rose, a remarkably talented female Americana trio out of Asheville, since 2011.

Coincidentally, that was the year Molly Rose Reed and Eleanor Underhill — the group's founders — became a trio when they added Salley Williamson to the mix. Salley brought her harmonious third voice to the band, along with her upright bass named "Pearl", and bingo, the girls were blazing new horizons.

They made beautiful music together, what with Molly on guitar, Eleanor on banjo and harmonica (Sometimes at the same time. I still don't know how she does that) and Salley providing a steady and reliable bass line.

From left: Molly, Kim, myself, Eleanor and Salley. Sigh...
 Better yet, even though we'd see them perhaps just two or three times a year, we became friends. They knew us by name, occasionally dedicate a song to us, and once, Kim and I gladly opened our home to one of the girls for a night's lodging.

It was great times and we thought it would last forever.

But unless you are the Rolling Stones, nothing lasts forever. I knew that. Life steps in. Touring is difficult, the hours are insufferable. In addition to playing in a band, Salley is also the development and communications manager for Open Hearts Arts Center for differently-abled adults in Asheville. She also runs an active farm, raising sheep and hogs, so clearly her plate is overflowing. How she managed to play in a traveling band for six years is actually pretty mind-boggling when you think about it.

So I shouldn't have been surprised when Underhill Rose announced about a week or so ago that Salley was leaving. Their show Friday night at the acoustically perfect Muddy Creek Music Hall in Winston-Salem would be Salley's last with the band. Bring Kleenex.

Nothing was going to keep Kim and myself from this concert. The girls played for two hours without a set break, effortlessly gliding from one tune to the next, stopping only to tell stories about Salley and what she meant to the team. Just before the encore, I handed Salley a long-stem red rose from Kim and myself in gratitude for the six years of joy she brought to us. I hope we were representing all of her fans.

There's one other thing to note here. About two thirds of the way through the show, the girls put down their instruments, stepped up to their mics, and sang the old blues ballad "Trouble in Mind" strictly a cappella, except for snapping their fingers to the downbeat (which also got the audience involved). I'd been wanting to hear them sing something a cappella for years simply because their hallmark harmonies are so gorgeous. And indeed, I felt like I was standing at the gates of heaven as they sang. Angels, maybe.

For the encore, they performed "Something Real," but they did it unplugged. No amps. No monitors. No soundboard. It was like sitting around the campfire. What an awesome moment. I can only hope they incorporate some of this experience in future shows for their fans to enjoy as we did that night.

It also occurred to me this would be the last time we'd hear three-part harmony like this for a while. It's not like Molly and Eleanor are putting an ad in the paper looking for an upright bassist. Underhill Rose performed as a duo two years before Salley joined, and now Molly and Eleanor will go back to their roots for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, we'll wish Salley all the best. She gave depth and breadth to the group's sound, and we'll miss her.

Where's my Kleenex?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Another nifty night

Not that Phil Rapp ever needs a bodyguard — he's a strapping individual in his own right — but he may have found what he was looking for while emceeing the 16h Annual Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Banquet last night at the 119 West Third Event Center (otherwise known, in simpler days, as the J. Smith Young YMCA).

There in the crowd of spectators, as a guest of inductee Bruce Hayes — and recognized by an inspired Rapp — was former world heavyweight champion James 'Bonecrusher' Smith.

Yikes. The man who once fought Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes and dropped Tim Witherspoon in a single round, and held the WBA heavyweight title from 1986 to 1987, still looks like he could do some serious damage at age 64.

Perhaps thankfully, Smith is now an ordained minister who is committed to helping youth steer clear of crime and drugs. He founded the non-profit Champion for Kids, Inc. in 2004 and now supports programs designed to help people in need.

It would be easy to suggest that Smith was the big draw last night that brought an overflow crowd of about 150 people to the banquet, except that it was never advertised that Smith would be there. I prefer to think the large turnout (usually, about 100 people or so show up for these things) was because this was a strong class of inductees.

How could it not be with David Fritts, everybody's favorite professional bass fisherman, on hand? Fritts, in his folksy manner, told how his father tried to get him to be serious about the family tire business. That is, until Fritts won the Bassmaster Classic in 1993, launching him to a lucrative career in outdoors sales and sponsorship. "I guess you might be able to make a living at this," Fritts recalled his father telling him.

Two boxers — Hayes and Jimmy Hester — were inducted. A lot of people know Hayes as a sponsor of NASCAR modified racing at Winston-Salem's Bowman Gray Stadium, but few might know that he was also a Golden Gloves boxer who won more than 100 amateur bouts.

Hester, an early protegee of Hayes, had a promising future as a boxer, but died in Vietnam on Christmas Eve in 1968, in a helicopter mishap, at the age of 22.

Chelsea Leonard Martin was perhaps the most dominant softball pitcher in Davidson County in an area — and an era — rich with softball talent. She hurled Central Davidson to three consecutive 2-A state titles in 2007-2009. In a fitting moment that somehow seemed to complete the circle, Chelsea thanked North Davidson softball coach Mike Lambros for submitting her name to the Hall of Fame board for consideration. Lambros recently passed away a few weeks ago after fighting pancreatic cancer.

Debbie Pope is the cheerleader coach at Ledford and as such, she is constantly bumping into the debate of whether or not cheerleaders are athletes. She knows occasionally there is resistance. She told the story of when she was informed she would be inducted into the county Hall of Fame, her initial response was disbelief. "That's not going to happen. Are you out of your mind?" she asked. Nope. Not at all. Under Pope's guidance, Ledford's cheerleading squad has a gym full of banners, including five national titles.

Jimmy Snyder is regarded as one  of the best basketball players to come through Lexington who later signed a four-year grant-in-aid to play for Wake Forest. A 6-foot-6 post player who averaged 17 points per game, Snyder still holds the Lexington school record of 37 points scored in a single game in 1962.

Billy Epley is a familiar face on the county sports scene, doing much of the grunt work behind the scenes while also coaching youth programs. For his service he was recognized as the board's "Unsung Hero."

The Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame ceremony is often inspiring, sometimes moving and occasionally humorous. That's because these people are our friends. They are our neighbors. They are teachers, coaches and role models. And they are us.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Whoa, wait a minute

Our weekend actually began Wednesday morning.

That's when we hopped in the Volvo to run an errand in Winston-Salem, but when I pressed the ignition button, the car battery said, "Whoa, wait a minute. Not so fast."

Back in the day, (say, 1966) changing out a car battery wasn't much of an issue for me. But now, with cars resembling something close to computers on wheels, it's a different story (see here. Simple, right?), we opted to have the car towed to the dealership, where the battery was replaced (for a nifty fee). Easy peasy.

OK, OK. So we got that issue out of the way. On to Phase 2, which was a relaxing trip to the beach for two days.

I did say relaxing, right? When we got to the place where we were staying, the first thing we noticed was that it was rather warm. Like 90 degrees warm in the house. So I turned on the air.

"Whoa, wait a minute. Not so fast," said the thermostat. No air. Nada. Not even a hum from the heat pump.

We called our reliable beach handyman, who was on another job. He told me to check the connector box to see if the switches had tripped. I had no clue what he was talking about, but I found the box, reset the switches, turned on the electricity to the house once again, and presto! Air. That was close.

So I went to the kitchen to wash my hands and noticed we had no hot water. Cold water, yes. Hot water, no. Hmm.

Meanwhile, Kim wanted to go to the laundry room to check on the new washing machine that had been installed after the last one was ruined by flooding from Hurricane Matthew. We opened the laundry room door and instantly heard water running. There, in the corner, one of the feeder lines to the washing machine was gushing water, and probably had been for about an hour or so. I tried to shut it off, but the grip was already rusted in the on position. So I shut off the main water valve to the house.

We called the handyman again. He said he'd be there as soon as he could, maybe within an hour.

Meanwhile, we decided to go to the laundromat to take care of a few items. When we got there, only two other people were inside. One of them was leaving, holding a paper towel over his nose.

"What happened?" I asked the other patron. He said the guy that left told him he'd recently had nasal surgery and suddenly, it had all gone wrong. There was a trail of blood drops heading out the door. The other end of the trail led to the unisex restroom (remember, we're in South Carolina, which was once said to be too small to be a republic, but too big to be an asylum). Kim peeked her head in the doorway.

Whoa, wait a minute...

"It looks like somebody's been murdered in there," said Kim. "There's blood everywhere."

We couldn't wash our stuff fast enough. About an hour later, we were done. We headed back to the house and, fortunately, the handyman was already there.

The good news, he said, is that he put a new seal on the line leading to the washing machine. The bad news is that we needed a new water heater, because the heater we bought three years ago had been ruined by Matthew. He'd install a new one tomorrow.

Look, I'm not really complaining. Not after Las Vegas. Not after Hurricanes H through N. But life goes on. Our disasters are relative to the moment, big or small. We simply carry on. There's no choice.

Even if it's our 37th wedding anniversary...