“I know that voice!” There was instant recognition. He hadn’t seen me yet, and all I had done was to call out his name. That was all it took. The connection we had had years before was still tight. Good friends can reconnect in a heartbeat.
I hadn’t told him I was coming to the concert that night. In fact, I had only found out about it from another friend the day before. But I decided that part of being in this new location was the possibility of taking advantage of just such opportunities.
The name I had called was Bill Mize. Bill and I went way back, but it had been many years since we had seen one another. During the concert, he spoke of the cabin in Emert’s Cove that his grandfather had built and Bill himself had lived in for decades. He allowed me to crash there for a bit when I was younger and in need. He was gracious to do so. That, too, was a surprise. I had shown up one night when I was out of gas and out of money and out of options. I had waited in my truck till he arrived so that I could ask about crashing there for the night. It turned out to be longer than that.
Bill and I were both musicians. Well, maybe I was a guitar ‘player,’ while Bill was the real ‘guitarist.’ He was well beyond me in skill and talent, but we enjoyed playing together. We played clubs and such around the area for a while. We always chose more intimate venues with smaller crowds. We enjoyed the feeling that matched picking around the wood stove out in the cove.
We shared a love of the mountains, the outdoors, swimming holes, and woodworking. We spent a lot of hours entertaining ourselves before heading out to entertain others.
Not having a lot of wherewithal at the time, I ‘paid’ Bill with the one thing I could. I gave him the ﬁrst guitar I had built in trade school in Arizona. It was a Brazilian rosewood dobro I had made. Bill hadn’t played dobro before, but his musical prowess was such that he picked it up (pun intended) in short order. As I said, Bill was more of a musician than myself. In a conversation that I would guess he has forgotten, but I never did, Bill thanked me and talked about the world being ﬁlled with ‘givers and takers.’ He put me in the ﬁrst category, which is also were I would put him.
After several years of playing together our paths diverged. I was called towards ministry and left the area to go to school. Bill stayed in the cabin and continued to play music.
He went on to become the National Fingerpicking Champion at the Winﬁeld, Kansas, festival. He went on to win a Grammy, and he has released numerous albums. He is going to be part of Ken Burn’s upcoming documentary on country music. He is an accomplished acoustic artist and worthy of all his accolades. But he has always remained humble and close to his roots.
On this night he was playing Folk @Fourth. It’s a small concert series hosted by Fourth United Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. A home-cooked meal is oﬀered prior to the picking. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming. The crowd will be small as the space dictates. Yes, this is deﬁnitely ‘folk’ as it was meant to be.
So it was a setting that made reminiscing come easily. The notes ﬂoated oﬀ the strings and through the room. The riﬀs were lively and lyrical. It was the perfect blend of performer and place, of song and space.
We had a few minutes to catch up afterwards, and it was good to do so. We shared some of what had been going on in these years when we’ve not seen one another—joys and sorrows both. It was reconnecting in some sense, but it was also an awareness that the connection had never been disconnected. We picked up right where we left oﬀ. It was as if we had just hit pause for second and then came right back in together on cue.
I appreciate those “old friends” with whom the connection never fails. I appreciate the times when I ﬁnd myself connected and in sync with people with whom I have shared loves and life together. It is a marvelous gift that traverses time and reappears in such moments.