Tuesday, May 14, 2013

No. 387 – High Landrons

Performer: Eric Johnson
Songwriter: Eric Johnson
Original Release: Ah Via Musicom
Year: 1990
Definitive Version: None

One of the many reasons why I went home to Columbus in Fall 1991, right around the time I discovered Eric Johnson, was to attend my cousin Betsy’s wedding.

The wedding was to be in Charlottesville, Va., where she and her fiancé lived after meeting at the University of Virginia. Jin, Scott and I all came from our different locations and flew out of Columbus. It was the first—and now that I think about it, only—time the three of us flew together somewhere without a parent. (It wasn’t our first trip together without parental supervision, but that’s a story for another time.)

We had to fly to Pittsburgh and then take a connecting flight to Charlottesville. The first leg was on a regular jet, but I suspected that the next leg over the Appalachian mountains would be on a puddle-jumper. I had started to develop my fear of flying, so I was nervous when we landed in Pittsburgh.

At the gate, when we boarded for the next leg, we didn’t take a jetway but the stairs down to the tarmac, which is never not cool in an old-school way. We bent to the right, and sitting in a corner of the tarmac was a two-engine prop plane—a definitive puddle-jumper. Yup, that was our plane to Charlottesville.

As soon as it became apparent that we were boarding that plane, Scott, as only a little brother could, turned and said to me, “Oh, you know that thing’s going right into the mountains.”

The way he said it, with perfect deadpan acceptance of the inevitable tragedy, made me laugh. In fact, I almost had to shed a tear that Scott’s cynicism was on its way to matching my finely honed sense of doom. I was instantly at ease, and the flight wasn’t memorable other than, obviously, we didn’t go right into the mountains after all.

We had a rental car and checked in at our hotel. I’m pretty certain we took part in some rehearsal dinner festivities, but I don’t remember anything about that. The next day was the wedding, and it was an evening ceremony, so we had some time to kill.

The three of us took the tour of Monticello. It’s always cool to see a famous historical place, although there wasn’t anything that stood out about the place other than it was Jefferson’s home. At one point, I noticed a secret bed in one of the rooms, and I imagined that’s where Jefferson snuck Sally Hemmings for their alleged trysts. Outside, Scott took a picture of me holding up the back of a nickel for a nutty perspective shot.

Then it was time for the wedding. It was at a plantation—a real one—where everyone in Betsy’s family stayed. The ceremony was outside and featured the occasional lowing cow as background ambiance.

The reception was inside and on a back patio. The food was high lined, as they say in Chicago, but the wedding band was about as far out of place as you might imagine in such a tony setting. It was a bluegrass band. OK, it’s their wedding; they call the shots.

So we’re sitting there with my cousin Tom, Betsy’s older brother, having a grand old time, drinking and chatting, and one of the songs sounds oddly familiar. Jin recognized it, too. What the heck is this song? Then they hit the chorus: “And I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Jin and I lost it. Are you freakin’ kidding me? A bluegrass version of U2?

They also did a bluegrass version of Daniel by Elton John. We pledged allegiance and started imagining how other songs might sound if this band played them. It might have been the highlight of the wedding.

The next day, we joined the wedding party for a post-wedding brunch and pics at the plantation where Scott and I witnessed for the first time what we call an Uncle Jack handshake. Jack gave Betsy’s new husband his wedding gift: cash that was tucked into his hand. A firm grip and hearty congratulations later and the cash slipped from one hand to that other. It was a classic old-school maneuver. Scott loved it so much he stole that maneuver and uses it to this day.

Before Jin, Scott and I had to get to the airport, we had a bit more time to kill after brunch, so we hiked around the Virginia campus, including The Lawn where the top students live. Then it was back on the puddle-jumper, which again cleared the Appalachians, and home, with banjo versions of my Walkman tunes ringing in my ears.

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