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News from the 2023 Gathering


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One more brilliant morning rolling down the ridge west of Knoxville. One more slow climb through the shade at the entrance to Trevecca. And one more gaze at the neat rows of name tags and t-shirts waiting inside the Jackson music building — 34 of them.

I arrived at lunchtime to find a dozen students clearing gear from the performance hall and loading it into a truck. Steve and Gary waved me off to finish prepping the room for tomorrow, so I relaxed with Paulette in the hallway. Through the window I could see a couple of yellow-vested workers adding final touches to the new seven story residence hall.

But will it ever be filled? As a retired college teacher, I’m aware of the toll the pandemic exacted on higher education, especially small colleges. Steve confirmed my suspicions: enrollments here, like elsewhere, have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. It’s 2023, and Trevecca is surely feeling the financial pressure.

Preparations all in place, I steered over to the City Winery, hoping to do some shopping, only to be greeted by a sign at the front door: “Closed for Private Event”. Oh, well, everybody has to pay their rent.

Call me the breeze
I keep blowin' down the road
Well now they call me the breeze
I keep blowin' down the road
I ain't got me nobody
I don't carry me no load 

J. J. Cale, “Call Me the Breeze”

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How wonderful it feels to back among our guitar family. It’s now so familiar: the welcoming campus, the smiles of recognition, the handshakes and hugs. We’re slightly smaller in number this year, but no less eager and engaged. Steve warmed us up in the morning with a chord workout. Our new friend Gareth Pearson, the “Welsh Tornado”, led a masterclass in Chet Atkins-style techniques that he infused with encouraging lessons about the big picture of learning guitar.

Today, Nashville rested on the northern edge of the storms to the south, so we escaped with overcast skies and only a few raindrops as we walked to lunch. The renovated dining hall was closed — few students on campus — but the equally updated downstairs grill was open to us. Our contingent arrived all at once, to the momentary panic of the staff. It certainly was an improvement over last year’s sweltering slog down to the Subway.

Steve taught a fingerstyle workshop to the handful who didn’t skip over to Bryan White’s songwriting class. Collin Hill is touring and couldn’t attend this year. Bryan is an excellent guitarist and offered insights that were splendidly complementary to those of Kim McLean’s in prior years. Then we divvied up for blues with Steve and jazz with Andy Reiss. We finished our lessons with a group jam led by Steve and his thoughts on finding your own musical voice. My fingerstyle retreat roomie Barb and I tracked down an Applebee’s for dinner, then we returned for Gareth’s blazing acoustic concert.

I suppose it’s the old teacher in me, but I seek out the first timers — Steve issues them white lanyards — to welcome them. As we were settling in this morning, a newbie took a seat next to me. His name was familiar. He looked a little familiar. The “N” logo on his shirt: “Northwestern or Navy?” I asked. “Oh, Navy,” he proudly replied. Yes, it was indeed that David Robinson, Naval civil engineer, left handed Telecaster player, NBA star.

Then I'm walking in Memphis 
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale 
Walking in Memphis 
But do I really feel the way I feel?

Marc Cohn, “Walking in Memphis”

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Electric day dawns with almost all of us holding acoustics. Almost. I spotted a pair of microminiamps, if you can call them that, parked on the shelves of music stands. You can’t say these people don’t know how to shop.

Picking and strumming technique comprised our morning workout. Bart Walker returned for a blues masterclass, and you couldn’t call it anything else. Pick your player: BB, SRV, Santana, Buddy Guy, before you can finish asking for a demo, Bart is already at the turnaround. He’s articulate, humble, and seems to revel in our company.

Over at the grill, my lunch tab was once more snatched away (see last year’s Gathering report) by another kind benefactor. I returned to part two of Bryan White’s songwriting workshop, dismayed at having to excuse myself early just as it was getting interesting, to attend to my setup slot with Greg Voros and Julio.

I toted my Strat across the hall to where Julio was finishing up on David Robinson’s guitar — Greg was resting his hands today — and I took a seat between Greg and David. The next hour and a half were simply bonkers. The three of us jabbered about basketball, stage fright, and suddenly being asked to play for an audience on the spot, three things we all seemed to have in common, more or less.

Julio finished with David’s guitar and I handed over mine. No sooner had I reported that something was a tad wonky somewhere, maybe fret wear, than a dozen others arrived and took seats. It was time for Greg’s setup class, and my Strat was now the patient on the table. Yes, I got the Blue Plate Special: a tiny twist to the truss rod, high gloss fret polish, pickups tweaked, the wonky G string nut slot corrected, and final intonation check, all narrated by Greg and recorded for posterity by Dave White. It will probably cost me at least a filet mignon in Asheville to get a copy of his video.

By the time I returned my duly blessed Strat to the car, Steve’s blues jam was in full swing. I couldn’t concentrate. I was already light headed from walking back after lunch with David, talking Olympics and Coach K. And that was before the setup. Now I’m supposed to remember these licks?!

Barb and I hit M. L. Rose’s for dinner, then it was over to Gruhn Guitars. Just as I was about to shoot a Polaroid of the mural, our official photographer Chuck Thompson arrived. “Hey, Diane! You’ve got the Polaroid!” (I had previously warned him that cameras were my primary weapon of choice, before guitars.)

Inside, Steve and Will McFarlane tuned up as we took our seats. Almost time to go. The chat moderator had just posted the heads up on the forum when Steve leaned over to tell me we couldn’t go live tonight; we had connection problems. So I folded up my iPad, poured a cup of Greg Voros coffee blend, and listened as Will held court. Later, I got to say goodbye. He remembered me from my first Gathering. We both recalled living in Durham, NC, in the late 70s (I was in grad school at Duke — well before the Coach K days) when the only music store in town was at Northgate Mall. I don’t know if Will bought anything there, but it’s where I got my Guild acoustic.

Upstairs, drawn like moths to a flame (“They’re like addicts in a poppy field” according to a certain videographer who will remain nameless) we milled about George Gruhn’s prize collection. I bought some shirts as gifts for friends. Just as the cashier, Britt, rang up my card, someone passed me a discount coupon, but too late. I started for the door, and tried to wave her off, but Britt wasn’t having it. “What size do you wear?” she insisted.

I gave Chuck his Polaroid portrait, accepted Britt’s offering, and followed Barb out the door, my feet ten feet off the ground.

This old guitar ain't mine to keep
Just taking care of it now
It's been around for years and years
Just waiting in its old case
It's been up and down the country roads
It's brought a tear and a smile
It's seen its share of dreams and hopes
And never went out of style
The more I play it, the better it sounds
It cries when I leave it alone
Silently it waits for me
Or someone else I suppose 

Neil Young, “This Old Guitar”

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So glad you’re a “re-offender “ at the Gathering; wish I was (wife won’t clear that expenditure)
 

Wow ‘only’ 34 , down from years past. 
 

thanks Steve for his continued support 

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Wonderful re-counting of all that's happening (hope next year I will be there again), with humor, fun details and great writing.  As a UNC alumnus who was there same time as Michael Jordan and the national championship, I would have loved to have heard all the dishing about Coach K!  Thanks, Diane.

Edited by Nancy Lawing
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It was a hot one today, but clear skies above us. Time to return to the the spider climbs and the Phil Keaggy stretches. Teacher and students were still standing, but barely. Ron Block led the morning masterclass on fingerpicking. “Hey, Dave! Sean!” Flash! Bzzzzzt! ….and, ack! This Polaroid film is too darn slow for a room painted totally black. I’ll make it up to them later.

We cleared away the music stands and crowded together for Chuck Thompson to take our group picture. Steve welcomed Dr. Vernon Whaley, provost of music education here at Trevecca and we extended our thanks. We also greeted Joshua MacLeod of Instruments of Joy, who acknowledged the many guitars that we have donated to his organization which are now in the hands of impoverished music students all over the world.

Our own Trevor Lee taught an introductory DADGAD lesson: “This tuning will change your life,” he said, and I had to agree that could be true. Session guitarist extraordinaire Tom Bukovac fielded a flurry of great questions in his afternoon masterclass; we just kept pitching them and he was equal to it all. We closed out the working day with Steve’s advice on overcoming performance anxiety. I have about 18 hours to internalize it.

Tonight Doug and I took in the Midnight Riders, an Allman Brothers tribute band, at Third and Lindsley. Loud and wicked good. I had to duck out after the first set; the Student Showcase is in the morning. Yet again, my check was snatched away. A fitting finish to the day. Thanks, pal. See you on stage tomorrow.

There's a night bird singing, right on through till the dawn
And the streets are still ringing, with people carrying on
It's been so long waiting, just to be here again
Anticipating, all the time I could spend
In the heart of the night

 Poco, “In the Heart of the Night”

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Oh my, so much to take in here! I see Cory Congilio in one photo....I have taken 2 of his excellent online courses.  So now I want to take on DADGAD, seems appropriate for Father's Day weekend!  Good luck this morning, hope someone is taping your performance so we can enjoy that remotely.  Poco.....one of my fav groups.  Wishing you safe travels, and thanks for helping us enjoy GG remotely!

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Every year since Mike and Adele first proposed the the gathering (2007/2008??) , I wish I was there. 
this year is no different 

amazing job Steve / Paulette, guest instructors (and all the helpers) put on every year, 

Edited by Eracer_Team-DougH
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My ears were still ringing when my head hit the pillow. I made a note to myself — “Retune, stupid, you’re still in DADGAD” — and fell asleep in minutes. After breakfast I retuned and made a final slow pass at my song, then back to Trevecca.

As usual, a few people needed to leave early, so we were missing a handful this morning. I think there was only one no-show. Steve led us though “Uptown Funk” once more — a Mystery Song from last summer. I can read the music, I’m but totally lacking in funk, whether downtown, midtown, or uptown.

Our Student Showcase is always a delight. Steve takes so much joy in an hour when he can relax and watch his students go. We had blues, rock, pop, fingerstyle, instrumentals, riffs, and from-the-heart singing. There is magic in offering a musical gift to your friends.

Jerry Measimer crafted one of his beautiful wood fedoras and donated it for a silent auction to benefit Instruments of Joy. The winning bidder was David Robinson, who will surely wear it well.

Then the moment came for Steve to say: “See you next time.” We shared our parting thanks, handshakes, hugs, and congratulations. I caught a glimpse of little Theodore, now on his feet, steadied by his father Daniel and mother Grace, thinking perhaps, “At last, I’m out of that stroller and now I can do some real damage.”

We scooped up the music stands, stacked the chairs, and stuffed and latched our guitar cases. We wrote our thank you’s in Steve and Paulette’s memory book, made one last trip to the Gathering store, and loaded our cars. I reached for my keys, and my thoughts turned to my late friend Gregg Cobler. It was Saturday afternoon of my first Gathering in 2014 when he called me out of the blue and suggested meeting for dinner. “My friend, I know you were here with us. Your old Strat ain’t mine to keep. I’m just taking care of it now, together with Julio. See you on the other side. And go, Chiefs.”

So will you please say hello to the folks that I know
Tell them I won't be long
They'll be happy to know that when you saw me go
I was singing this song
We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day

Ross Parker and Hughie Charles, “We’ll Meet Again”

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Great recap and great pics. Thanks for writing it. I wanted to come but had a gig.  I bet it was all fantastic!

Edited by Tom M
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Epilog

The trip home was a delightful coda to an equally happy Gathering. At Nancy and Scott Lawing’s home in North Carolina, we compared notes and played some tunes. In nearby Asheville I had lunch with Jonathan, my former guitar tutor. In that same corner of the Smokies, at Biltmore Lake, I reunited with a high school classmate.

Three stops across Virginia, Tennessee, and Carolina enabled me to hit the trifecta of seeing all my grad school research partners. With a final port of call in my home town of Newport News, I returned to the house where I grew up and enjoyed dinner with the couple, now good friends, who bought it.

My odyssey encompassed 13 days, 2,075 miles, and some 2,500 feet up and down. On the lonely stretches, I listened to Weather Report, Sting, Lindsey Buckingham, and astronaut Sally Ride’s biography by Lynn Scherr. Thanks for reading and all your kind words. I know many of you could not attend this year; I hope the joyful spirit of our conclave reaches you. Keep the faith.

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