Even while I’m typing the first words that come to mind for a title when I’m telling about this hot summer evening concert, it seems unoriginal to me. But if you want a nickname, pick one that inspires pedestrian storytellers to hear thunder from your bowels and see sparks fly from your fingertips. And despite all the fiery August sun on Friday the 13th, in the park in Grimesland, no less, lightnin ‘played a storm.
When we arrived, very excited because we thought we were too late, Lightnin strolled towards the taco truck in all his fish-fashioned splendor without any particular hurry. We thought he had two songs on his set now. I’d gone to a band rehearsal straight from work and then quit early to be there almost on time.
Fortunately, the bandmates, all long-time fans of Lightnin ‘, decided to leave as well. They remembered a time they were in Washington state and were surprised when they heard Lightnin ‘Wells’ name over the speaker. He was there for an annual festival. We thought it was either a small world or Lightnin was a big deal.
They teased, “If we go all the way out there and it’s canceled because of the heat …” Well, the threat was a hidden one. I would never know the consequences.
Upon arrival, he informed us that the time was set to 6.30pm and recommended the taco truck for us.
We placed our chairs as close to the covered stage as possible while still standing in the shade that gave a little respite from the hot sun. Playground equipment flanked the stage on one side and in the back, but it doesn’t take North Carolina children long to learn to avoid slides in direct August sun. The shelter, which served as a stage, was adorned with the Grimesland seal with tobacco leaves and a founding date of 1893.
Lightnin ‘showed remarkable confidence in the local concert goers by showing off his instruments … a black guitar with a white pickguard, like a palomino pony or a tuxedo cat. A resonator guitar as silver as the Tin Man, but with more heart. A tiny ukulele banjo that looked like it was used on the set of “Honey I Shrunk the Kids,” and less noticeable from my seat, a set of harmonicas.
“Make me a pallet on your floor …” sang Lightnin ‘. The lyrics were found so often that I whispered to my husband, “Blues songs get their money’s worth with their lyrics.” I looked it up later and found that it was a song from the late 19th century that possibly is from New Orleans.
His next number contained many attributes of the woman he loved. Including the fact that she has a birthmark under her nose. I was provoked to write that down.
“When was the last time you heard yodelling?”
My husband answered the rhetorical question, but only for me. “Roy Rogers, yesterday.” I had recently tuned Sirius Radio on Willie’s Roadhouse.
But even if we had heard Roy, that didn’t detract from the pleasure of hearing Lightnin ‘yodel in any way. That alone was worth the hike 33 east.
The woes once asked us to sing “Big Rock Candy Mountain”. At that time we stared back a little blankly and said, “How about the Gospel Ship?” But Lightnin’s trip up the rocky mountain was particularly sweet, and demonstrated remarkable whistling finesse.
In Freight Train Boogie, Lightnin ‘played guitar and harmonica and sounded convincing like the locomotive theme. “Casey Jones was a powerful man …” he begins. We learn it was a Delmore Brothers song. Recorded in 1946, some consider it to be the first rock and roll song.
Washington-based photographer Tom Whelan vied for position and gave Madison Square Garden paparazzi attention to the performance in Grimesland Community Park.
Lightnin ‘introduced the San Francisco Bay Blues by saying it was recorded by a one-man band, Jesse Fuller, who played a 12-string guitar, drums with his foot and bass with his toe. Perhaps Lightnin channeled his energy and freed himself from the bondage of the sandals for the rest of the set.
He played “Alabama Bound” on his ukulele banjo and “Big Town” on “a place where sinners go”. He then introduced a song inspired by the way children courted in the 1920s, “Paddlin ‘Madeline Home”.
During Blind Boy Fuller’s song “So Sweet” the resonator guitar had its moment to shine in the bright sunlight.
“I started playing when I was pretty young,” said Lightnin ‘between songs, “that lasted 50 years.” He said he was at the NC Folk Festival in Greensboro in September. At some point he asked the audience if they had any wishes. “But it must be old,” he reminded us. “I don’t play new songs.”
The remaining songs prompted me to write down incoherent snippets that I found irresistibly intriguing, including: “I want to be your candy man, won’t you be my salty dog,” “Every fish bites when you’ve got a good bait.” And ” I’m a rattlesnake daddy and I rattle whenever I want … If you hear me clatter, you better get on your knees … “
I stared at the water tower that overshadows us like the Statue of Liberty in rural Grimesland and overlooked the meaning of the texts.
Fortunately, Lightnin ‘took us to church around this time by introducing some gospel numbers, including “Life is Like a Mountain Railroad” and the optimistic “Keep on the Sunnyside”.
The time was getting close to 8pm and Lightnin said, “It’s nice outside now … I could play all night and now I have to stop.” My husband, the passive participant who was there because he was with me, said: “No, you don’t! What are you going to play for your encore? ”Of course he said it just loud enough for me to hear, but what I heard was lightning strike again.
Check the city’s website for upcoming Grimeland Music in the Park events, including Michael Stephenson and Friends on September 10th and Dawson Road on October 8th, both starting at 6:30 p.m. (unless you have a penchant for tacos) .
Donna Davis works for the Pitt County government and a supporter of the technology. She has called east North Carolina her home for most of her life. She loves jamming, running and writing with local musicians. Contact them at [email protected].
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