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  • These are two of the little kids who made my day, last spring.

    I was on a solo roadtrip, to learn music. Kind of the only roadtrip I ever take, anymore. Spent a few days in Arkansas visiting a 95 year old lady who fiddles and builds fiddles; she taught me how to whittle. I was on my way to southwest Louisiana, to learn Cajun fiddle tunes, and I stopped a few days in New Orleans. Stayed with an old friend who had fallen in love with trad jazz the way I had with fiddle music from the countryside. She would spend everynight down on Frenchmen, slowly getting to know every great guitar player and trumpeter there was—soaking it in, trying to learn more and more.

    She lived in a forgotten neighborhood—half the houses destroyed by the flood. Standing, shells. Every other one. People walking around like abandoned buildings, that’s part of the landscape. Reminded me of the town I lived in—in rural Virginia. The tiniest of mainstreets—where we lived next to a nice family of kids, and a few beautiful houses that no one set foot in anymore.

    There were kids running up and down this new Orleans street, yelling and playing games. I miss having a neighborhood, miss the sound of kids and their laughter. Their willingness to yell out—hey who are you.

    I sat on the porch intending to learn a Hank Williams song. Sat there with my guitar and soon enough the kids climbed onto the porch. I tried to run through the kids songs we all knew—twinkle twinkle little star. Seems like we’re all lacking on songs to sing together, in this age, in this distance between where I grew up and where they grew up, it was all I could think of. So I put my guitar inside, and told them we would make drums instead.
    And soon the neighborhood with piles of trash and brush, wood and debris…

    We made drums. Limbs for drumsticks. And buckets, jars, railings for drums. Tried to teach them rhythms, and for awhile we got the grove and I got smiling, and they smiled. Turned out most of them were less interested in the rhythm, then just hitting the drums at will. I wondered about what kind of music classes they got in school. What kind of exposure to music kids get, even in one of the most musically rich cities in America. Will any of them get the chance to play drums?

    Again, I thought of home. Appalachia, birthplace and longtime home of music that has changed my life. And yet, we bring banjos to schools—these kids have music—you can find it so easily, listen to anything you want with the smallest click, but what access do they have to instruments? To teachers? To encouragement… time was, when little kids would run around these hills with instruments.

    I got lucky. Born into a family that could afford a nice private school that had violin class. Could afford a violin. 10 years of private lessons. Lucky to live down the road from an incredible teacher. Lucky my parents believed enough in music that they fought me when I got lazy and made me practice, so I got good enough to be able to express myself. To be able to listen.

    The kids wanted to play my guitar but I didn’t want anyone breaking it. Would they treat it like a drum? So I brought out my banjo, sturdiest of instruments. And they tried it out.

    These are the moments that always make me cry. Always. I cry the last week of June every year when, at the end of a weeklong summer camp, the kids give a concert of all the music they’ve learned. I cry when I see little kids dancing to the music.

    You can get caught up in the world of music, in the minutia of rhythms, the intricacies of technique and variation. It’s a mesmerizing journey.
    But damn. This moment, watching a kid make a sound. Make a joyful noise—
    I don’t know, every time I experience moments like this—it’s like I stop worrying about how the sentence is structured, what the history of the language is—and I remember to concentrate on what they’re saying, on why we have language in the first place.

    Don't know how to express it fully-- I love music. Live and breathe it. I play it and teach it and learn as much as I can. I spend the summers at festivals, spending blissful days playing 12 or more hours each day. It's ecstacy. It's hasn't always been, but right now, it is who I am. And I know not everyone wants to be a musician. There are other callings. But, still. I just wish that every kid I meet might have the chance to find the joy of the music, if they want it. And I know that it's just not something every kid has access to.

    These kids on the porch, that hot May day... They were so excited. They didn’t want to stop playing it. And so I sat there with them, and they took turns again and again.

    Again and again. Until dinnertime.
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