I used to pretend I thought name-dropping was this terrible tasteless crime, and I guess I still do think that, but I’m a complete hypocrite about it because I find the act near-irresistable when I have the opportunity to commit it myself.
(Although, I would like to say that I did resist last year when Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like (book and blog) and Quitter fame came and preached at a Local Church before he became all Mega-Church Staff and kind of out of reach for Local Churches in New England. I’m just not resisting it now, on account of I’m about to go whole-hog with the name-dropping in a minute here. He preached and I hung around him and his wife and made awkward fan-type comments and got him to sign a copy of his first book for TheBro, and I took credit for his presence at the Local Church because I was the one who introduced that church’s leadership to his blog in the first place.)
I come by the name-dropping thing honestly (?) at least. Grandma M is pretty good at it, too, but she, in turn, comes by it honestly because she actually does know or has known personally some pretty big-name people of earlier generations in the evangelical Christian world. (Yes, Billy Graham is one of them.) She and my late grandfather always seemed to make friends wherever they went and were the kind of people who just sort of periodically had fun and special an unique opportunities or privileges handed to them. Sometimes, even though she’s 90, she still does. Like–last month a friend of hers flew her over to Sweden for a month. Did I mention she’s 90?
Sometimes their progeny, if we’re in the right place at the right time, get to benefit from the privileges, too. Like when we got to spend parts of our summers in their friends’ summer cottage on the water. Or like the time, two Christmases ago, Grandma M and I got bumped up to “Premier” class on our way over the Atlantic to see my parents. (That was actually my parents’ “special thing” from which both of us benefited, but the fact is, I was with Grandma.) Last weekend was another one of those memorable, extraordinary moments connected to being with Grandma.
As you know, if you’ve been hanging around my words for any length of time, my Uncle Phil’s been playing in Emmylou Harris‘ band for about three years, and when they come up to New England, I get to grab a friend and go to their show. It is always great, and Emmy is still a very gracious person when she meets me, even though she probably lost count a long time ago of all the random people she’s met at every gig over the years. The concerts around here have so far always happened in the fall, so I hadn’t really been thinking about them this spring, but then somehow I ended up discovering that she was going to be playing at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island this summer.
I have wanted to go to that festival for some time, but have never been. I thought maybe I could scrape together some change and go for the day she was playing . . . even though it was the day before camp started . . . So I wrote Uncle Phil: “Are you playing with Emmylou Harris at the Newport Folk Festival this summer?”
“Yes,” he wrote back, “But festival passes are harder to get than regular ones.”
That wasn’t what I was asking, and I told him that, but maybe a week or so later, he emailed me and told me that Emmy has been wanting him to bring Grandma to one of their shows for ages, and so, if I were willing to bring her with me, he might be able to use that as leverage to get passes for the two of us.
So it happened that my grandmother and I, in long cotton dresses, ended up at this hippie-throwback festival, sitting on the stage with Pete Seeger (he stole my seat–I keep telling people this and they register greater or lesser degrees of impressedness, depending on if they care about Pete Seeger. Personally, I would never have known what he looked like, but I certainly know who he is, and so I thought it was pretty great to be up there with him). And that was after we had been allowed to drive all the way up into the artist’s area in the fort where the concert was held, and essentially park right back stage. (I parked next to the NPR tents, at their gracious allowance.)
My mom’s (and uncle’s) Cousin Hali had been given a pass, too, and the two of us went nuts with our cameras and smartphones while Elvis Costello played his set and then Emmylou Harris, Uncle Phil and the rest of the guys closed out the festival. We saw the Civil Wars (whom I had never heard before)–not their own set, but they sang a couple of songs with Emmy and the band. I talked to Pete Seeger, who was appropriately old and smiley-but-eccentric.
“Mr Seeger,” I ventured, mostly because I had seen someone else getting their photo taken with him, “could I have my photo taken with you?”
“No one must know,” he said, both absent-mindedly and cryptically. So I stood near him and smiled awkwardly at Cousin Hali and she took my picture with him kind of behind me. It was shortly after that that he appropriated my chair, which was okay, because then Cousin Hali and I sat on some of Elvis Costello’s gear cases, instead. I took her picture with George Wien, the founder of the festival itself. He actually smiled at the camera. Grandma M almost got an interview with the Providence Journal. Uncle Phil was musically amazing, as always, and got to spend a little more time with us than sometimes happens. At the very end of the gig and before Cousin Hali and I rushed the stage to each tear down one of the five limited edition, numbered festival posters off the back wall for autographing, Pete Seeger got up and led the vast cheering crowds in the “congregational singing” of “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” The sun was setting on the sailboats and glowing on his face and everybody was singing and smiling and I thought something minorly culturally historic was going on, that it was sure fun to be a part of even though I wasn’t around when the original hippies were all starting up.
Probably the only thing I could have asked for, more, would have been that Vanagon to get there in. Although . . . with the grandma pick-up and drop-off, and the insane traffic, it probably would’ve taken more than the four hours each, there and back, to drive one of those things. The thing is . . . I don’t really remember those eight hours, although they were pretty onerous when they were happening. I just remember a really beautiful, really great day, with a little bit of family reunion and a little bit of nostalgia and a whole lot of smiles.