Beginning Banjo Camp: The Day The Lights Went Out In Winchester!

Murphy Henry

[And of course the title is a take-off on the song title The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia.]

Cutting right to the chase: The Saturday morning of our Beginning Banjo Camp we woke up to find two inches of snow on the ground and more falling! Casey and I made the ten-mile trip into Winchester very slowly since even the main road, Route 50, had not been pre-treated nor plowed. What were they thinking?

We arrived at the venue—the basement of Dalton Brill’s old barber shop—to find a few students waiting patiently under the overhang of the shop next door. Down the steep outside stairs we went and I unlocked the door. The room, where we played music every Wednesday night for years, is below ground with old stone walls. When the lights are out it is pitch black. (Remember that part!) Wondering why I hadn’t remembered to bring a flashlight, I groped my way to the light switches (in the back of the room) and turned the lights on. Casey started coffee and I went upstairs to unlock the back door (which was our emergency exit) as the rest of the students were arriving. Just as I finished that task, the lights went out.

Thanks to the upstairs skylight, I could still see but downstairs it was, as I said earlier, pitch black. Making this long story shorter, we discovered there was a major power outage all across town. Luckily there were LOTS of candles on hand. So for starters we lit those, which helped. But even as we were doing that I’m thinking, “What are we going to do?”

Luckily, my friend Adam Phelps was on hand, as his son Riley was there for the morning session. I asked him to go somewhere and get some battery-powered lanterns. I knew he would come back with something! He is one of those “can do” kind of guys.

Still, I’m thinking, “What in the world are we gonna do?” Luckily, heat was not a problem. Yes, it was chilly, but with that many people (around 20) in that small space, body heat—and coats!--were doing the trick. Even with the candles, however, it was still dark. So I got out my guitar, Casey got out her banjo, and we had an old-fashioned sing-a-long! I can’t quite call it a hootenanny because we didn’t sing any “folk” songs (no Cum By Yah, no Where Have All The Flowers Gone, no The Cruel War, no If I Had A Hammer). But we did sing!

“Guess what we are going to start with?” I said. After a few misses, someone guessed, “I Saw The Light.” “You got it,” I replied. And off we went. We probably sang for close to an hour, doing everything from Will The Circle Be Unbroken to Little White Washed Chimney and Life’s Railway To Heaven. Then—bless his heart!—Adam came back with three lanterns. “You would not believe the lines in Wal-Mart,” he said. “I practically had to knock down two old ladies to get these!” At that point, I did not care!

Adam fired them up and by hanging them on nails already positioned in the middle of both sections of the basement (I’d divided it in two by hanging canvases between—makeshift but functional...sorta!) we could actually see. We decided to go on with the classes.

Shortening the story even more, the electricity stayed off until 4 p.m. Almost SEVEN HOURS! The only thing we had to cancel was the sing-a-long scheduled for that night from 7-9. I was worried the roads would freeze and we’d be driving in the dark on black ice. Been there, done that. Not fun! So, we added an hour-long slow jam to the end of the day’s activities and everyone seemed to be okay with that.

I can’t say enough about how gracious all the students were in a trying situation. Everyone was easy to get along with and no one complained about anything (even the lack of coffee!). And Dave’s wife remedied that later on by stopping by Dunkin’ Donuts and bringing two boxes of steaming Java into our midst. It was most welcome!

I’ve not said anything about the teaching but will blog more about that later. It was WONDERFUL! I was so proud of every student there. But I needed to get this snow stuff out of the way first!

And now I need to go help Casey and Dalton pack up. They are flying back to Nashville today. Boo hoo! Dalton was two months old yesterday and is as cute as a bug in a rug. I will miss them so much!

I’ll be back....with more about the camp! Stay tuned!