Tonight was Jimmy Zeh (pron: zay) playing banjo at the Front Porch in Woodlawn, Virginia, with Mike Gayheart (son of Willard) playing bass, Willard Gayheart, guitar, and Scott Freeman, mandolin. Everybody sang, Willard mostly. Jimmy Zeh and Willard have been with the Galax bluegrass band, the Highlanders, 40 years. Tonight was like a Highlanders get together for them. It was a good band for a couple hours of music. Scott's artistry with the mandolin is like the waves on a lake the moonlight dances on. As usual, I leave the house with expectation high as the sky and come home satisfied every week. Jimmy Zeh wasn't one to put himself forward and be the star of the show. He made music with the other musicians, the four of them a quartet.
He's a good entertainer and a good banjo picker and everything about his demeanor says he's a good man. His wife was along. She was so comfortable with him it told me he's as good a man at home as he appears out and about. I had the feeling loud and clear that what I was seeing of him is who he was. The man inside is the very man on the outside. He was interesting to me in that way, a man open and friendly other people tend to like, and it's all from who he is, not what he thinks he ought to be or putting on fakery. His wife sang a song with him and when they were singing she was looking at her best friend. I felt good for both of them. They seemed truly happy they're together. I can't help but admire what I see as genuine love between two people who have been mates a long time. It's not particularly common. Or, anyway, it's not common in my experience.
As I'm painting Willard now, I find I'm thinking more about what Willard has done musically in his time in Galax. He's made several albums with the Highlanders, 2 albums with Skeeter and The Skidmarks, 4 albums with Alternate Roots, 2 with Bobby Patterson of their duo. He's done countless performances on stage, has been a bluegrass singer all the way along. He writes good songs. All these bands have a foundational sound that runs through all of them that is the Willard Gayheart sound. Willard and Scott, his son-in-law are intuitional partners in music. Most importantly, they inspire and encourage one another, make music together as one. It's family music with a guest artist each week.
Next week is Butch Robbins, from Pulaski, Virginia. He's played quite a while with Bill Monroe and is one of the better respected bluegrass banjo pickers up there with Terry Baucom, meaning he's that kind of good. Getting Butch Robbins there is as good as getting Jeanette Williams there. These are people who command pretty fair rates for musical performances. They play at the Front Porch for gas money. It's a fun jam with good musical friends who play so well it's a joy to make music with them. All the musicians who have played there love making music with Willard and Scott, because they're such seasoned musicians, so good at making the music flow, and so generous musically in that they support the guest artists, not outshine them.
Good show tonight. It felt like a band playing tonight. They made good music together and worked well together passing the music from one to the next. I took Josh Willis along from the Willis farm next door. He's passing through on his way from Philadelphia to New Orleans via Chattanooga to see his brother Hank. Josh is a musician with an old-time banjo and a bass. He came away from the music tonight saying it inspired him. I'm willing to spend my gas money to drive to Woodlawn and back every week to hear this music that is among the best in the central Blue Ridge by musicians playing for gas money. There is something very real about this music and the people that make it.