An I-beam blocked our view from our first choice of seats. We went back down and back up. Great view! A mud horse track separated the half-filled grandstand from the stage. The stage was named for the Waste Removal Company that takes the trash from most of the homes of Clinton Co., NY.
It had rained earlier in the afternoon, but the sky was clearing nicely. The west wind began to turn slightly chilly…enough to force me to dig for my fleece vest. A fleece vest!? In mid-July? This was the North Country. On the wall of the backstage were billboards from Pepsi and Budweiser. Beyond the stage I could see the Green Mountains of Vermont. In between, unseen, was Lake Champlain.
On stage the dozen contestants sat on folding chairs. I could barely make them out in the dim lighting. I could see a guitar act was in my future, though. With any luck, maybe a Dylan song. I squinted to see the young woman holding the guitar between her knees. Nope. Even her parents are too young to know who Dylan is.
The two emcees were ‘personalities’ from the local TV station. One was the news anchor and the other was the weekend weatherman. I wondered how much he made to tell us that it was cold, is cold and will be cold until Saturday afternoon…when it will be a little less cold.
First up was the 12-year-old and under group. Six girls. The backup music was provided by two guys at a sound table under a brown canvas tarp mid-way across the horse track. A rainbow appeared above the stage.
I got as comfortable as I could and began to listen to these young girls sing (one did an Irish Step Dance). Then they were followed by the adults.
I let the music fill the old wooden stands. I heard the voices sing songs I mostly didn’t know. I listened to the occasional lines:
“Let it be…”
“Before he cheats…”
“Sway with me…”
“Rain blowing in your face…”
“Surround me when the night gets cold…”
The voices were tentative, shy, strong, weak, off-key, quiet and loud. But like all music, good and not so good, it transported me. I left my body on the bench and my mind began to soar.
I soared over the rows of fresh-cut hay of the field beyond the horse track, up and over Plattsburgh, across Lake Champlain, over the Green Mountains, passed the rainbow that had appeared in the clouds overhead, toward New Hampshire, Boston and the Atlantic Ocean. I was vaguely aware of the shy voices of the little girls, the strong “give-me-your-best-shot” confidence of the adult women, the strong baritones of the men, the gentle folk song on the guitar.
This was young untested talent. Virgin talent. Bold talent. And some of it was nearly free of talent…but it came from twelve people who had the stuffing to get up in front of their friends and family and neighbors and try. They tried with their hearts because they wanted someone, anyone to listen to what they felt they had. This was their moment in the blue lights. This was their chance to prove to themselves that whatever it is they want, they were going to try to get it.
The first little girl who sang, came in last. She walked down the ramp of the stage and slowly across the dirt horse track…the widest horse track she had walked across in her eight or nine years on earth.
She was wiping her cheeks. My heart broke.
“Please God,” I said to myself. “Don’t let her think she failed, is a failure, will be a failure…is not now or ever going to be good enough.”
She’s lying in her bed now, thinking about how she came in last. What will she do in the morning?
“Please God, give her the strength to get out of bed and begin singing again.”
Me? I’m sitting at my laptop trying to describe to you how she sent me out over the Ocean.
I think her creative energy was bound up with my fate. If she had faltered in mid-song…turned around and walked away…I would have fallen into the sea.