My best friend in high school was Jeff Lamb. Oh, the stories we share. But I am going to keep this short. In The Shire, on a hobbit’s birthday, they give gifts instead of just receive them. While I am taller than a Hobbit, and Jeffrey is as tall as Gandalf, I have long loved this Hobbitian tradition.
May 1, 2020, which commences on this side of North America in few hours, happens to be the day I turn 29 years old.
A momentous occasion.
(Wait. Grace, my daughter! Is that right? Am I turning 29? Or 63? I forget.)
Grace would be more than willing to tell you of the year I thought I was turning—I think it was—48. I was all ready to be 48.
Then, on my birthday, she informed me that, no, Dad …
(First, you have to adopt that patient/exasperated/loving daughter-child tone.)
“Uh… no, Dad. You’re turning 47, not 48.”
It was like manna falling from the heavens. The Universe had spotted me another year of life. Another year of being 47!
This is a true story, by the way.
Wait, I was talking about Jeff.
So, Jeff and I go way back. We were on the high school wrestling team. He was the Mayor’s son in the town where I went to high school. He had a trampoline. Not that our friendship was dependent on the trampoline.
But that trampoline was at the center of our high school senior year social life. I remember our senior class graduation party, which ended up at Jeff’s house on Embassy Drive. His was the only house, I think, in all of Forest Park with Doric columns.
And there—may he rest in peace—was Doug Proud, a good guy, a basketball star, a prince of the high school. And drunk to the ne’er-thee-well. Bouncing up and down and up and down on Jeff’s trampoline. Telling us friends how much he loved us.
Ask any of us about Jeff’s water bed. That, too, was likely the only water bed in our social milieu, at the time.
Oh, if water beds could talk.
After college, we all spread out to our respective corners of the land. Somewhere along the way, I had the great idea to pitch the thought of launching a singer-songwriter music festival.
A crew of us developed.
It came to be called the New Song Festival.
We had big dreams. We were going to be the Lollapalooza of festivals devoted to original singer-songwriter music.
But we needed money.
I called Jeffrey up from my kitchen one night. Hadn’t seen him in person for years. He’d gone off and been serially successful as a business-guy, being one of the brightest incandescent bulbs back in school.
So, I asked him if he’d invest in the festival, not knowing if he would.
He laid down some serious scratch.
The festival was legendary. At least, for the three of them that we got off. We got a spread in USA Today. The Washington Post featured us in their arts magazine. Our final year’s performer budget was, like, $60,000. That is why we could afford a lineup that year that featured Nickel Creek, Kathy Mattea, Chris Smithers, and a bunch of other singer-songwriter demi-gods.
But it tanked. They don’t call a music festival lineup a “bill” for nothing. There were bills, and lots of them.
People who went still recall it lovingly and affectionately. I had ploughed by mother’s inheritance into it, so I’m glad they loved what was one of the most expensive parties ever thrown in West Virginia.
At least on my dime.
One of our partners finally paid off his portion of a mortgage he bet on the operation not so many years back.
I feel bad about that. But he knew that music festivals—especially outdoor music festivals—are like one big Roulette Wheel bet.
I still have flashbacks to the big thunderstorm that washed Nickel Creek off stage as they started into their third song.
I don’t want to talk about it.
The singer-songwriter part of New Song is still going strong, 18 years later. It’s now a collaboration known as the LEAF Singer-Songwriter Competition, presented by NewSong Music. It’s one of North America’s premier showcases for emerging performers and songwriters across an array of genres.
All of that is thanks to the amazing energy and sustaining vision of original co-founder Gar Ragland. (If you’re a rising, killer songwriter and performer, enter the 2020 contest here.)
In addition, NewSong Recordings, an independent, award-winning label, is also going strong, having put out releases by Rachael Kilgour, the Cardinal Sons, Diana Jones, Chris Velan, and others.
I point all this out in detail to underscore that Jeff’s faith in the concept—and the hard-fought effort and energy of Gar, Will Carter, Gary Reynolds, Ron Sowell, myself and a cast of dozens in promoting the finest singer-songwriters across the land—lives on.
That effort has helped birth, elevate and showcase 1,001 songs that deserved to be heard by more than the songwriter’s cat or dog. Bravo, for keeping the songs coming, Gar!
And bravo to you, Jeff, for believing in us—and me—at a crucial time.
In Hobbit-style appreciation, I present to you, Jeffrey Lamb, a ridiculous music video present I spent all today—the day before my birthday.—concocting.
Herewith, “A Song for Lambs.” It’s a four-track Garageband instrumental, featuring three passes on guitar. Plus—in the can-do spirit of New Song—my first-ever attempt to lay down a rhythm track on a lap dulcimer.
It’s raw. It’s rough.
It’s full of real lambs.
It goes out to you, Jeff.
And to your Family of Lambs.
In deep appreciation and friendship.
Thank you for having my baaaaaaa-hhhhhh-cck.
PS: Sorry, I couldn’t resist
Subscribe to TheStoryIsTheThing Newsletter
SUBSCRIBE to this site’s free email newsletter for updates on essays, photo-essays, multimedia and more. It’s very intermittent: thestoryisthething.substack.com