An instrumental Sunday in the Appalachian outback

‘Full of Gospel.’ | Hamlin, W.Va. | photography | july2023

Text & Photos by Douglas John Imbrogno | july3.2023 |

The immediate question raised by the ‘HOUSE OF PRAYER Full Gospel Church’ off the main drag in Hamlin, W.Va., deep in the back nine of West Virginia’s rural Lincoln County, is the following. Are there ‘partial gospel‘ or half-assed churches out there, to which ‘full gospel‘ churches are a response, a riposte and rejoinder? Me, I was just turning into the House of Prayer’s parking lot to snap its picture, pleased that the sky above its roof was heavenly. My camera phone’s black-and-white version of the church front felt—as is often the case with my eye these days—more informative than the color shot, even if the afternoon sky at that very moment was cerulean blue and adorned with snowdrift clouds. It was a July day that began with spritzing rain and then settled into the kind of intrusive heat that eventually sends you into the living room, in search of the cold slap of air conditioning against sweat-slicked cheeks and forehead.

‘Freeze Frame Howl.’ | Hamlin, W.Va. | photography | july2023

I was on my way to a friend’s house to meet up with more friends bearing instruments just like me, a Guild classical guitar in a black nylon case in the backseat along with cheese, olives, Scoops and an American merlot. Our host, Jim, lives so far out that the road goes from smooth two-lane blacktop bifurcated by a yellow center line, to a curvaceous ribbon of concrete threading a hillside, too narrow to allow a car or pickup coming the other way to pass. It’d be a confrontation. Someone or the other of us would have to relent and back up to a wider space in the road to let the other pass. The neighborly thing to do. But no one came the other way and then the concrete gave way to gravel and mud as it started up a mountain. My 12-year-old Prius scraped the gravel, complaining as its bottom bounced off the path’s surface. A Greek Chorus of backhills West Virginia travel returned to mind: ‘This can’t be right …’ But it was.

CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE | photography | july2023

Jim’s house presented itself. Greetings were made, snacks fed upon. Beers and wines tossed back. The afternoon heatwave led us from a fan-filled porch to a thankfully chill living room, where a visiting canine, freed of her porch pooch leash, got to be petted and feted before conking out upon the floor. And music, sweet live music, jam music, classic tuneage, harmonic singing—”Father and Son,” “Paradise,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “Ripple,” “Orphan Girl” and more—was undertaken and accomplished, mostly well enough, although we could use more practice. We need to do this again, way out there in the Appalachian hinterlands.

‘Dulcimers and Mandibles.’ | Hamlin, W.Va. | photography | july2023


Looking in on the old grain silos upriver, before they go down: The only sounds I hear while standing at the foot of the silos is the whip and whoosh of occasional traffic on W.Va. 2, a trail mix of various birds charting out their personal space in song, and now and again the wind whistling through the portals of these abandoned legacies of a pre-industrial rural heartland.

For updates on new essays, poems, diatribes, photo essays, experimental videos & sorta memoir excerpts, subscribe to this site’s free e-mail newsletter:

You May Also Like

Leave a Reply