Sammy Shelor and Company, Image by L. Shelor
"When the gates swing wide on the other side, just beyond the sunset sea..."
Spinning at the National Folk Festival and chatting to new friends about old mountain memories. Then I heard the soft, clear tones of my brother's banjo, played in a gentle manner far different from his usual driving bluegrass style. A tune I knew, and one that always takes my breath away on the rare occasions that I hear it.
"There'll be room to spare as we enter there. There'll be room for you and room for me...."
Mountain voices joined the sound of guitar, bass and banjo, capturing the attention of a small audience as dark clouds moved over the busy festival grounds. A moment like no other, captured in memory as the sweet words echoed through the air on a melody that seemed to say so much more than the simple lyrics could convey. It was only a moment, a pause in a day that had been filled with new faces, satisfying work and voices. The murmur of the crowd rose up as the song ended and people drifted in and out, the family story I was telling continued and was commented on, the music swirled around us in a quicker tune. But it was still a moment, never to be repeated, with echoing effects not to be judged or known.
The song is "50 Miles of Elbow Room" by F. W. McGee and recorded by artists from the Carter Family to Iris Dement. What this song says to me is what I think religion should be. Open, inclusive, with room for everyone of faith, however they think and however they chose to live. Religion with gates 100 miles wide, imagine.
And somehow the lyrics speak to me of the mountains, of my ancestors coming to this wild wide land from cramped poverty in Europe. The mountains, old, welcoming, still providing a haven above the crowds. Elbow room.
But none of that really has anything to do with the fact that in Richmond, during a busy folk festival, there was a very special moment.
This article was originally posted to At the Top of Squirrel Spur on October 19, 2005.
Technorati Tags: [Blue Ridge][National Folk Festival][mountain music][gospel][Sammy Shelor][Carter Family][F. W. McGee]