Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Musical odyssey

Loving you is sweet salvation
Baby, there's no measure to your worth
Now it's your love that makes me
So I'll follow where it takes me
Even to the edge of the earth
I first heard those words, wrapped in Little Big Town's lush harmonies, last night. Both the lyrics and the music surrounding them echo a path I've traveled over the last 35 years.

My personal music library spans the spectrum, from E. Power Biggs to AC/DC, but my tastes tend toward the acoustic. I know that makes me something of a dinosaur. So be it.

When I started playing guitar in my late teens, I wore out the grooves of many a John Denver album. Later, the music of the late Dan Fogelberg served as life's soundtrack. Likewise Jackson Browne and Bruce Hornsby.

Along the way I've discovered Gove Scrivenor, Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, Richard Thompson, Shawn Mullins, Dwight Yoakam, Jerry Douglas, Leo Kottke and dozens of other brilliant musicians.

Music is best experienced in three dimensions and with all five senses -- and I don't mean taking in an arena concert from the nosebleed seats. I've had the good fortune to be in the immediate presence of McGuffey Lane, Jon Pousette-Dart, Livingston Taylor, Stony Creek Band and more.

That presence, especially in small venues, has created moments that glisten in my memory.

An easy conversation with Liv Taylor before a performance, discussing the risks of his playing banjo publicly before truly learning how. Chatting up members of Danger Brothers between Hineygate sets. Being summoned to the mic by Déjà Blue's Andie Pearson to belt-out my best basso profundo on "Mustang Sally."

Standing onstage beside Chan Goodnow of Stony Creek Band, feeling him pour his irrepressible talent into his mandolin. Taking a quiet moment to thank Dick Smith, McGuffey Lane's original drummer, for his gifts to all of us.

Recalling Dick Smith brings me to my particular musical touchstone -- not a song, not an artist, but a place called Zachariah's Red-Eye Saloon.

Zach's opened in the mid-1970s in an old warehouse on High Street across from the Ohio State campus, quickly becoming the "mother church" of central Ohio's music scene. The club attracted its share of big-name touring acts, but its heartbeat was local artists. McGuffey Lane was the unofficial "house band."

Then a sophomore at OSU, I'd often forgo my studies in favor of music at Zach's. I'd grab a table in front of the stage, nursing the same beer all night long while trying to steal guitar licks.

The time, the age, the music -- together, pure magic.

Less than two years later, I moved away from Columbus. Eventually, Zach's closed its doors and the stage went silent. It'd be almost 25 years before central Ohio would again become my home.

Not only did I find McGuffey Lane still making great music, I also learned that the band hosts an annual Zachariah's Red-Eye Reunion. At the close of the 2002 reunion, my first, a seasoned John Schwab and McGuffey Lane performed the debut of "Runnin' Wild and Free":
Those High Street days are still special to me
When Zachariah's was the place to be
For people like you and people like me
But I'm not one to live in the past
I learned long ago most things never last
And after all these years I'm runnin' wild and free...
Every bend in my musical path has been steered by the energy that flowed through me during those evenings at Zach's. And each time a piece of music touches me, it traces back to those sparkling days.

Even now, it's pure magic.