restricted access 6. Awakening at Augusta
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Six Awakening at Augusta Of all the enchantments at Augusta, the best was this: drifting off to sleep late at night, with the sound of Cajun music ringing out into the mountain air. And then waking up the next morning, after just a few hours of sleep, to the same sweet wild sound. It felt as though the music had awakened me, and not dawn’s first light. But the dance of accordion, fiddle, and guitar had gone on all night, out there on the porch. I was the one who had drifted away, until the music called me back. Each morning, I slowly came to consciousness, as the distant sounds penetrated the cloak of sleep. The music in my ears told me where I was—before my skin had registered the sensation of the narrow single bed, before my eyes had opened to the spartan dormitory room that had come to feel like a haven. Once again, the music had brought me back to myself. If I had grown up in a different tradition, I might have had a ritual for greeting the new day. Perhaps I would have said a morning prayer, thanking God for restoring my soul to me. But even without a prayer, I was spirit-filled on those West Virginia mornings—alive to the unknown possibilities of the day before me, but steadied by a link to something timeless and enduring. The first time I tried to explain this, words didn’t come at all. Only tears. I sat on the edge of our familiar double bed, back home on the South Side of Chicago, trying to describe to Steve what it had been like, that first week at music camp. “Next summer, you have to go back there with me,” was all I could manage to choke out. “Of course,” he said, as he held me. I had prepared for my first trip to music camp like an eager schoolgirl, as I checked over the instructions from the Augusta people. I didn’t want to forget anything, and I wasn’t used to traveling alone. My friends and I had adopted an unofficial dress code for the 61 62 Beginnings trip. When Joan and Jessie pulled up late that Saturday morning in July, I discovered we’d dressed alike, in long flowing cotton skirts and oversized t-shirts. My suitcase contained a whole collection of those shirts, adorned with the names of Louisiana bands and landmarks—BeauSoleil, Café du Monde, Mulate’s. The three of us looked like refugees from the sixties, or perhaps a group of Mennonites on holiday. The car overflowed with instruments, suitcases, and a fan in case it got hot. But somehow we found space for my things. I kissed Steve and my sons good-bye, and we took off. Setting out, we all felt giddy with excitement. Joan and Jessie were determined to broaden my horizons—starting at our first stop, a gas station. “Okay, Blair—we think you should pump the gas.” They knew I didn’t drive. They took a picture of me poised at the gas pump, beaming, nozzle in hand. As we headed out of the city, we cranked up the music on the van’s stereo. We’d each brought a selection of tapes—more than enough to provide a constant backdrop for the twelve-hour drive. Nearly all of it was Louisiana music. Our tastes were similar. We all loved BeauSoleil, although I had come to prefer the more traditional sound of the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band. One of us had a copy of the first recording by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. I’d brought a tape by Nathan Abshire, a raw-sounding Cajun accordionist who’d died a few years back. Jessie had some all-fiddle recordings. Joan contributed some zydeco—the more syncopated, blues-influenced dance music developed by the Creoles, the French-speaking people of color in southwest Louisiana . Gradually, the flat plains of Illinois and Indiana gave way to the more rolling terrain of Ohio, where I’d spent the first fifteen years of my life. I started out in Cleveland, then on to grade school in Lakewood, a leafy suburb adjacent to the city. We moved again when I started junior high, to a more distant suburb, with a bigger house and more land—the closest my family ever got to “out in the country.” Strange, the way I had forgotten how different...


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