The basement is set up for band practice, and when the band is not there, then a band forms. There are guitars lining the walls, a bass, a drum kit, a piano, an accordion. Some people come to the basement with their own instruments, either because they were invited to have a jam session or because they always happen to have a sax in the trunk. Whoever is there will pick up the instrument that they can play, or else sit and wait until someone abandons the instrument they can play. Or if there are five guitarists sitting around and no drummer, someone will give it a go, beginning their drum career then and there. And they all just rock out together, making it up as they go along.
It is Sunday morning, and we are on the covered front porch of a house in the mountains, drinking coffee and looking out at the river. We had talked about maybe trying to go to church somewhere local, but before plans could be finalized, a guitar came out, then another. They traded songs back and forth, one leading while the other listened long enough to pick up the pattern and then join in. It was a different kind of service.
It is Christmas Day, and breakfast is still set out on the counters for grazing, but we are all crammed into the living room, sitting in chairs and on the floor or wherever a body will fit. It's probably Grandmother who gets the ball rolling. While the youngers sit back and make jokes, she is impatient for the music to begin. She picks the closest one and orders them to get to playing, which starts a series of small concerts, like a recital. There is piano, guitar, violin, cello, and it all ends with Cousin Ben on the accordion, playing the song with the tongue twister verses about a proper cup of coffee from a proper copper coffee pot. Grandmother asks me if I play anything, and I shake my head sadly. But she says, "Me neither!" and then looks all about her proudly.
The night before the wedding, the party goes on forever in a two-room rented cabin in the national park. There's one mandolin, three guitars, and six guitarists. Someone is always fiddling, either working something out for themselves or providing the chords to a song that we all sing. We are happy to be in this group of people who know the same songs, even though we have only met some of them this very evening. Some funny phrase floats up in a conversation, and immediately it becomes a line in the chorus of a new song.
Trevor is alone in his room, playing his screaming guitar solo unplugged, because you can't melt faces if you haven't practiced.
The afternoon is mild and the s'mores are delicious. Someone strolls over from the house carrying a huge case, and suddenly from nowhere more cases appear. There are four of them, standing in a loose circle playing bluegrass hymns: A guitar, a mandolin, a fiddle, a double bass. My parents are there, the first meeting between two families that will be joined officially sometime next year. My dad sits at a picnic table, listening to the music, his foot tapping. Then he gets up and stands among them, making requests and then listening with a far-off look of contentment.
Musicians hang out with musicians, and they all get together and play music. They do it when they're happy or sad or drunk or awake. It is incredible magic to me, the making of music, the drive to create sound. I used to worry that my musician would suddenly notice that and make off with one of his own kind. But I don't think about it that way anymore. I'm just grateful to have a passport into these moments when music just happens.