By J. Rose
It was August 2016. I had recently moved to the Pacific Northwest and was making my way to all of the Bluegrass festivals that I could. Being the new girl in the scene was proving to be harder than I thought. Back home, in California, I knew everyone or at least knew their faces. Bluegrass festivals were like reunions. Festival friendships would pick right back up where they had left off the year before. I knew who I wanted to pick with and where to find them. I expected that finding my place in this new community would take a while and most days, I was up for the task, but I couldn’t help but feel homesick.
Like an angel in a Stetson, my best friend had flown in for the weekend and we were on our way to the Mount St. Helens Bluegrass Festival in Toledo, Washington. Two of our favorite California bands were scheduled to perform, so the whole place was peppered with familiar faces. I welcomed the comfort of my long lost community and settled into the sunny weekend at the local fairgrounds. One lovely festival afternoon, I heard that one of my new friends had been looking for me. “Did Jay find you?” someone asked. I had met Jay at our camp the day before. He had been showing off a picture of his sailboat to my fellow campers and introduced himself. He was an older fella with white hair and a kind smile. Jay walked with a cane and a limp, and not a single thought about why he should slow down. He and I hit it off immediately. I wondered what his inquiry could have been about.
Later on, that day, as the sun was shining sideways and the pine trees cast their lengthened shadows, I spotted Jay and asked him why he had been looking for me. “Gina!” he exclaimed as he hurried over. “Did you meet the young lady?” “Which young lady?” I asked wondering who he might be referring to. “Anna” he replied without hesitating. “She lives in Seattle and I told her that you guys need to meet.” During our conversation the day before, Jay had learned that I was new to Seattle and being the thoughtful and smart man that he was, knew that Anna and I needed to meet. “What does she look like,” I asked, not having any idea who he was talking about. He described her hair color, shirt color, and even added that she was wearing cowboy boots and carrying a fiddle. “Hmm,” I said, “I haven’t seen her, but I’ll keep my eye out for her. Jay was not ready to give up. He began leading me through the different camps as he dodged the fallen pine cones and added to the story of how he had met Anna and where he thought she might be.
After about ten minutes, I started to feel a little bad that poor Jay was walking all over the place for me and assured him that I would keep my eyes out for her. Just then, Jay flagged down a passing golf cart. The driver pulled over with a smile and we all introduced ourselves. Before I knew it, Jay was sitting in the front seat holding his cane in his lap, I was in the back seat and just like that, we were all on the mission together. Jay described Anna’s outfit and hair color to his friend and directed our route, gesturing with the top of his cane. The two of them made small talk as we scooted around the festival. I’m pretty sure we could have walked faster than the cart was moving, but our new friend explained that “he didn’t want no one falling out now.” I laughed out loud, but cut it short when I realized he was serious. Everyone that we passed waved and smiled and for a moment, I felt a little less lost. It was a perfect summer night.
We had made our way to the main stage where the golf cart was no longer permitted. Still feeling the need to let Jay off the hook, I quickly assured him that I would find her, but he wouldn’t have it. I fanatically thanked my new friend for the ride before he drove away into the sunset. Jay and I stood on the outskirts of the lawn and scanned the crowd for Anna. There in a clearing between two tall pine trees, across the crowd, I spotted a young gal with blonde hair and a green shirt standing by herself. “Is that her Jay!?” I exclaimed squeezing his forearm. He looked in the direction that I was pointing and after a couple of seconds, said: “that’s her alright” and took off. We both walked up to the cowboy boot wearin’ fiddle player with intention. Anna, a bit surprised by the sudden company, held out her hand and smiled as Jay introduced us. Before we finished our introductions, Jay had already begun to make his way back through the crowd of people. Apparently, he knew that was all we needed. I paused and yelled after him, “Thank you, Jay!”
Anna and I found a place to sit in the grass and began to chat while the rest of the crowd watched the band that was on stage. We both shared the short version of our current stories and talked about how we had come to be bluegrassers. Anna had already heard about The Handsome Ladies and I elaborated with excitement. Then, with equal excitement, she began to explain how she and some other Seattle ladies had decided to start a ladies only jam. The first one had happened just a couple of weeks earlier... and just like that, in the setting sun of a Toledo August night, I had found my new community.