Roy McAlister talks with Marcus Eaton as the musician gets to know his new McAlister guitar.
Yesterday evening was another one of those times when I am absolutely humbled and grateful for the beautiful people in my life who made it happen for me. Don’t you find that remarkable things happen as a result of collaboration? It’s always that way. Keep people you admire and respect close to you, and they will make your life better. :-)
Though we see each other rarely, one of my favourite friends of all is A, who lives out in Southeastern Washington state. He was invited to a backyard BBQ and potluck party in Gig Harbor, Washington where our mutual friend, Marcus Eaton would be playing. A couldn’t make it, and asked that I be invited to the party instead. And I was. (giggly happy dance inserted here)
It was at the home of a luthier, A told me. A man who makes high quality guitars played by musicians including Jackson Browne, Marc Cohn, Graham Nash and David Crosby. It was a unique opportunity for me to be in the presence of real artists, and only two hours’ drive from our home in Rainier, Oregon.
I got up early and made jalapeno poppers. This involves carefully cutting open fresh peppers and removing all the pulp and seeds and stuffing them with cream cheese. The task is tricky to do without tearing the peppers, which you want to close back up once they’re stuffed, so you can roast them. The bigger problem is dealing with pepper juice on your fingers. It’s 24 hours later and my skin is still burning. I always think “Next time I’ll wear gloves,” and I always forget. At least I’m consistent.
This photo doesn’t do it justice, but Gig Harbor is an absolutely darling Victorian town. The rain let up right before we arrived, so we were able to get out a bit, and stayed dry.
Down at the picturesque Harbor itself. This town is in Puget Sound, so it has full access to the Pacific Ocean, but is protected from seaside exposure.
The weather was wretched and that made I-5 treacherous. The four northbound lanes are usually bumper to bumper on the way to Seattle: that’s a given. So add torrential downpours causing small lakes on the Interstate, and the omnipresent summer construction zones. Yikes. We were grateful to pull onto Highway 16 and head west over the Tacoma Narrows bridge. (I received a text from my brother that the bridge was closed due to high winds after we arrived at our hosts’ home, but luckily it was opened up again by the time we all left.)
Our plans had changed due to the weather, so we arrived rather early. Tara and I decided to explore the town of Gig Harbor and calm our nerves a bit before we ventured on. From there, it was only 15 minutes to the house.
Mrs. McAlister was as gracious as could be, considering she had never met us, and ushered us both in, introduced us to the kids, pointed out drinks and food, and showed me how to work the oven so I could broil the poppers. I met other guests and was grateful that Tara and I were not the first. Marcus was already there, and introduced me to Roy McAlister the luthier, and he introduced me to his new guitar.
The guitar should get a dedicated blog post. Sadly, I am ignorant of the technical descriptions of instruments. All I can say is that – even to me – this guitar is sexy enough to make hearts pound. Roy pointed out all the pieces: the blonde front piece, the dark sides and back, the black wood border around the face. Each piece of wood gorgeous and patterned and quilted with variations in the wood. Even the ebony of the neck was striped with lighter colours. Stunning.
Marcus begins to open up his new guitar.
His fingers blur across the frets.
Marcus had just been presented with the guitar, and played with it for a couple of hours before people started showing up, because he was trying to “open it up,” and noted that he could already hear the difference after doing that. He was so pleased he practically babbled about his gift. He said that guitars peak in sound quality after 10 years or so, and he was dying to hear the future tones of this work of art.
I was honored to be invited to Roy’s workshop in the back, filled with carved and unassembled pieces, curved and shaped and waiting to be brought to life, first by the luthier and finally by the musicians.
Guitars waiting for the tender touches of repair work.
Tools waiting to be called upon.
Roy McAlister was revealed to me by the end of the evening to be an exceptional human being. When describing the guitar for us, I could sense his efforts to maintain a calm and humble presentation but it was easy to see how excited he was. Watching carefully as the evening progressed and he hovered at the edge of the audience, soaking up the sounds of the artists with his guitars, I could see the kid inside him, straining not to bounce around with glee. If he wasn’t proud of his accomplishments while watching the musicians, he deserved to be. During the party, he talked with everyone and made each person feel appreciated, even me and Tara, total strangers. Roy made jokes all night and when he got together with Marcus, the two of them were positively juvenile. It was pretty hilarious. I teased him about being the biggest kid in the house, and he took it as a compliment.
Marcus could not stop raving about his gift. It was better than Christmas. The guitar, obviously, is gorgeous. But Marcus was just going crazy about its playability the instant he picked it up. “I’ve been fighting my guitar for three years,” he told me. “This guitar disappears when I start playing. It disappears.” You could tell by watching. There was no adjustment period as he figured it out…he just sat down and made jaws drop. In between every song he took the time to rave some more. “Sick!” he says, “I want to be more eloquent, but that’s all I’ve got.”
The rain POURED and wind raged. It had brought down a tree in the yard earlier. There was no question of being out of doors. So the lovely hosts rearranged their home and brought the show inside. That made it very intimate, and I was glad, because I was able to hear every single breath of the new guitar.
When the house was full, the artists began playing. It was a full concert with personally invited artists. I have photos only from the beginning when the light was still good. When it got dark outside, the room was dark and my little Nikon with my poor night photography skills was not able to capture anything worth posting.
Terry Holder tunes her guitar.
Jerry and Terry make a great team and looked like they were having fun up there.
Terry Holder started us off, with some fabulous back-up by her husband Jerry. I had the chance to talk to them before the show and they are both truly genuine people with quick smiles and generous hearts. Terry’s songs are as beautiful as she is, and filled with a magical, hopeful quality that I noticed is also in her personality. “Put it out into the Universe,” she said a couple of times during the night, expressing her belief that good things happen when you are true to yourself.
Rick Ruskin has skillfully wound his way around guitars for decades.
Rick Ruskin was up next with his McAlister guitar. Rick’s funny stories were a great accessory to his exceptional playing. It was clear that he and his guitar had been close friends for years, and his picking was relaxed and confident. He joked about playing I Wish It Would Rain the previous year, and this year’s barbecue being rained out. He played it again, hoping to cancel out the effect, and then – just in case – held us spellbound with an instrumental Here Comes The Sun. I complimented him on his set, later in the kitchen. “I give it a B+,” Rick responded. Oh, pshaww. Maybe artists find it harder to admit to greatness when there are so many greats together. But I argue: wear the coat when it fits.
Marcus in the living room of a family who play and love music.
Then Marcus played a nice long set. For those who want to know, the setlist was Sunrise Lets You Down, Black Pearl, What’s The Difference, Flying Through the Fire, Reverie, I Will Be Your Shade, Better Way, The Sting, The Barbie Song, and Who You Are. His fingers fly when he plays. He sometimes watched the frets while his hands picked it out, and sometimes looked right out at us while his fingers danced and sparked like lightning. There were little gasps in the audience and quiet “wow”s around me. (I often wonder what it’s like for those hearing him for the first time) Though I have been mesmerized by his playing since 2006, twice I caught myself dizzy from holding my breath to listen. No matter how good the music is, I must still breathe. It was the first time I had heard Flying Through the Fire, inspired by a WWII messenger pigeon. “It’s about life,” said Marcus. The song touched me deeply. It’s going to have to be my new anthem. Sadly, I still don’t have the music, since it’s on Marcus’ new album. The album is so recently completed it hasn’t even been released yet!
As if that wasn’t enough music-from-the-gut, I was introduced to Keith Greeninger. First of all, his voice knocked me flat. In a good way. There is no better match of voice to songwriter ever. Each song has a message that is so profoundly beautiful it broke my heart. In a good way. I had to fight off the tears during Hop In the Truck, in which he played a mandola (everything else was on guitar). It is about American and Mexican construction workers building a border wall together because they needed the work to feed their families, and when it is finished all the foreigners get deported. The song called out politicians building campaigns by shutting out the laborers upon whose backs our country was built. After the show I found that Keith is …wait for it… deeply genuine and caring in person. He was eager to shake my hand and thank me for listening, when I was the one trying to thank him.
Every single person was wonderful, and funny, and interesting, and open. I didn’t even have a chance to meet them all, and trust me, I feel that loss. The bigger story is that I was able to meet many of them, and today my life is a hundred times richer.