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29 July 2015

The Bluesman

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So we’re at this blues festival in Mississippi. We’ve been out here all day but now we’re enjoying the relative cool of the early evening, and the sky glows with that directionless light the comes with dusk. Earlier in the day, we’d set up camp at the top of the hill, a circle of chairs, and a couple of coolers under a canopy. It’s kind of like an outdoor living room, and we treat it accordingly, inviting any passers by to come in and sit with us, start a conversation, or tell a story. It’s a great way to meet people and a great way to pass the time between sets. We know some people here, and they tend to visit too. On this occasion, they brought one of the performers with them: an Englishman who, despite the geographical differences, played the Mississippi Hill Country Blues. We called him The Bluesman.

You know the type: charming accent, the ability to direct conversation and hold a group hostage with a well-told story. I don’t remember what we were talking about when the kid came up, but he strode over to our little camp and offered the us a drink from a small bottle of whiskey. I took a nip and passed the bottle to The Bluesman who was delighted. He took the bottle, and threw his head back to drink. And he drank, and drank, and drank. The amber liquid in the bottle drained down at a steady, slow pace, from being almost full to being basically empty. The kid was stunned, he kept reaching for the bottle like he figured this man must be done by now, only to awkwardly withdraw his hand, left swaying in the air.

The Bluesman finished the bottle and handed it back. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and smiled at the kid, who wasn’t angry that his whiskey was gone, only stunned at the fact that it had disappeared in under a minute. The kid said something to that effect and The Bluesman laughed. “That? That’s nothing. I used to drink two fifths of Jack a day. Of course, at the time I was also doing a eightball of cocaine a day too, so I needed the whiskey to even me out. That’s hard living, and one day I realized that if i didn’t do all that coke, I wouldn’t need all the whiskey. And here I am today.”

The kid smiled, shook his hand, and wandered off into the darkening field. The Bluesman stayed around for a while, just shooting the breeze with us, telling stories and listening to stories. Then he realized he was due on stage shortly and ran off down the hill. Fifteen minutes later he was on stage playing the blues like the consummate professional he was, and we were rapt, listening to the notes he played like we listened to the words of his stories.

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