Meridian Star


July 19, 2013

Campfires and camp music

MERIDIAN —      Khe day's work and play is done. The sun is just a faint glow in the west. Stars are flung like a million diamonds against a blue-black sky, surrounding an overgrown pearl of a moon. It is getting chilly, but the wind has died. All is still and quiet and dark and cool.

    The group gathers around the campfire, shuffling stools and blankets closer while pulling on long sleeves. The talk softens and there is a lot of listening. Someone suggests a song, and another gets the guitar. A harmonica emerges from a warm pocket. "Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard....Just re-member the Red River Val-ley, and the one who has loved you so true....Te-ell me why the stars do shine, te-ell me why the ivy twines...."

    Someone brings in the high harmony. Talk has dwindled to whispers. Blood pressures drop; muscles relax; minds re-run memories; hands clasp other hands, eyes moisten. Someone puts more wood on the fire and all the faces brighten from the light, their shadows forming giant black replicas of each camper behind them in a concentric ring around the group.

    With songs of the period and earlier spontaneously emerging from the group, this scene could be from early days on the western prairie or from a wooded campsite in a modern campground. From the mountains to the prairie to the oceans white with foam, just about anywhere in this country. (This modern day campout happens far too infrequently and this trend should be thwarted.) "Buffalo gals won't you come out tonight, and dance to the light of the moon....As I-aye walked out in the streets of Laredo, As I walked out in Laredo one day...."

    Campfires can inspire songs by the young, old, wealthy, poor or mixed, it doesn't matter. Everyone sings; or if they don't know the words they hum, or catch the words from the others and sing them a little late. And those who can't carry a tune sing too, and are thus bound in spirit to the others. Nothing binds a camped group together quite like a song.

    Jimmie Rodgers and Elsie McWilliams wrote songs that are easy to sing around campfires. Some are slow and have fun words and easy guitar chords; C and G and F and D mostly. "All around the water tank, waiting for a train....T for Texas, T for Tennessee, T for Thelma, that gal that made a wreck out of me....Way out on the windswept desert, where nature favors no man, a buffalo met his brother, asleep on the sun-baked sand."

    When this Meridian pair hovered over Miss Elsie's piano eighty odd years ago and revolutionized this country's music, they gave us some mighty good camp songs and inspired a thousand since. "Punch up the fire a little. Who will have some more hot coffee? Let's do this one in C, here we go, “I’m in the jailhouse now... How about just one more before we turn in."

Now the coals are fading to just a red glow. We crawl down deep into the sleeping bag and close our eyes and and sleep, with melodies echoing quietly in our ears.

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