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First in fourteen

It was the first true “first” in 14 months.

I kept saying it was my first time playing out in 14 months, and it was, but that didn’t mean I hadn’t sung for friends and family. It didn’t meant I hadn’t played.

It meant I hadn’t loaded the truck with guitars and driven somewhere I’d never been. I hadn’t sat down in a room of strangers waiting to be entertained. I hadn’t laid my soul bare three minutes at a time with the hope that one of those strangers would go home with their own soul better for it.

It meant, until last Thursday, I hadn’t accepted a gig.

After 15 years of traveling the Southeast as a performing songwriter, with as many as 15 gigs in a month, I went into this pandemic with a lot I took for granted – music being at the top of the list.

A while before the pandemic started, my buddy Brian and I were headed to do a show in Monteagle, Tennessee. We’d played The Smoke House more than a few times. I always looked forward to it, but that night I wanted to turn around and go home.

I said, “Brian, this is fun and all, but I can tell you how this night is going to go right now. I can tell you what we’re going to play, what jokes will work, what songs will make them cry. I can even tell you the things people will say to us after the show.

“To be honest with you, I’d really rather be at home with my wife eating El Patron.”

I was suddenly burnt out.

I did The Smoke House gig and the rest I had booked. Then I started saying no.

I said “no” until I forgot how special a show was. Until I forgot how magical it is when a room full of people feel as one. Until I forgot what an honor it is to have someone offer their time and attention to hear what I have to say.

For a long time, I forgot.

Thursday night at The Blue Canoe in Tupelo, I remembered.

I soaked it all up as if it might be my last show. I soaked up the soundcheck. I soaked up the other songwriters’ songs.

I soaked up the sound of the room instanly turning from a loud party to the still sound of listening.

Waves of relief came over me as I took the stage. Months of anxiety and worry about what music might look like after the pandemic disappeared.

Cradled between my guitar and a folding chair, I was finally back home.

I had a new song I wanted to try. I wrote it right before the pandemic started and remember thinking I couldn’t wait to play it for a crowd. I looked at the title on my setlist and smiled at God’s timing.

“Don’t It Feel Good to Feel Good.”

It does.

Thank God it does.

Stults is a performing songwriter from Russellville.

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