By Tommy Charming | 

The aura was cool, the lights were green and blue and red. I was 18, my hair was down to my shoulders, I was probably in pajama pants, and I rarely found a moment when I wasn’t reading philosophy books to go on dates, or bathe, or vote. On stage was this vaulty, tall handsome fellow with the stage presence of an effortless Lethario, blaring through the greatest hits of the last 50 years and some songs of his own. Behind the drums was some guy with huge sideburns and a gun. All the inebriated citizens of funville were throwing back whiskey like it was goin’ out of style, and paying all their attention to these stage-people. I felt a tinge of jealousy, as it was all that I wanted, to make people either accept me or physically confront me in the only way that some small towns allow: Open Mic Night.

“Hey there guys, I’m Andrew Flowers, and tonight is Open Mic Niiiiiight!” the singer rattles off in a bombastic sports-announcer fashion, and everyone is screaming

“Whoo!!!” I love you Andrew!”

“Where did I leave my p-purse you guys? I’m WASTED.”

“Play Freebird!”

In that moment, I knew it took a man of steel to peer out over these drunken, salt-of-the-Earth Midwesterners  with bravado. And after I’d just given a pep talk to this pretty woman (who now has a successful indie radio program on 1380 AM, on which I’ve appeared on twice since) was now pressuring me, with the help of her friend and musical collaborator, who is also lovely, to go up there and sing one of my songs.

“What the hell do they think they’re doing? My songs are so peurile and angsty, these people wanna hear Lynyrd Skynyrd!” – But my begging wasn’t enough. After the set of the powerful, smooth, heart-throb sounds of Cody Goggin (which got everyone going), then it was my turn to go up and do a song. A SONG. A SONG… As I sat and made sure the open-jam guitar was in tune, crazy gun-toting sideburns guy comes up and sits down at the drums, with a look on his face that says he’s seen his fair share of jams and could handle whatever I throw at him.

“Hey man, I’m Vince. How are you doin’?” – he extended a handshake, and of all the times in my life, got choked up on vocabulary and couldn’t really formulate more of a response than “I’m doin’ alright. I’m not quite dead, so…” – he laughed, and I jumped into my song “Cryin’ Shame”, which is rather jazzy and psychedelic. It was the only original of mine that I felt I could do with no lyrics in front of me. The roof blew off the place! I’d discovered the missing half of me: the stage!

Over the course of the next few years, I got pretty locally famous, and I could say that a couple hundred folks knew me specifically from playing music. I got beat up 3 times, rode in a limo, played on the radio, jammed with one of my teachers, played in nothing but my boxer shorts, and felt loved by people who weren’t obligated to love me. I saw more things and more of human anatomy than I had previously believed existed, and I met some of the craziest, most talented musicians in the state;

I saw a man in a flannel do dubstep beatboxing with a jaw harp and freestyle rap about drinkin’ and chicken wings. I saw a lion-headed young guitar god play solos Jimmy Page could only dream of. I saw illiterate white trash bleat out Woody Guthrie songs for 2 hours. I saw a transgender woman play leather-bound punk rock and re-ignited my teenage angst. I had pretty hippie girls to play the bongoes with me and love me. I’ve played with famous gay cowboy bikers and the artist formerly known as Indian Joe, Rabbi Alan of the Orthodox Bluegrass Band,  Conga Bob and his grandson Ocean Man Steev from the band 3 Legged Dog. I saw miracles happen, and I made some of the greatest memories of my whole life.

And to think that it happened right here in Franklin County.

– Tommy Charming

p.s. If you wanna see some live music, I’m pretty sure that heart-throb Cody “The Jukebox” Goggin still plays on Mondays at the Dew Bolt In in Catawissa, supported of course by Backwoods Band Support.


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