The Baptist church in Demopolis, Alabama, was hot. I was thinking about Sunday dinner when my brother Rick stirred in his seat. I thought his leg was asleep but he slid into the aisle and walked down to the front to accept Jesus as his personal savior. I began to sob uncontrollably, happier than ever before in my ten years of life. My first religious experience.
Rick was eight and didn’t seem possessed by the Devil, but he hadn’t been baptized; a requirement in the Southern Baptist Church. I realized my little brother could have his life snuffed out in an instant. A runaway bit of shrapnel, mad dogs, rattlesnakes, and the undertow at Gulf Shores were all capable of writing the final chapter of a young boy’s life.
At that tender age I didn’t wonder why a little boy would have to spend eternity in Hell just because he died early, especially considering that God kinda controlled when people died. I just knew the possibility existed and I didn’t want to have my stay in Heaven ruined because I was thinking about Rick enduring eternal Hellfire.
Religious experiences came few and far between after that day. Most of the truly moving experiences in my life since have either involved my family, sports, or music; maybe a combination of all those.
Recently, AXS.TV, a channel Direct TV wisely includes in their lineup, was rebroadcasting a 2012 benefit concert for the Barn, the music hall made famous by the incomparable Levon Helm in his final years.
Since the great drummer’s death, the place has experienced financial trouble. The call went out for friends and admirers to come help. Anyone who ever questioned the reverential place Levon holds in the music world got their answer just by looking at those who showed up.
Former band mate Garth Hudson was there and he brought Gregg Allman, John Mayer, John Hiatt, Lucinda Williams, Bruce Hornsby, Marc Cohn, and Mavis Staples. There were many more.
Grace Potter, a name not universally familiar, was there. She has been toiling with her band, The Nocturnals, for a decade but suddenly became new and exciting after performing a duet with Kenny Chesney during a country music awards show.
Potter has legs as long as a day picking cotton and eyes that make one lose his or her train of thought. She is theatrical and pretty, perfect for the current music world: Overhyped, under talented singers, who are light on chops and heavy on autocorrect, get popular primarily because they look good on Hi-Def TV.
Potter doesn’t completely fit this mold; she grew up in music, can play with anyone, and sings like a rock n roll angel. She also writes most of her own songs. But she does look good in Hi Def.
She chose I Shall be Released, a Bob Dylan song with gospel and blues influences. Most folks must have liked the Band’s version better than me because everyone from Mama Cass Elliott to the Fleet Foxes recorded it.
Potter sat at a Hammond organ accompanied by her own drummer and legendary record producer Don Was on bass. I can’t adequately describe what I heard but you can see for yourself on You Tube.
As she played the interlude, started singing the words, and sailed to an amazing climax, the crowd roared their approval. I sat in the Man Room with misty eyes, marveling at one person’s talent and emotion. I don’t know if this qualifies as a religious experience but it sure moved me.
Except when they showed a close up. I lost my concentration.