This past weekend, you might have seen a blue hearse outside Allandale Mansion. There wasn’t a funeral though – I would call it a resurrection, an exhumation of The Dead and my job…a musician – conjuring spirits of the past with my own flavor of improvisation on the piano in the foyer of this historic Kingsport destination.

This is the second year the Friends of Allandale have presented “Dinner With The Dead” as a fundraiser for Kingsport’s most prestigious landmark located on West Stone Drive. It’s a $60 a plate dinner and features a cocktail hour with wine, a four-course gourmet menu from Virginia Intermont at Skoby’s and a roomful of ghosts acted out by the players of the Kingsport Theatre Guild who welcome guests and share the history of the mansion built in 1952.

The event was so successful last year, the organizers decided to host two nights – Friday and Saturday October 27 and 29th and I played both nights. On Friday, I arrived around 6.30 to setup some recording equipment. I wanted to record the Yamaha grand piano that I’ve played so many times before. I brought a handheld Archos Mp3 recorder, a couple of mikes and small mixer. It took a few moments to set things up as the hosts were making final plans, but I began playing close to seven-o-clock and a young “Harvey Brooks” began greeting guests. Harvey was a bit younger than I remember last year, but I presume his spirit can shape-shift at will so I started playing my annual version of Jelly-Roll Morton’s ‘Dead Man Blues’.

Friday night’s crowd was limited to the downstairs and earlier, I had spotted my seat for the night. You see, I play for this fundraiser in exchange for wine and food and I had a table right up front. Sam’s Package Store was in charge of the wine and it was fair – Macaroni Grill red and I was not too interested by the white, but it seemed to flow freely for the evening.

David's table placardDora one of the administrators had shown me my seat earlier so when Harvey clinked his glass with a fork and welcomed the guests to their table for this evening’s dinner, I knew where I was supposed to be.

That’s probably my favorite thing about this event. Playing Allandale is always a opportunity to meet somebody new. I have played the mansion since since high school for weddings, cocktail parties, Jazz at Allandale and a number of parties that I no longer remember. Last year I met Virginia Wooten one of Kingsport’s brightest imports to Eastman and for Friday’s dinner, I shared conversation with another group of intriguing couples who had recently moved to Kingsport from Texas and Delaware.

Nancy and Jerry Cross were the Delaware natives and we talked about my recent “short-trip” across their home state on my way back from Concord. We talked about our work and among other things we discussed Michael J. Fox, Stem Cell Research and a book they both had read from their hometown called ‘Mother of Pearl.’ There was another couple and I can’t recall their names, but they were from Texas just like Judy and Stan. Both couples were recent arrivals to “The Model City” and I was intrigued by what they liked about living here.

As usual, they appreciated the scenery, the environment of friendly warm people that give our small town its charm. The Cross family even talked about how their daughter’s family had recently chosen to move to and they surprisingly mentioned Tommy Thai, Skoby’s and a Mexican restaurant in Johnson City I hadn’t heard of yet.

I shared with them my favorites right before Harvey Brooks came in the room and introduced himself over the first course of the evening. The staff from Virginia Intermont was serving up an eclectic dinner with the ghost this evening including;

• Warm Grilled Asparagus, goat cheese and prosciutto puff pastry tart, with tomato sauce
• Mizuna greens with crispy bacon, roasted pear, bleu cheese and walnut vinaigrette
• Pancetta and goat cheese stuffed with chicken breast with garlic-braised escarole, Angel hair and tomato fennel sauce and wonderful season dessert of pumpkin mousse in a cinnamon phyllo shell with macadamia brittle and warm caramel sauce – that’s a mouthful and it was great.

As Harvey talked a bit about the mansion, we ate our food and in a short time he introduced his wife from the past, Ruby Brooks. Dressed in a brilliant blue dress, she spoke of the old days and all the parties they used to plan at Allandale. Evidently, this was a family that loved to entertain and she shared a friend from the past too – Savannah, her housekeeper described how they used to live on the property through the week. Later in the evening, we were treated to the sad story of Roweena Ross.

Rowenna was a grieving spirit who lost her fiancée who drowned in front of her home at Rotherwood Mansion. She had attended boarding school in Boston and fell in love shortly thereafter, but according to their ghost this was not her last. She later lost another husband and daughter to disease and later took her own life. Her melancholy story was a bit too much, but thankfully she ended it with a little Halloween mystique describe the evil Jonathan Fipps who lived at Rotherwood. Fortunately, Rowenna’s story was quickly followed by the humor of the late George Wheeler – a groundskeepers and farm superintendent who talked about the priced winning Black Angus that came from Allandale Farms back in the 1960s.

After several glasses of wine and great conversation, the party was over with and I packed up my gear and recordings and left for another party at Tammy and Keith Bartlett’s. I didn’t stay long and left from there kind of late to get ready for the next day and the final night with ‘Dinner With The Dead.’

I showed up a little early on Saturday. I wanted to grab a picture of the hearse out front and their were a lot more cars in the parking lot tonight. This evening, the tables would be full on both floors and I was looking forward to some of new guests.

The bartender handed me my first glass of Chianti for the night and said I must have returned for the good-looking bartender. We smiled and giggled at her comments and I said, “Indeed so.” She and another guy were asking me to play some Billy Joel and Elton John. I guess I really should add that to my setlist.

I started playing again around 7, but had trouble working my way through the songs as several friends kept coming by to say hello. Rod Jemael, Allandale’s curator was feeling a little better from his cold the night before and I looked up to see Willis Vicars with his wife Judy. Willis is the owner of The Great Body Company – Kingsport’s best fitness center and they seemed to be enjoying the night out on the town.

In the middle of “Last Date,” Andy Brooks brought his wife to say “Hello” too. Andy is truly a part of the Brooks legacy and despite his birthright, he’s incredibly humble and always a treat to be around. Andy is a client now and we’re working together at GoTriCities on the new Town and Country website and he kidded me that he was coming tonight to see if he could get some money from the ghosts to pay his new bill.

Tony Hewitt with British Aerospace stopped by later and kidded me with his European accent that my playing was so bad, they were putting him in the upper rooms tonight. I shook his hand and continued to play bass with my left and smiled at him as he took off right before the dinner glasses were chimed.

I was amused at the discovery of my dining guests tonight. Earlier I noticed from the guest list I would be dining with three women so after playing my hour of various jazz pieces I refilled my wine glass and was joined by I was in the same forward room and when I stopped playing, I refilled my wine glass and was joined by Christine Osman, her sister from Charlotte, Cheryl Doss and their mother Lois Osman who has lived in Kingsport most of her life and her husband a lifetime Eastman employee who passed away some short four years ago.

Cheryl is an English teacher from somewhere north of Charolette and Christine an RN at Holston Valley. Christine had spotted the event in the Loafer and since her sister was coming into town – thought the event would be a great change of pace and she was right.

All of the ladies were elegant and I enjoyed sharing wine and stories with them tonight as our hosts brought the evening meal. Lois’s late husband retired from Eastman and Christine and Cheryl graduated from Dobyns-Bennett. Like most people in our small town, it doesn’t take long to make connections to familiar friends and we talked about Gram and Sheldon Clark, Andy Brooks, Charlie Goodwin and several others over dinner.

The ghosts poured in again during dinner and shared another repeat of the previous evening tales, but I did learn a few new tidbits of local lore about Allandale and its former owners.

I wish their were more cocktail parties like this at Allandale. It’s a special opportunity to work my music on the Yamaha grand and remembering all of the great times and special acquaintances experienced throughout theyears at this miniature mansion in West Kingsport. Next year, I’ll try to practice up on my monster music, but the Monk, Mingus and Coltrane all played out quite well at this event and I can’t wait till next year.

The challenge next year though will be to look at Allandale’s Dinner with The Dead in another light – sort of ‘Dinner with The Dead 3.” Like all great monster movies, you really need to rethink the plot. There were only four or five tales and although they are interesting, I imagine year after year the drama will be anticlimactic and they may see that in ticket sales, so it’s probably time to start thinking about some new ideas.

Nevertheless, I trust the organizers and I hope I can continue to celebrate this unique community event once a year here in our hometown. It’s creepy, it’s ghoulish and right up my alley for Halloween.