For the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of performing with Jamen Denton and Wise Old River. Jamen is a remarkable local singer songwriter who led the band Virginia Ground several years ago. Since then, he’s been crafting an amazing collection of new original music and powerful improvisations.

Among them, we performed at the Southwest Virginia Mental Hospital in Marion, VA on Wednesday, December 29th and although it sounds unusual, it was completely inspiring.

The night before we had played a bar and few people really listened. Oh, there was a great crowd, but bars usually have a variety of agendas. Wine, women and the songs come last. It’s not that they didn’t enjoy it, but it seems that there’s a lot noise and other interests being served in a bar.

That’s why the mental hospital was refreshing.

I suppose the glamour of any stage is a great ego boost for any performing artist, but sometimes it’s awfully humbling to share your gifts with those in need and this night helped to reframe some of my concerns.

The Marion hospital looks intimidating from Interstate 81. It’s a large institutional complex with three rows of barbed-wire fence. In spite of the security features, this facility looks like a university campus.

When we arrived, several nice folks helped us unload our gear in the back of the auditorium and were meticulous about security detail. We were led into a padded gymnasium filled with left over Christmas decorations.

Early in the evening, around 6.00, several people started to calmy enter the auditorium and smiling, each began to take a seat in front, back and on the sides of the the seats before us.

We started to play the original set around 6.15 and for almost an hour-and-a-half, we were treated to the respect and attention of a very engaged audience. There was applause, smiles and polite patience when we broke a string. Overall, a genuine appreciation for our time and talent this evening.

Most memorable was the moment when one of the guys in the audience referred to a solo moment – aloud and suggested “we have a new Billy Powell in the house.” I respected the Southern Rock reference and was amused I had caught someone’s attention – without a drop of alcohol.

Several young girls were on the edge of their seat too as Jamen dug deep with his music and his guitar solos. Myself, Steve Marshall and Jim and Jeanne Denton were treated to some fine hospitality from this performance and was a real pleasure to give a gift that was probably appreciated more than a jukebox this evening.

Thanks guys! You humbled us asking for autographs. Get well soon.