Thursday: Lana and I arrived at the Best Western Village Green in Cottage Grove, Oregon at 3:15 in the afternoon under sunny skies with the temperature in the mid 80's. As I walked into the lobby, I was asking people along the way: "Are you a Newbury person?". They probably thought that once I got out of the sun, I would be OK. Patricia, at the Front Desk, informed by me that Jeff Stave had already checked in and was over in the RV section.
The Village Green is HUGE; a resort covering several acres built in the mid 50’ss with 96 rooms. During its prime it was something magnificent; it still has an air of what it once was. Before I-5 was built in the 60's, Highway 99 was the main route between Seattle and Los Angeles. The trip back then was a major undertaking; so stopping at The Village Green was a welcome and opulent oasis. The "Village Brown" would be a more accurate description of much of the rolling grounds surrounding the motel. However, with the multitude of beautiful plants and trees, the landscaping in and around the courtyard was lush and green. The main building contains the lobby, the restaurant-coffee shop (which was not open-grumble, grumble), and the Cascadia Room. The Cascadia Room is a ballroom-banquet hall with a high vaulted ceiling, chandeliers and beautiful wood paneled walls. At the far end of the room is a gigantic floor-to-ceiling brick fireplace with booths on either side of the fireplace. All the performing was done there. Situated throughout the rest of the room were tables, which seated 50 or so. On each table were white linen tablecloths. It's impressive. Mickey told me that Friday night Susan turned to him and said, "My gosh, I went to my Senior Prom here!"
The arrangement was that The Front Porchers had the Cascadia (named for Oregon's Cascade Mountains) for two nights from 3 PM on. So where were we all going to be the rest of the time? Stay tuned.
Lana and I drove in to Cottage Grove, which is the epitome of small town America with old charming houses, the ever-present Northwest trees, and a covered bridge. It reminded mea bit of the streets of "To Kill A Mockingbird”
Back to Room 701 and time to walk our Tibetan Terrier, "Caitie". (A sure sign of advancing age is taking your dog everywhere.) Here's where we finally met our first Newbury person". It was also our first chance to taste Texas hospitality. It was Shirley Lindsay, RB’s mother.
"You all come on over to the room. We got some cold drinks and stuff. There's already some folks there".
We never did make it because more people started arriving and I was the unofficial greeter. Joe Zeimer pulled into the covered arrival area with his Dad, Kelly, along with his wife, Janette, and Joe's sister, Paulette. It's really hard to hug someone from outside a car, but Joe and I gave it our best shot.
On the way back to the room, I heard someone ask, "Are you Ron?". It was Bud Wilhite wearing a striped shirt and suspenders with jeans. With Bud, there is instant warmth and he and I were immediate friends. We were standing next to Donna Barnes and Albert Mendoza’s rental car. Donna and Albert drove Shirley and Bud the 135 miles south from Portland to Cottage Grove. Donna looked fresh, not like she had just spent the last 6 to 7 hours traveling. Albert had a big smile that was probably hiding a little nervousness over the fact that he would be soon be performing for Mickey. At about this same time, I met Stuart and Rosheen Demairis of San Diego. (More about them later.)
As darkness began to fall, I went to look for Jeff Stave who was in charge of making all the arrangements. However, I believe it was Larry Milde who actually had suggested that the Front Porchers stay at The Village Green. On the way to the RV section on the other side, I ran into Dusk Weaver for the first time. Dusk is a red head with a perpetual smile and an infectious zest for life. He said Chris Newbury was curious about who had arrived and what was the plan? Mickey had already called my room and told Lana that he was also concerned about the Front Porchers and what were they doing. So, I thought I would go meet Chris and call his Dad at the same time. As I walked to the door of Room 918, I heard the soft strumming of a guitar. As I entered the room, Chris was in the shadows, and time as it sometimes does, became meaningless and I saw Mickey Newbury in 1966. Later, Bud Wilhite would show me his coveted Acuff-Rose songbook with the picture of Mick in a goatee. Chris is wearing one today. This was my almost mystic introduction to the Newbury family. We called Mickey and assured him that everything was just fine. Mickey had informed us that he had been on the phone to Paulina Kim, the manager, informing her the Cascadia Room WOULD be open 24 hours a day for the porch people. When she found out that he had written "American Trilogy", the hospitality increased.
On the way back to that big room, I ran into Frank Dawson and his family. Frank is a tall distinguished man with white hair and introduced his wife, Winnie, as "Redbird" for obvious reasons. I met his son, Ron, and his wife, Debbie, and the other son, Gary. I found out later Gary likes to sing, but we never did get him on stage. I also met Felix Banion of Baird, Texas, on his way to get ice. The next day I met his wife, Barbara. Brian Highly from Scotland said, "Hello" outside his room and I relayed a message for him to call Mickey at home. (More to come about Brian.) When I got inside the Cascadia, I finally had the pleasure of shaking the hand of Keith Chastain and his Barbara. Upon looking up at Keith, I suddenly had an image of him and Mickey in Basic Training back in 1959. Chaz is about 6'5" and Mickey is around 5"8"; so when they marched, Chaz marched and Mickey ran. My chronology may be a little off in my recalling people as the rest of the weekend got hectic in the very nicest way. But I believe I met Bill and Linda Pahlman that night and they, like most of the Porchers, are very mellow people. I finally met Jeff Stave face-to-face after months of email and phone calls. Jeff was running on very little sleep, as he and Dusk were setting up the P.A. equipment. Jeff's wife, Yvonne, stopped in briefly that Thursday night and was somewhat "zoned" after her long flight back from Germany. Jeff had picked her up early that morning at the Portland Airport and driven her and his family, along with Dusk and his wife, Leslie, to Cottage Grove. Like Jeff, Yvonne is a schoolteacher in the Portland area. Jeff teaches music, while Yvonne is a special education teacher to special needs children in kindergarten. Their son, Colin, is a keyboard wonder going on to college to major in music. His other son, Clayton, sang with his Dad Friday night. Their daughter Claire was also there. There was a sense of anticipation as we all left to get very little sleep looking forward to the next day.
Friday: I got up Friday morning and walked to the big room and Yvonne, along with Dusk's wife, Leslie (Dusk Weaver and his wife are both wonderful free spirits), had found a Dry Erase board and had written the day’s schedule so that people would have some idea what was going on. There was a noticeable buzz that morning, as we were all looking forward to seeing Mickey. Amid that excitement, I finally got to meet Mary Anne Potter from Ponca City, Oklahoma, who has a smile that can light up a room. I also met her very nice friend, Dorothy Hammer, from nearby Shidler. I had been looking forward to meeting Charlene Gordon; she was as warm as all the rest of the Front Porchers I had met. Charlene spoke of her trip along the coast with her new buddy, Susan Williamson. Susan had just met RB and they were off somewhere, so I didn't get to talk to her until later that night. Susan is tall and just as up front. She and Lana and I had some nice conversations outside our room areas as they both smoke.
Fate can be unkind and that's certainly was the case with the people who left for lunch that day because Mickey and his family arrived at The Village Green about 12:10 PM. There were Mickey, Mamie, Jerry, Laura Shayne, and Stephen heading for the lobby as Susan drove the van to the room. For 31 years I had been waiting to say, "Hi, Mick, I'm Ron". With a big smile and a hug, he replied: " Hey Ron, how are you, pal. So great to meet you!"
Feeling like an awkward 15-year-old about to ask a legendary ballplayer for an autograph, all I could manage to say was, "You get settled and we'll see you later."
“Where you goin’? Let’s visit. I’ll see you inside!”
I know I sounded like a Back Street Boys groupie as I burst into our room and yelled that Mickey had arrived. We went to the Cascadia where he doodled with the keyboard for a few minutes and most people kept a respectful, almost reverent distance from him. He walked to the middle of the big room with his back facing the courtyard windows and told everybody to gather around and it became a look at Newbury in the creative raw.
Surrounded by scattered legal pad sheets of handwritten lyrics, he sang "I Don't Love You" and for the first time in my life, I really understood the meaning of the word "breath-taking". He borrowed Shirley Lindsay's bifocals as he sang "Down and Dirty" and a little bit of a song about a mockingbird, an old man, and the rain. Susan showed up and watching her take care of Mickey says more about their relationship than any words could. Laura Shayne and Stephen were also there and more later about the entire Newbury family. Some porch people started coming back in and Mickey hung out answering questions until 2:45 or so when Miss Suzie said it was nap time.
Lana and I went to an early dinner and were joined by Joe Zeimer, his dad, Kelly, and wife Janette, plus his sister Paulette. I conned Kelly into running my camcorder which was a great favor since both nights totaled 3 hours. He did a great job. Janette is quick with a smile and fun to be around. Paulette reminds me of Laurie Metcalf (played Rosanne's sister) and she and her husband run an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in San Diego. It sounds like a great choice for someone in need and I would say that even if she hadn't bought our lunch.
A word about the weather. It seemed pre-ordained. Shortly after Mickey arrived so did the clouds and around 5 PM, it rained a short time. He always jokes how the rain follows him. Well, it did and the temperatures dropped into the 60's by nightfall, which is the ideal reading for him. Another piece of magic.
Back to the Cascadia. We had a "big, show-business meeting" about that night's entertainment. It was at this time, I met Earl Wynn and Suzie from Pensacola. Earl is tall and courtly with an easy grin and it was great to be able to thank him in person for all the CD covers he sent everybody. Jack Williams arrived wide-eyed and wired from a non-stop drive from Phoenix just to be there for his great friend, Mick. At 8 PM the entire Newbury family greeted everyone and we had our first performance from the Porchers, as well as Albert Mendoza from Lubbock, Texas. Bud Wilhite and Jeff Stave plugged in a laptop in the back of the room. Mr. Beve set up a chat room for both nights so Porchers from around the world could join us in spirit. Jeff and Dusk Weaver performed separately and together for 6 or 7 songs written by John Prine and others as well as originals. Brian Highley, who traveled all the way from Scotland just to attend the Gathering, sang three songs, one of which was "Frisco Depot" just because he loves it. Brian is a class act all the way as a performer and as a person. Albert sang "Jealous Heart", a great old song originally done in the 40's by Al Morgan and later by Johnny Rodriguez. He broke everybody up with his impression of Willie Nelson singing "Luckenbach, Texas". Dusk and Jeff closed out the show with an original creation. The whole presentation was at least an hour and a half and Mickey sat there as if he were watching "Woody Guthrie Live". Afterwards, all the Newburys sat around and chatted with everyone. As the night drew to a close, Chris was playing guitar in the corner.
Saturday: Saturday morning I went next door to Wal-Mart to get more video tape and ran into Walt and Marilyn Meade of Vacaville and Chuck and Judy Fike of Crescent City. We stood by the cookies and talked about our mutual love for Mickey's music. I walked out into the cool Oregon morning with just a touch of sunshine and heard my name called. Sitting inside their van were Stuart and Rosheen Demairis of San Diego with their son, Jonathan. They had called me over to tell them how Mickey had been a phone friend to Stu during his fight against cancer. Rosheen's smile said it all and Stu's "near tears" were equally eloquent. It's all in remission now and they made my day.
Saturday afternoon I walked into the Cascadia hoping to get some interviews and ran into Jack Williams and he says; "Let's walk and talk!". We end up in Room 918 again where Mickey is supposed to be resting and he, Jack, and R.B start jammin' a little in a mini-rehearsal for the night show. Mickey is in bed singing "I Don't Love You" with his eyes closed and wearing a black silk robe. Jack is sitting on the other bed playing guitar and me......I'm in church. R.B. walks in, sees this, and runs out and returns with his harmonica. They all do a low down blues version of "Down and Dirty" and "Why You Been Gone So Long?". Finally, we all tell Mickey he has to rest.
This seems to be a good place to tell you about the rest of the Newbury family. Susan teaches 6th grade and has retained all her beauty from her Miss Oregon days and she really takes wonderful care of Mickey. I mentioned this to Mamie and her whole face lit up and she said: "Isn't she something?"
And Mamie’s love and admiration for Susan was genuine...and so is Mamie, sporting color co-ordinated classic country wear, including hat. She sat in the middle table in the big room and charmed anybody lucky enough to sit down next to her. I thanked her and Susan for their gracious interviews. Laura Shayne is a lovely, young girl with a beautiful voice and I was impressed with her manners. Her boyfriend, John, was there and was very quiet and I sort of felt sorry for him thinking Mickey must be watching him out of the corner of his eye. Stephen seemed quiet and shy but happy to fetch some lyrics for his old man. When I told Chris what a great thing he did leaving Spain to help Mickey with "Silver Moon", he said: "That's the least I can do for them." From some, it might have sounded obligatory, but the truth was in his eyes. Mick's brother, Jerry, has an abundance of quiet charm. I suspect there are a LOT of still waters down there. All the Newbury's have this gift of really making you believe that the conversation they are having with you is the most important thing they could be doing right then.
At 7:30 PM Mickey and his family walked in and the magic began. Laura Shayne was the first performer and sang a song called "Lead Me On". She has a clear, pure voice and remarkable poise for a teenager only 15. Albert Mendoza gave an encore performance of "Jealous Heart" and closed his set with a beautiful song in Spanish. R.B. did a solo harmonica performance of " Amazing Grace" which filled the room as the sun began to sink. There was real magic in the Cascadia room on that cool Oregon Saturday night.
By now, most of you have the great CD Jeff Stave put together and there are not enough "thank yous" in the world to express our gratitude for such a professional recording job and package design in preserving these timeless performances. Up until this night, I had never seen Jack Williams perform and i have been pooer for it. What a talent and what a musician! All three songs were great but "Outlaw's Dream" was especially powerful
Then, for many others, and me the realization of a dream-come-true as we watched the man whose music has so enriched our lives. There was a standing ovation as Mickey made his way down front. After tuning a bit with Jack and R.B., he sang "Down and Dirty", "I Don't Love You", and my eyes filled as he closed his eyes again and began "Help Me, Son". I was so moved by this, I barely heard "The Two Step Goes On" and "Why You Been Gone So Long". Sometime during all this, Susan Williamson put her hand on my shoulder and I could barely acknowledge it. Mickey and his entire family stayed until the very end......talking and signing everything from CD's to pictures to napkins.
I got to meet more Porchers that night. Perhaps, one of the best supporters of Mickey is Marty Hall who has the recording studio, which he and Mickey christened "Long Hall" after the same in the days of King Arthur. Here's a little inside trivia: The frogs in "Stories From The Silver Moon Cafe" are real ones outside of Marty's house. "If you can't beat 'em, let 'em join." It was also a chance to meet Townes Van Zandt's widow, Jeanene, and Ed Heffelfinger who has done so much to keep Towne's music alive. Mitch Gould was there from Forest Grove and is good friends with Dusk and Leslie. Driving down for the day Steve Aos from Olympia and I enjoyed talking with him.
The next morning Mickey was gracious to have me over for "his special coffee" which amazed me because I thought he would be absolutely exhausted. It really was like the Front Porch as we all sat around. It struck me once again how much love and strength he draws from all of us. Sadly, it was time for this magic time to end. As I left his room, I put my arms around him and said: "I love you" and he said, "I love you, too". And, there's not one doubt in my mind that he meant that for every member of the Porch and especially the ones who just rock and listen and are never heard from. I am proud to be his messenger The melancholy of leaving and saying goodbye was overwhelming as one by one, we all began the long journeys back to our separate realities. There is always a tendency to enhance or exaggerate an experience like this. I have felt no need to do that. As Lana and I traveled the nine hours back home, the high was always there and these are some of the images in my mind..... watching Jack watch Mickey.....All of the Newbury's dignity and warmth......Chris in those shadows.....Laura Shayne kissing her father's forehead as she brought him his glasses......Susan with her unquestionable courage and totally sincere demeanor....Mamie's zest for life.....Jerry's quiet love and support for his brother...all the genuinely humble people I met.....the light in Mickey's eyes from all the collective love in that room....Bob Rosemurgy with his constant effort to let us and the world share the man's indescribably soul-fulfilling music.
But, my most abiding memory from The Gathering 2: The best example of serenity I have ever seen is Mickey Newbury singing with his eyes closed.
Ron Lyons Walnut Creek, California September 2,2000