Monday, May 12, 2014

John McGarry, CEO, Lakeshore Museum Center, Had a House Guest, the Great American Troubadour, Andrew McKnight. So The Block Booked Him.

John McGarry is an International Museum Man of Mystery. Not all too long ago, the CEO was traveling in Russia, teaching the history of Joseph Beryle,  a Muskegon man who fought for the allies under the flag of the United States and the Soviet Union during World War II. His resume includes a stint with the United States Marine Corp as a registrar with their History and Museums Division. So if it is Marine history, McGarry has recorded the artifact's existence in the official database and seen to its preservation. McGarry probably doesn't talk about the Area 51 items he checked into the collection. 

On Thursday night, McGarry introduced Hackley Library honoree Dr. Steven Demos at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Demos, the man who performed the first open heart surgery in Muskegon, and McGarry have flown drones over the newly built Hilt's Landing in an effort to plan trails and map the regional historical exhibit. On Friday night, he sat in the "honor seat" at The Block, and the honor seat is as much of The Block's culture as the gong the audience tends to ignore, enjoying cocktails and chatting. Natalie Carmolli sat there when Teri Hansen performed in December. 

Carmolli supported Hansen during the earliest auditions of what became an amazing career on Broadway. Gary and Michelle Hanks sat there when Neil Jacobs performed, a perennial favorite guitarist at Seven Steps Up, where the Hanks family has hosted one hundred Americana and folk concerts. Seven Steps Up inspired The Block, and the couple from Spring Lake heard this straight from Carla Hill, the creative force behind The Block. 

One can only imagine the phone call from the museum CEO to the symphony president. "Hello Carla, I have a house guest coming in early May, and he happens to be Andrew McKnight, the great American troubadour". CEO Hill can recognize a lapbird as soon as it takes wing, and Andrew McKnight became, to my mind, a great add to The Block's first season. McGarry undoubtedly keeps good records on who is who when it comes to historical acts. McKnight's acknowledgement as an American treasure is pathetic when one considers his accomplishment. McGarry, however, wouldn't miss him. McGarry can find the golden needle in a cultural haystack. He's the registrar, remember? 

Andrew McKnight is quite a golden needle. In introducing his classic, The Road to Appomattox, McKnight's patter recreated the evening of December 10, 1862, the night before the carnage of the Battle of Fredericksburg, which claimed the lives of almost two thousand men, two thirds on the side of the Union in this Confederate victory. The night before, almost 190,000 men camped and sang around campfires on the shores of the Rappahannock River. In McKnight's imagination, the night seems almost yesterday, and he can hear the men singing to one another across the river, just above the point where it became a tidal estuary, a grace note of a fact. The men closed the night with a round of "Nearer, My God, to Thee". McKnight probably knows that was a newer tune then, written by Sarah Flower Adams in 1841. He probably knows that the dance band on the Titantic reportedly played it numerous times, awaiting the nip of ice water at their ankles.

Slow down and review that. To introduce one song from his repetoire, McKnight conjured up a three day history and lit up a hymn over seventeen decades old. Film that if you can, Ken Burns. That characterizes the evening with Andrew McKnight, who sang so many songs with discursive introductions, I lost count. My evening did require several bags of popcorn, courtesy of the Lakeshore Emporium, engrossed in the storytelling. But who was counting? Consumption of popcorn is one of the products of enchantment.

America needs troubadours like Andrew McNight, and I knew he was the troubadour outright when he began strolling and conversing around The Block in advance of his performance. Watch how his guitar seems a part of his body, a third arm or maybe a second voice. McKnight is making a good living but hardly has hit the point of stardom. On tour, he sleeps in back bedrooms. 

He also has to perform for his seven year old daughter's daycare class once a week to barter for her care. His story of inventing songs and learning the mandolin on the job is the material of a good comic movie, akin to Daddy Day Care. Just don't cast Schwarzenegger as McKnight.

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