Storytime: Lamb’s Retreat

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There is an indelible picture of the ceiling of room 1 at the Birchwood Inn in Harbor Springs Michigan stamped in my brain…

Arrived Thursday afternoon after making GREAT TIME. Got settled into the aforementioned room 1 and headed into town to get some dinner at Turkey’s Pizzeria. No, it wasn’t turkey pizza! Right off the bat we had an open mic night and I got to do two songs (Help Me Be Good and Nothin’ All Day). It was a very loose evening of shaking hands and meeting all these new folks that would very soon become my friends.

Friday began with what would soon become a standard feature of the retreat… great FOOD! John made sure we had three square a day. Fuel for the work that was to come! Right after breakfast John let us know who was in charge. We had a meeting downstairs and finished up with our staff “singing for their supper”. These are some incredibly talented folks. The whole “low stress, loosey-goosey” theme was out the window at about 1pm. John gave us our assignments. We had our objective. “SIR, YES SIR!”

I spent the rest of the day attending as many of the seminars as I could, while retreating to my home to lay on my bed and think about my assignment. This would be a common thing for the next 48 hours or so. I’d strum… think. Think… strum. Then I’d lay down and stare at the ceiling for a bit. Who knew that there was so much inspiration in the ceiling of room 1??? Friday ended with me spending a lot of time in that room and finally coming up with a seed for the song that would come later. A verse that I didn’t use and a chorus came out before midnight.

Saturday was, again, spent judiciously using my time between attending seminars and writing (read: staring at the ceiling). After getting a bit more done on the song, I had a private conference with Michael Camp. I was so struck with him as a performer, writer and person that I thought any time spent with him would be like gold. I didn’t bring my guitar or even my song. I just wanted to listen to anything he had to say. And he didn’t disappoint. We even found a few minutes to talk about the song (which was good, because he gave me some very good advice that I needed to hear). John D got us a sweet deal on dinner at Lorenzo’s next door and I stuffed my face with way too much Italian food. Our table was labeled the “kid’s table”. Well, we were the ones that called it that, actually. After dinner we got a real treat! The staff did a concert for us and the townies. It was a packed house and the artists did not disappoint. Jill Jack, Rachael Davis/Brett Hartenback, Michael Camp, Joel Mabus and Karen Mal blew us all away. If JD was trying to inspire us and make us stretch to improve, he hit the nail right on the head. I was stoked. Got back to my room around 11 and continued working on the new song. Tension was building… and the ceiling was running out of ideas.

Got to sleep in a bit on Sunday morning. After another nutritional breakfast/brunch I bailed and played through the song one last time. After taking a moment to lay down and talk to the ceiling one last time, I made that last walk from my room to the Fireside Room (think: Green Mile)… guitar in hand and heart in throat. We started at 10am and I found my place in the rotation. Sitting on the sofa (on-deck circle) waiting to play is not unlike waiting to be executed, I would think. The terror was palpable. My hands went cold and sweaty. I wondered if I would remember ANYTHING! I did. And one of over 35 songs was born in that room today… most of them written by Michigan artists. We have a sound, my friends. It is a Michigan sound. And I am delighted to be a small part of that sound.

After the presentation of the songs, I said goodbye to my new friends. Then I walked back to my room, packed and laid down one last time on the bed and said “thank you” to the ceiling in room 1.

Thank you John, the staff, the food folks and my fellow campers. This was an experience I will never forget.
Hope to see you all again soon,
John

p.s. Thanks to Dalis Allen, producer of the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas for being a part of this weekend. She had some very inspiring words for us on Friday morning. Not to mention the fact that I won a trip to the festival this summer…