THE NEEDED TIME | My Eric Bibb Experience
September 29, 2004
by Walter Grio
In a building that used to be a place where spares and strikes were commonplace, where bowling balls and shoes would shine, and where beers and cigarettes were shared, I experienced what might be my closest shot at a perfect 300 game. Not that I would know what a perfect 300 game would be like, but I can’t imagine it being more profound and spiritual than what I experienced that Thursday night at a small bowling alley – turned – church in a town called Enumclaw.
Eric Bibb performed at The Summit, where he admitted in front of the small audience that it’s a place where he felt at home. And it couldn’t have been more obvious as when he began to play each song, the audience reacted with elated cheers and applause. It’s as if the songs were coming home for the first time in a long time and everyone had been anticipating a visit from their favorite friend. On almost every song, someone from the front row would yell out an “Oh!!” or “Yeah!!” as Eric simply tuned his guitar to prepare for the song.
I don’t blame them. I know that when I see Eric again, I’m sure I will be the one who will be yelling “Aww!!” Being that this was my first time, the entire experience was surreal. It was as if I was watching one of my favorite scenes in a movie and wishing I was one of the characters, even if I was simply one of the extras. However, that night, instead of wishing to be in the scene, I was actually in the scene itself. I could hear, see, and feel the excitement from everyone in the room. I could hear the “oohs” and the “ahhs” and the “sighs.” There was a bright glow outlining everyone’s being that even if the lights were accidentally turned off, there would have been enough light to continue the show.
Before each song, Eric would tell a story. For his opening song, he told a story about his mother in a song called “Champagne Habits.” As soon as I heard this song, I knew I was hooked. “Son, you’ve got champagne habits on a beer salary.” It reminded me of my own mother and how she would tell me about rich taste while attending shopping carts at a Target parking lot on minimum wage under the Texas sun. Yet I would tell her not to worry about me. It’s funny now that even though I can actually afford champagne, it’s in the simple pleasure such as drinking a cold glass of beer that makes me happy. Hearing that song made me wish that my mom didn’t live thousands of miles away.
The first song definitely set the tone for the rest of the night as each song revealed a piece of the puzzle that was as perfect as incomplete. His lyrics were quirky and mellow, yet vibrant and full of color. He would mesmerize you with the sound of his voice and the words would spill over and pull a heartstring when you least expected it. The feeling reminds me of being in a kitchen on a Sunday afternoon filled with the aroma of pumpkin pie or simply sharing a moment sitting in the middle of a store aisle while looking at satin ribbons.
Eric can paint a story and make you feel as though you are part of the scene. And it wasn’t just the sound of his voice or the music from his guitar, but it was the subtle change in his tone, the sly smile, the kid inside him coming out. It could be the slight pause in between chords or the way he tilts his hat. It could be the way he moves with his guitar and the way he taps his foot with the song. It was everything he did that made you feel as though you walked into your own story.
“Connected” was easily my favorite song. “I got my own road to travel / my own story to tell / in my own time… still I’m connected to you / and everyone and everything.”
As he said each word, I felt as though he was speaking for me. I was so moved I couldn’t move. It’s difficult enough to expose yourself to the people around you and when you hear someone sing words to what you feel is your song, you can’t help but feel more open and alive. It’s as if the door to your soul is open and anyone could walk right in. There is something to be said about honesty and candidness. This is me. This is who I am. And regardless of what I think or what I do, I’m still connected to you in many ways.
There is a common thread that ties us all together. And despite the fact that some of us may be broken or incomplete, there is still something bigger that connects us all. Despite your beliefs or faith, there is still an absolute truth that none of us could ever disprove. Like the pieces of a house, we are all built to serve a purpose. We are all shingles, red bricks, and wood beams. We all play different roles for being here. We have our own way of walking, our own say of style, our own way of praying, but we’re still connected to everyone and everything.
When I heard “Shingles by Shingles”, it reminded me of a person in recovery. It reminded me of failure and disappointment, but with a sense of hope and redemption. Like any broken pieces, there are times when you have to put it back together. And it’s never easy. You have to do it one at a time, shingle by shingle.
Similarly, “Just Look Up” spoke of hope and that despite the storm clouds forming above you, sometimes you just have to walk in the rain. “Just look up when there’s nowhere to run / remember how trees must bend… there’s a rainbow waiting for you / just look up.” Life is not all about peaches and ice cream. There will be rain, there will be disappointments, and there will be failure. “Every life must have its sorrow and its pain. Where there’s sunlight, there are shadows and sometimes rain.” And regardless of it all, there is something bigger that will walk beside us through it all. When we have no energy to push ourselves back up, we should always believe that when he says “just look up”, he is telling us to open our hearts and to invite peace through surrender.
On almost every song, the audience knew exactly what Eric was going to sing. But there was one song that nobody in the audience knew. As Eric told the story about his son and his wedding on New Year’s Eve, you knew that you were about to taste the purity of romance. And because nobody knew the song, there was a sense of anticipation. It’s like the moment before you open a present or the moment before a kiss or like the moment before the rain starts to fall. It’s like the moment before a smile turns into laughter or the moment before the sun rises over the horizon. Like the moment before you walk into a room to meet someone’s family for the first time or the moment you realize that a new friend is becoming one of your best, you knew that this was going to be a one of a kind experience. And just when you think that it couldn’t get any better, it does. And just when you think it’s about to end, it doesn’t.
When Eric mentioned the title, you knew that this was going to be something else. “Dance me to the end of love.” Each word, like wine, tasted better after each sip. It’s as though he was offering you his cup, his story, his heart and you couldn’t help but accept it all. And the fact that it was something more than just about himself and that it was the story of his son’s love for his wife, you felt as though you were in the middle of their story and you could feel the absolute meaning of love. I could almost see his son and his wife dancing on their wedding day while everything was suspended between gravity and grace.
There’s a lot to be said about seeing this performance in a church. Furthermore, there’s a lot to be said that this was a bowling alley once before. I’m sure that the bowling alley never imagined that one day, it would be offering itself to something grand and spiritual as an Eric Bibb experience. I’m sure that this bowling alley never imagined that on its most pathetic days when business wasn’t flowing so well, it would one day be a place where people gathered and enjoyed an enchanting experience such as the one that was evident on that Thursday evening. I’m sure that the bowling alley never contemplated that it would one day be a haven for peace and fellowship. I’m sure that the bowling alley never imagined that it would one day be saved.
At some point in the past, I’m sure the bowling alley complained and screamed and demanded to be loved. It probably knew that it was meant to serve a bigger purpose. I’m sure it knew that it was something better than just being a bowling alley and that it was more than just about beers and cigarettes. It knew that it was meant to serve a bigger mission. And in some ways, the bowling alley just needed to be found.
“Right now is the needed time. I’m down on my bended knees… praying won’t you come by here. If you don’t stay long, oh my Jesus, even if you don’t stay long, I’m praying… won’t you come by here.”
We are all like bowling alleys. We can complain all we want. We can scream and cry and waste our energy without doing anything about it. We can also turn our heads and continue to paint our lives with a tint of denial and believe that everything is fine. We can change the news channel or turn people away and live in the sanctuary of our world because their issues indirectly affect us. But it shouldn’t be like that.
Each one of us can make an impact that could change the way people see things. Each one of us carries a possibility to make an indelible impression that can transcend ignorance and apathy. Each one of us carries a possibility to make a difference. And that possibility lives in us every single day.
Cover photo: Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park by Walter Grio (2012).