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The Fragrance of Soup and Song

Many of you are, no doubt, familiar with the concept of a house concert. For those who aren’t, it is exactly what the name implies: hosts invite friends and neighbors over, and a songwriter-artist plays a concert in their home. I have been doing more and more of these events the past couple of years and I find them to be extremely rewarding in terms of their informality, intimacy, and relaxed environment. Something magically simple happens when the stage is forfeited and the “show” is taken out of the show.

Imagine twenty or so folks in a large church sanctuary where they, as well as every ounce of their energy, are swallowed in the empty space between the person onstage and the chasm of vacant seats in the room. Now, plop that same number of people in a living room, perhaps put a glass of merlot or cup of coffee in their hand, and what you get is a concert setting as intimate and laid back as if the songs were being written right before your very eyes. I adore this about house shows: stories are told, connections are made, something warm, hospitable, magical and direct happens, and, from my perspective at least, I feel the freedom to be my typically squirrelly self. And surely everyone wants to see that spectacle.

Recently, I participated in a winter retreat at which I filled a small speaking role, led a few hymns, caught up with old, dear friends, and made some new ones. What made this retreat distinct (for me) was that I cooked lunch for the twelve or so participants. Early on in the event’s planning and unsure of how it would go over, I had offered to cook shrimp and corn soup, a recipe rooted deep in my upbringing. So, before arriving, I forwarded a list of necessary ingredients to the hostess, she graciously went to the grocery beforehand, and I showed up in the venue’s kitchen, tracked down a cutting board, knives, stirring spoons, and whatever bowls I could root out from the cupboards, and I began the work of prepping lunch. Every second of it was enjoyable, even the tears caused by the necessary slicing of onions. (Note: music must always be broadcast when chopping diabolical vegetables.)

Two hours later, long after suffusing the halls’ air with the scalding bouquet of a peanut butter-colored roux, like a meek six-year-old who’d just colored a picture for his dad and was hopeful for a broad smile in response, I helped serve bowls of steaming hot soup garnished with green onions, and side plates of salad to the guests. Wary that I’d made the soup too spicy for this particular assemblage of midwesterners, I could only hope for the best, that it would be at minimum mildly agreeable, perhaps even delightful to the palates present. Being a male of south Louisiana heritage, I tend to prefer my food altogether flavorful and not at all fat-free. Life is too short and too challenging for drab, flavorless food; as long as I live, there will be no excuse for it. There, I said it. Polite demands for the recipe led me to believe my labor was not in vain; this brought me tremendous pleasure.

It was an experience—an involvement!—I hope to replicate more often in as many homes and on as many retreats as hosts will have me. Life is way too short to partake of bland sustenance. I can only hope the songs I write and the art I dabble in fits that same expression.


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