Did you know out in the middle of North Dakota, just above the shore of Lake Sakakawea, there’s a family who stripped and refinished the wood floors of their old barn specifically for dancing?
Then they put a bar in the corner and a deck out the back window where they used to pitch hay. They built a wood platform for a stage and strung lights, hung pictures and put a fresh coat of white paint on the outside. They rewired for a sound system so the music could ring into the night. In the grass out front, they set up a fire ring so the kids could roast s’mores. They made kuchen and lemonade.
They hired a band to play waltzes, polkas, two-steps and any old song – it didn’t matter. Because they invited their neighbors. They put on their cowboy hats, pulled on their boots, and they came to dance.
Did you know that people still do these things? All this work to salvage something that is crumbling at its foundation, not because it’s going to make them money, but because it matters.
A few weeks ago, we were that band playing waltzes, polkas, two-steps and any old song, watching neighbors visit and kids dance, couples swing each other about and time slowing down for us under the curve of that old barn roof.
We sang John Prine, Ian Tyson and Johnny Cash. We sang “Red River Valley,” and they sang along.
Outside, the moon was full and the air was thick and heavy, residue from a sweltering August day made to coax the sunflowers in bloom and send little kids to garden hoses for a long drink.
As a musician, I’ve had the privilege of being a part of people’s good ideas. They call us to help set the stage for togetherness, to help bring people out of their homes, down the road and into a good memory.
Fast-forward up the river to the next week, and I’m standing in the rain with the band on our Capitol grounds waiting to sing in celebration of 125 years to true North Dakotans in plastic coats under umbrellas, never deterred by the weather when it comes to plans to commemorate a milestone.
And then I’m in the car again with my guitar, heading out of town to Riverbound Farms where a couple plants organic vegetables for their community-supported agriculture program with a team of horses and their children.
Did you know people do this? Did you know they still give rides on horse-drawn wagons to a shady spot behind a tree row where a woman has worked for weeks planning a meal using the farm’s produce and other local ingredients for 50 or so neighbors and friends coming in from towns and ranches across the region?
I sang a song on that wagon and then a few more in that shady spot before scooching my chair up to that table and digging in, chatting and thanking the sky that cleared above us.
That night in Dickinson, I took that guitar and stood under the stars with the band on a stage in the parking lot of a bar at an event planned and executed to raise money for a young woman injured in a terrible car accident. We sang, they danced, and I couldn’t help but be proud to be part of a long day in North Dakota where I witnessed community acting as a community.
I read somewhere that we need things. Buildings and coffee and airplanes and “new songs and old songs.” But mostly, it said, more than anything else, we need other people as a “living, breathing, screaming invitation to believe in better things …”
I couldn’t have put it so eloquently, but I knew it as I closed my eyes behind that guitar, under the roof of that barn, the clouds spilling rain, the blue sky over the garden, the stars shining on that stage.
Come out of your houses and bring your tomato crop. Come out of your houses and sway, heartbeat to heartbeat.
Come out of your houses and sing together now.