By Bradley Robertson
For the Opelika
Months ago, I began reading the work of Sean Dietrich. His short, simple tales of the South will make you laugh and melt your heart. I heard he was an excellent performer and took it upon myself to contact his booking agent, his wife Jamie. The rest is history. They agreed, I agreed and we pulled it off, the most unpredictable and fantastic Southern night on our farm in LaFayette.
One thing that has always stuck out to me about George’s is the different walks of life and people that have come in and out of our store during the last three years. Rural folks and city folks, young and old, clean cut and poor cut, perfect teeth and no teeth at all, families of all shapes and sizes, and I have loved them all. Every one of them has mattered, even the man that told me once that our watermelon wasn’t fit for a hog. He broke my heart, but I recovered, moved on and lived to tell the story.
Seeing Sean pull up at our store and walk inside, was something I will never forget. He stood tall and thin, with a thick red beard. He wore a red shirt and a red baseball cap, hard to miss ‘em. I knew it was going to be a night like no other. Wild is just about always in our cards, but so is amazing. I knew we would witness something great, and we did.
Sean was polite and chatty and acted as if this was all the normal world to him. He was accommodating and we made some quickie changes on his stage, as we were pretty certain the rain was going to set in.
Before too long, the band was set up and Sean and his boys began to put on a practice show. Little Shep sat high on the counter staring Sean down as he began playing an accordion. As Isaac and I scurried around for last minute details, I stopped us both and locked eyes with him, “this is going to be awesome,” I said. The farmer agreed and soon cars were pulling in by the masses.
Along with cars came dark clouds and slow deep rounds of thunder. George’s has a high-pitched roof made of tin, when the rain pours you cannot hear yourself think, nevertheless another person, or even a band. I was too busy hosting to think about it.
Crowds of folks began to pour into our store, folding chairs in hand and mini coolers. They were packing in tight and I could not even watch. It was like a circus tent full of mismatched people. Here and there and everywhere. No one cared that they didn’t know their new neighbor so close to them. The crowd was instant best friends. If we’re all going to have a good time, we might as well go ahead and get close.
And just like that, the rain came tumbling down.
It poured. It was loud and it was coming in on all sides. In my normal façade, I smiled as if nothing odd was happening at all. I nodded and continued to chat like all was fine. I popped a beer for the evening while Sean was steady taking pictures and chatting with his fans. If there is any person of fame to take time and talk to their fans, Sean is that person.
“Where are you from,” he asks everyone.
“And what do you do there?”
He seems to know a specific person or event from every area of the country people talk about. It’s like he is instantly anyone’s kin folk. You can tell he’s lived culture and studied culture. Not through books necessarily, though I’m sure he’s read many, but because he’s been around. He’s ventured far and wide, he’s listened and learned and taken the time to take it all in.
Just as I opened my second beer to beg the Lord to allow the rain to stop, it comes to a halt. It was like a roaring lion was all of a sudden calmed and hushed by an unknown source. I looked at Sean and we agreed it was show time. It was 6:01.
As I gazed upon the crowd, to thank them for coming, I was taken back. In awe that this space we created was serving a new purpose for new people we had never met before. And just like that, after the silence of loud rain and a mist over our corn field, I introduced Sean of the South.
The joy and applause was loud and rowdy. It was about to get serious up in here, a good ole’ country how down. Sean was an entertainer beyond my expectation. He was a crowd pleaser and when he picked up that accordion and began playing Hank Williams “Bayou” along with fiddle and drums, my heart grew happy. We were doing it again, serving people from all over, the good stuff that life is made of.
Sean did not stop playing for the next two hours.
His accordion seemed to have a mind of it’s own, something I had never witnessed before. Have you ever stood there and watched one played right in front of you? Just the way in which it moves is mesmerizing. The crowd loved it, it was as if a Spanish quintet had arrived. And I kid you not, I was completely taken back moments later when Sean began to sing an entire song in Spanish. It was beautiful. I have no idea the song or the words, but no need. It was perfect, the sounds of the music with his voice were a match for Spanish angels.
Between music sets, Sean put his signature story-telling skills on display. Stories of dirt roads, his cousin Eddie and all the fine church folks he’s met in the south. The crowd loved it. They laughed, feeding into the inspiration of the performer, to do the thing he was gifted to do.
I was told he repeated a handful of times the oddness of him playing in a “vegetable stand.” I laughed hysterically at all the folks that commented on this to me after the show. If people can simply laugh by one man calling George’s a vegetable stand, I’ll take it all day long. We began as a vegetable stand, and I’ll hold dear to that name forever.
The rain had cooled off our hot summer farm and the cornfields in the background looked more luscious than they had in weeks. The evening sun was setting the sky a-blaze in mass colors of peach, bright blue and aqua as it set behind the trees. Sean began a medley on guitar of old church hymns, ones I myself grew up hearing in a tiny church on the edge of Tuskegee. The audience joined in on every one. In a world where daily, we see things that which tear us apart, it’s a beautiful sight to see something so random bring us all together. This space, on this farm, on this night, was magic.
Sean closed out his night with “I’ll Fly Away,” playing in memory of a fan who had recently passed away and their family was present. He told a story, of a life well lived, a single person who had an impact on many far and wide. Half the crowd was in tears and the peace that passes all understanding was laid upon us all.
The crowd gave a standing ovation, and Sean spent the rest of the night hugging necks, signing books and taking pictures. He stayed till the last car pulled away. Then he took off his red baseball cap, scratched his head and said, “Well that sure was fun!” Famer and I laughed and agreed. We said our good-byes and the party was over.
We will never forget the faces and smiles of this night. It will be forever etched in our souls and for every bit of fun, we are grateful.