Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It was hot — hotter than a Jewell Smokeless Coal coke oven in the dead of winter — when Karl Miller and I performed at Martha H. Moore Riverfront Park on McDowell Street in Welch July 6. Karl and I have performed outside in 90-plus degree weather before. We performed at an event at the Pocahontas Exhibition Mine when it was too hot for Karl to even touch the keyboard. In Welch, Karl was under a tent that shaded the keys, but everything else — including me and the audience — was out in the sun.
Welch Mayor Reba Honaker had called me on Thursday before our show to ask if we wanted to cancel, but that was primarily due to the severe weather pattern we had been experiencing earlier in the week. I didn’t really think too much about the heat, but I asked if the town had a tent to cover Karl’s keyboards, and she told me the Welch Chamber was going to give away free lemonade. I thought that was pretty cool.
Maybe we should have canceled, but it’s no easy task to schedule a time for an outdoor concert, and really, I had been thinking a lot lately about former Welch Mayor Martha Moore, and how much she and her husband, Butch, mean to me. There for a while, it seemed like the only time I showed up in Welch was because of a weather emergency. I remember slogging through the library and wondering how it could be reopened. I also remembered slogging through nearly knee-deep mud on McDowell Street, and wondering how that could be made right again.
People like Martha Moore and her crony, Reba Honaker, wouldn’t let the city just dissolve under a pile of mud and vanish. Joe Monti, with the spirit of a true gold and blue Mountaineer, put a stake in the sand, and refused to budge from the Flat Iron Drug Store. During the floods, Jack Caffrey seemed to be everywhere at once, doing what needed to be done and Donna Morgan demonstrated that the work of a librarian can be a dirty job. Joe had to work, but Jack, Donna, Tom Acosta and even Ed Shepard took in the show, along with many others.
All of that stuff was floating around my head when Karl and I were getting set up to perform. It was so hot down in the heart of the amphitheater-style performance area that I was concerned that maybe no one would attend the show. That’s OK. Karl and I have performed for many nearly empty concert venues, and perform with all of our hearts at every chance we get to lift our voices and make a joyful noise. When the crowd started arriving, I was overwhelmed.
I went up and greeted Josephine Caballo and Henry Paul, and urged them to stay under the shade of an umbrella. I teased Henry that 39-year-olds like us need to stay out of the hot sun as much as possible, and Henry replied that he wouldn’t lie to me. “I’m 41,” he said and smiled. He and former Iaeger Mayor Joe Stafford were both in the audience, and as I was walking back down to the stage to start the show, I saw a guy I knew, but I couldn’t immediately place.
There was no time to think about that after we started our show. I don’t play an instrument, but I remember the words to our songs, and I try to tailor our shows to entertain the audience. As the show went on, I couldn’t believe that most of the audience stayed in their seats, and everyone seemed to have a good time, clapping along and even singing along with several of the songs we did. The entire experience was more humbling than I could imagine. In the end — especially after Reba talked about her friend, Martha Moore — I got choked up my own self and my tears mixed with sweat as I went through the audience, selling a few CDs and thanking people for coming to the show.
I was working with Karl to pack the gear and put it in my car when I realized that the guy that I couldn’t place was Bill Bolt. Early Smith had introduced me to Bill several years ago and we sat near each other to watch the first Mercer County showing of “October Sky” when it was released. Early Smith was one of my real heroes, cut from the same cloth as Eddie Steele, and meeting Red Carroll and Bill Bolt reminded me that there are angels among us who help without being seen and expect nothing in return.
Of course, my weekend got extremely busy, but any time that my mind drifted, I thought about how humbled I was that Bill Bolt came up from Coalwood to see Karl and I perform. Looking back, it’s not the heat, the lemonade, the music or Martha’s park that I remember most. Rather, it’s Bill Bolt. To Bill and all the people who came out to our show in Welch, I can’t tell you how much we appreciate you.
Bill Archer is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.