It was Sunday evening in the little village of Mosqero, New Mexico. The old colonial Catholic Rectory was full of ranchers, cowboys, and rural people from as far away as Wyoming. Everyone had brought covered dishes of aromatic treats to share, and wine was flowing in anticipation of a concert of western songs and stories.
I didn’t know many people and I was a bit nervous as I felt expectations rise for the night’s entertainment, so I stepped outside in the early spring air. As I wandered around the building I encountered a young man who was also inspecting the place. We greeted and he asked, “Are you from Santa Fe?” I said no, I live in Salt Lake City. He looked down at the turquoise on my wrist and said, “It’s the bracelet.” Even through my own nervousness, I sensed troubles in this young man I’ll never know.
During the second half of the concert, I sang “Soldiers’ Heart,” a song I wrote in tribute to Veterans. It takes its title from the Civil War term for those who suffered Post Traumatic Shock Disorder (PTSD). As I sang, I could sense that there were those in the room who heard this song as I meant it, a personal message from me to them, a way of saying thanks but also a shared prayer of hope.
After the concert the young man I’d met earlier came up and pressed his hand into mine. He blurted out, “I, I want you to know that when you sang that song, I was standing at the back and I stood at full attention through the whole thing. Thank you.” He demonstrated the posture of standing at full military attention and then shook my hand again. “Afghanistan,” he said. “I’ve been there.” Altogether, he took my hand to shake it four times in our few moments together.
Later, as we were sitting around with our dear friends and hosts, the Crews family, I told them how moved I was by this young man and the intensity and immediacy of his response. I quoted a line from the song: “And though his war has ended, the battle rages on.”
Bella, the lovely teenage granddaughter of our host, told us that this same young man came up to her as she was selling our CD’s and books and asked her where she was from. She told him her home was in Jackson, Wyoming. He replied, “Oh that’s where Dick Cheney is from, Wyoming. He is a true patriot.”
The next morning, Monday, the Rush Limbaugh Show was broadcast to millions of people across the country. I was not tuned in. At the time we were touring the Crews Ranch – talking grass, calf weights, and looking at their incredible corral system designed by Temple Grandin. I learned later that the guest host of the radio show had interviewed a disgruntled cowboy poet and together they trashed the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the Western Folklife Center and me personally for over ten minutes. A couple days later, when I finally heard the claims and incendiary commentary, it almost seemed laughable; it was so full of mistruth and outright lies. I wondered how to respond to something like this without being ensnared in the muck of it all. I know the power and privilege of broadcasting as we have contributed over a hundred stories on NPR. Part of that privilege as a journalist is the duty to conduct fact checks and find credible sources. In the end, I decided that the portion of Rush Limbaugh’s audience that actually takes everything said on the show as gospel already has their minds made up, and that people who know me or have seen the beauty of the Cowboy Poetry Gathering over the years as a force for good in rural America, know us by our acts rather than by idle talk.
What I know for sure is this: a young man took my hand to bind his life with my song. I may never understand what all he has been through. He may never understand why I wear a bracelet or question Dick Cheney’s brand of patriotism. But because we met and took time to really listen to each other, way out in northeastern New Mexico, I can honor him and he can stand at full attention, and we are together in that moment.
We are just back from performances in Flagstaff AZ, Corrales, and Mosquero, NM. Teresa wowed them with stories and I got to sing western songs, traditional and original.
In Flagstaff we performed in the historic Weatherford Hotel in the Zane Grey Ballroom. it was a wild night in Flagstaff, first Friday, which means people go crazy on the street in the name of art. We had a blast with our pals Dan, Kate and Tony who helped us put it together.
On Saturday we performed at Jim and Ann Jones lovely Spanish style home in Corrales, just north of Albuquerque. Jim is a fine cowboy singer in his own right and we definitely made some new friends. Here is what Jim said of the concert, "“With a wide assortment of traditional cowboy songs, stories, contemporary original compositions and poetry, Hal Cannon and Teresa Jordan captivated the audience at the Corrales Concert Under the Stars. Folks were spellbound as they spun their tales of the West…old and new. Linda Bolton, board member and producer of the Albuquerque Folk Festival, said, ‘Teresa and Hal were just delightful. Hope they come through here again before long.’ The only complaint was that the evening ended too soon.”
We drove on Sunday to the northeastern corner of the state where our old friends Jack and Tuda Crews operate on Tuda's family ranch of seven generations. This is old style New Mexico Hispanic ranch country. The Crews' have recently restored a beautiful Colonial style Catholic Rectory in Mosquero. This wonderful two story building filled with ranching neighbors, cowboys from places like the famous Bell Ranch and even some good friends who made the journey from Wyoming where Teresa's family ranched for generations. We can't say enough about how gratifying it is to perform our western outback stories and songs to the folks who live the life. Its an honor.
This touring together in performance could get addictive.