July 25, 2016
On Saturday night outside Nashville, my friends John and Judy and I attended the Hillbilly Haiku Hallelujah Holy Church of Hellfire Folk Hymns. We entered the church sanctuary and were greeted by sextants Denise and Rick Williams and their lay staff, Levon and Guthrie.
Usually, the potluck happens after the service, but not at the Hillbilly Haiku Hallelujah Holy Church of Hellfire Folk Hymns. We feasted on potato salad, macaroni salad, watermelon and other fruits, a corn and meat chili, pecan pie, Peach Pie Judy’s homemade cheese balls, and cookies, and there was a cooler of water and pop and beer. Let me hear an “amen!”
The walls of the Hillbilly Haiku Hallelujah Holy Church of Hellfire Folk Hymns were covered with posters of legendary preachers such as Hank Williams (a stunning portrait painted by Jefferson Ross hangs in the sanctuary) and Ralph Stanley and Tina Turner and John Hartford and Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and Odetta, and the list went on and on.
The congregation filtered in: a woman who is writing a bluegrass musical based on “Romeo and Juliet,” a tired couple who had driven all the way from their vacation in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and a host of other friendly folks, folkie-foodies and sermon lovers all. The lay staff, Levon and Guthrie walked stealthily on the floor and sniffed for food and pats on the head and belly rubs.
The preachers arrived and practiced their craft, Linda McRae and the aptly named Daryl Dasher, and Daniel Seymour working as a tag team, and Preacher Kevin Gordon who channels Bob Dylan. And brothers and sisters, I was born again, and the service hadn’t even started.
The congregation fell silent. I did a reading from my old testament, and then Preacher Kevin spoke in Louisiana poetry, his homily about him as a kid and his black band director, making me ache with pleasure. Then I did a reading from the new testament of Genehouse, my knees weak because all those mighty preachers were watching me, but I soldiered through it.
And up stepped the three speakers-in-tongues, the Dogwood Cats, and they rocked us, rolled us, whispered us, caressed us, and Brother Daryl was in such a holy sweat of string plucking, he wiped his soaked head with a cloth, and Sister Linda (some of whose sermons are platinum) serenaded like a songbird and Brother Daniel held his standup bass sweetheart and plucked from his lion’s den. And the service crescendo was a hymn called “I shall Be Released.” Can I get an “amen?”
And there was communion – of course. And there was tribute paid to those preachers who passed (Johnny and June and Marty Robbins and Steve Young, among many others) and those preachers they wished were there that night like Duke Lang (Duke, Sister Denise loves you in case you don’t know), and the work of the late master luthier Scot Hamlin hung on a wall.
Peach Pie Judy (Levon spent the evening in her lap) observed that I was happy. And damn, I was. The love from the Hillbilly Haiku Hallelujah Holy Church of Hellfire Folk Hymns enveloped me and cleansed my pores and corrected my bad posture, and I was chocolate chip cookie high.
Rick and Denise, I love you madly.
Can I get an “amen?”