Sometimes when you are working an event you miss a small act that, in the simplest way, has the ability to have a profound impact on someone’s life. This is exactly what happened recently at the Atlanta Blues Society Blues Challenge that was held at the Hard Rock Cafe in downtown Atlanta.
Let me start by setting things up for you a bit. Outside the Hard Rock Cafe you can often find an old homeless black man playing the guitar and singing for tips. I noticed him sitting outside the Hard Rock when I first arrived at the venue while I was loading in the backline for the event. I didn’t pay that much attention to him, and went about my business. You know how it is, you get busy with the tasks at hand and the world around you just passes you by. But, throughout the day I would catch glimpses of him. He would be talking to the musicians that competed and mingling about, he seemed to be having a great time. But with all my task of the day, I really didn’t give it much thought at the time. Towards the end of the event I noticed him talking to the winning band all excited about their opportunity smiling from ear to ear. It wasn’t until days later that I found out the story that brought him into the ABS Challenge. And it is this story that has prompted me to write this article.
As part of the efforts of the Atlanta Blues Society to bring young fans to the blues, they open their challenge to “Youth Bands” who compete for an opportunity to go to Memphis and participate in the “Youth Showcase” held by the Blues Foundation during the IBC. One of the young competitors in this portion of the competition was guitarist Garrett Collins. Garrett put on a great set of original music that so impressed the judges that they awarded him the winning position in the Youth Showcase.
After it was announced that he had won the competition Garrett went outside and noticed the homeless guitar player working for tips. They struck up a conversation and Garrett learned the mans name was “James” who has been homeless for many years. He learned that James loved music and at one time use to play the trombone until he lost his teeth. James asked Garrett if there was any way he could get up on the stage to play for some tips in the packed house at the Hard Rock. Knowing that was not possible, he offered James something even better…
Garrett brought James into the Hard Rock, payed his $10 Admission out of his own pocket. He brought James to his table where he introduced him to his family and friends. Everyone welcomed James to their table and made him feel at home. Once James got himself comfortable, Garrett had a menu brought to him and he bought him dinner. For those few hours, James was not a homeless man singing for tips in front of the Hard Rock Cafe. He was part of the fabric that made up the Atlanta Blues Society Challenge. James reveled in all the music, smiling and clapping with all enthusiasm of a true music lover. He was treated as an equal as he talked with the musicians as they left the stage. It was not just a meal that fed him, it was the fact that someone took the time to see him as a person, as a music lover and gave him the opportunity to sit at the table with people that treated him as such. When asked about James, Garrett Said “Only the Blues can bring common ground between a 18 year old White boy and a 60 year old black Homeless Man” .
Now, you have to understand this story would not have come to my attention if it had not been for Garretts father who relayed the story to one of the board members of the Blues Society, who then relayed it to me. What was done was not done for recognition, it was a silent act of kindness that would have gone un-noticed had it not been brought to my attention. I felt, especially in the current social climate today, that this is a story that needs to be told.
Garrett Collins may be representing the Atlanta Blues Society in the “Youth Showcase” in Memphis this coming January, but for those of us here in Atlanta, Garrett is a representation of so much more.
THANK YOU Garrett Collins for your heart and your example! The Atlanta Blues Society is Proud to have you represent them both in and out of the International Blues Challenge.