This is probably one of the most difficult blog posts I’ve ever written. How, exactly, does one say “good-bye” to something that has composed one of the biggest parts of one’s life for the past seven years? I don’t know. So I’m going to start at the beginning….and include lots of photos from days gone by.
People I meet on the road always ask “how did you all meet?” and while each member of the band has a (VERY) different story of how they ended up on the road with Ronnie, I like to think that mine might be the most random of them all. In January of 2005, I was living in Jackson, MS, and I got the call to fill in last minute as a chaperone on a youth retreat for my church’s youth group. (someone had gotten sick.) I was thrilled to go spend a weekend with some of my favorite girls, so off I went.
The speaker for that weekend was a guy named Travis Crim. I was a recent law-school dropout and was desperately seeking direction in my life. Travis’ sermon on life-purpose hit home for me and I knew that it was no accident that the Lord had brought me to this youth-retreat. I might have been a chaperone, but I think I needed to hear from the Lord just as much as my sweet high-school girls did. I pulled Travis aside afterwards to share my story and how the Lord was pulling my heart towards music and at the end of our conversation, Travis mentioned he “had a worship leader friend” that maybe I could play for. He got my phone number, and I walked away encouraged, but confident that this crazy speaker guy would never actually call me to play violin on the road with his musician friend. Sadly, I don’t have a photo of Travis from that retreat weekend, but the photo below was taken only a year later…and pretty much sums up the chaos.
But Travis would prove me wrong two weeks later when he called on a Monday night to “see what I was doing that Thursday-Sunday.” He and his “musician friend Ronnie Freeman” were playing at a Disciple Now event in San Antonio, Texas. Did I want to come play? He couldn’t pay me, but he could cover my travel….thirty minutes later, my flight was booked and four days later I hopped on a plane to SanAntonio. My seatmate was an elderly African American pastor who read his Bible and prayed for me as I listened to Charlie Hall’s “Marvelous Light” on repeat play the entire flight. I truly felt that the Lord was calling me into something Marvelous. That I was running (or flying!) into exactly the direction the Lord had pointed me in. I have a vivid memory of standing on the curb at baggage claim in my jeans and Lilly Pulitzer pink puffy vest with sweaty palms and my violin, praying fervently, as a van pulled up and Travis and his friend Earl hopped out to help me with my bags. As we drove away I thought, “This is it…I’ve either willingly walked into some kidnapping plot, or the greatest adventure of my life has begun.” Thankfully, it was the latter of the two.
I should backtrack here and mention that for the 3 days in between booking my flight and getting on the plane, I’d called Travis several times and asked if he could please have Ronnie call me so we could talk about what songs he would be playing that weekend. Each time, Travis brushed me off saying that if I played at my church regularly (which I did) that I’d be totally fine and he was sure I’d know most of the music. (Side note: Travis is NOT a musician and had never heard me actually play.) As we pulled into the hotel parking lot, Travis dropped a bomb on me: Ronnie, the worship leader that I was there to play with, didn’t even know I was coming. He’d told Ronnie he was going to pick up his “surprise.” (Side note: Ronnie HATES surprises.) The hotel room door swung open and inside, the entire band was gathered….waiting in suspense for “Ronnie’s surprise.” The look of confusion on everyone’s faces when Travis pushed me forward and said with tantamount glee, “Ta-Da! She plays the violin!” was priceless. Everyone was confused. Who was this random girl with a violin? Ronnie cleared his throat nervously, turned to me and said, “hello…i’m sorry….” and then to Travis, “can I talk to you outside?” They disappeared outside for a conference while the rest of us were left in one of the most awkward moments of my life. Finally, after about 10 seconds (or eternity…whichever), Kourtnie Heying asked, “So who are you? How do you know Travis?”
[Side note: the band on that very first gig was Levi Mueller (older brother of current band member Trenton Muller) on guitar, Matt Minor on Drums, Matt Whittle on bass? (I think?), Kourtney Heying and Charity Mulhearn on vocals and Ronnie.]
In effort to release Ronnie from the uncomfortable spot he’d been put in, I quickly volunteered to sell his CDs, lead a small group, be the errand girl…whatever…and assured him that I did not have to play violin once that weekend if he wasn’t comfortable with it. He kindly suggested that maybe we should just go try a few songs during the few hour break we had. We all loaded up in the van and headed to the church where we started with “Amazing Grace” and then worked out way through the entire set-list for the weekend one by one adding in the rest of the band and ending up with something that didn’t sound too bad, considering we’d just met. The weekend ended up being amazing. Ronnie was gracious enough to let me play with them the whole time and that Sunday before we flew out, we sat down with our day planners (remember this was 2005….in the era before either of us had iCal!) and he booked me for several more gigs, including something called Outback America. (I just tried to count up all the Outback America gigs I’ve done since the first one and the number totaled somewhere around 46, give or take 1 or 2). I spent the next few months driving back and forth from Jackson, Mississippi to various places around the south where Ronnie was booked to lead worship.
On August 29th, 2005, (just two weeks after my 23rd birthday…and the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall) we were hired to play at a festival in South Alabama called En Fuego. As I stood backstage, I struck up a conversation with a man named Mike Weaver, who was the lead singer for the band Big Daddy Weave. Mike asked me if I’d ever thought about moving to Nashville and encouraged me that if I was serious about music, that it would be a good thing to think about. I mentioned it to Ronnie, and thus began a season of driving back and forth from Jackson to Nashville almost once as month, leading worship with Ronnie at Fellowship Bible Church, recording on his “We Believe” and “God Speaking” albums and getting to know the city. I had a good job at a hospital in Jackson, a boyfriend, a great roommate, and an entire comfortable life so it was a difficult decision to make the move. But on August 20th, 2006….9 days shy of a year after Mike first planted the idea in my heart…I made the drive to Nashville with all of my worldly belongings to move into my new apartment.
I cannot possible chronicle all the things that have happened on the road over the past 7 years. I have grown up on the road. I’m thankful for all the friendships that have been forged, experiences I’ve had, places I’ve been, concerts I’ve played…etc. I thought I’d post a few more old photos for your viewing pleasure….because otherwise I’d get sappy…and no one really wants that.
A week ago today, I played my final show with Ronnie Freeman and the Band. We started off the weekend at The Underground in Cinci where I felt so loved! The sweet community in Cinci presented me with a dozen beautiful roses and a collection of affirmation letters and kind words from the stage. Then Sunday night in Birmingham we returned once again to Mountainbrook Community Church for a Christmas concert. It was a bit surreal for me, kind of “Bethany Daniel Bordeaux: This is Your Life” as my parents and friends from each season of life starting with highschool, college, past Ronnie band members, friends of my husband and I, Ranch folks…so so many people there to support me. I am humbled beyond words at the love and encouragement everyone offered. I even had two sweet girls from the group I chaperoned on that youth retreat where it all began show up!
I’m excited for what the Lord has for me next. To answer the two most popular questions, NO, I’m not putting down my fiddle and NO, Keith and I are not pregnant! 🙂 I am in need of a season of less travel, more time at home, time to pour into a new job I’ve taken on, and I felt that the Lord was telling me it was time to close the door on one beautiful season so I can begin a new one. It’s scary to step from one thing to another. But I treasure all the memories I’ve made, lessons I’ve learned, growth I’ve experienced and experiences I’ve had in the past seven years and I’m thankful that those will always be mine to have. And I trust that He who brought me such a good thing will bring me even greater good. My Heavenly Father who guides me is loving and kind and I trust what He has for me. To all of you who have loved me well over the past seven years, thank you. You have each had a small part in making this girl who she is today.
Last night I listened to my friend and bandmate Adam pray a Hebrew prayer. The translation struck me to the core as the summation of my heart-cry. “Praise to the Lord who gave me life, sustained me, and brought me to this season.” I’ll leave that with you as a benediction: It is my prayer in this moment and one I hope you too can utter.