You’re in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, visiting your father’s job site, when you first hear that voice on the radio. Smooth and soulful, yet with an edge that speaks of heartbreak, longing, and loss, the voice is like nothing else on the airwaves then, and like nothing you’ve heard in your short, musically limited 14 years. “Talk It Over” has already been out for a while, as has his first hit album, and he’s crossed the country at least twice on various tours. “I’ll make it to his show one day,” you tell yourself.
But it’s hard to attend concerts when you’re in junior high school and it’s the 1980s and you don’t have a lot of spending money or even a driver’s license and your dad is wary of big-city music by people he’s never heard of and of whose berets he would undoubtedly disapprove. So you wait, and wait, and wear out your cassette copy of Blind to Reason in the tape deck of your little red Sony boom box. And the years pass. And pass. And pass.
But then, more than a quarter-century later, things line up just exactly how they need to line up, and you have your chance. You drive 406 miles on a holiday weekend because you know the music is going to be worth every slow-down on I-85, every state trooper lying in wait, every steel-belted radial gator flung from the 18-wheelers in front of you. Because of the heavy holiday traffic, you change clothes at a rest stop outside Charlotte, and slap on some makeup in the ladies’ room of the Greensboro club when you arrive with just half an hour to spare before the show.
And for nearly two solid, house-rocking hours, you perch on your bar stool, absolutely happy and completely content because of the stellar musicianship before you. You sit there, thankful that you were finally able to make the drive, thankful that you are here listening to this same voice—unchanged in 25-plus years—now joined in gorgeous harmony by another heavenly voice, the one he says makes his life complete. And after the show, you walk over to the stage to say hello, and the people to whom these amazing voices belong suddenly recognize you from Facebook, and say, “Holy crap! You’re here!”
And you go back to your hotel room after the show, happy and tired. And you tell everyone you know that not only are Grayson Hugh and Polly Messer outstanding musicians—but they’re also super-nice, down-to-earth people.
© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)
Photo by Lola Elliott Hugh