Gilland: Remembering a guitar, Gary and God

Red electric guitar

Starting in the late ’60s, I was privileged to be a guitarist for a regional gospel music band that traveled throughout the tri-state area of southern Indiana, southern Illinois and western Kentucky. 

Occasionally we would tour out of our home area, and many of those trips would become the source for some very fond memories. But a few were not so delightful, though they did contain some experiences that we would never forget.

Such was the mini-tour to northern Indiana, the first trip for us into that part of the country. Two of the venues were particularly interesting to our group of young, starving artists who loved to travel and play our music. 

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The first was a large church in Gary, Indiana, a city that I had heard much about, but never visited. The second big stop the very next night was to be in Elkhart, Indiana, at a large youth camp venue. 

The promoter sold us on this concert in a unique way. Though there was no budget for our normal honorarium, he was expecting between 500 and 1,000 people to attend. 

“Just think of how many tapes and albums you can sell!” the promoter told us. 

All that sounded just great to us, so we signed on to the trip.

That first stop in Gary turned out to be a great night. The people were friendly, they were enthusiastic about our music, and we just had a great time. 

We hung around and talked to this big group of new friends for a long time, before packing up our music gear in our panel truck. (Yep, that is what we had back in the day. Enough seating for 5, and the other two had to make do on—or next to—our sound gear!) 

From the church building that night, it was off to our hotel, then breakfast in the morning before heading to this awaiting massive crowd for the next night’s concert.

We got to the venue in the mid-afternoon and began setting up our sound system and instruments. That is when I discovered a horrible reality. I had left my beautiful, cherry-red Gibson 335 electric guitar at the church building from the night before! 

It was a 90-minute drive back to Gary, and we didn’t have enough time to get there and make it back in time for the concert. Fortunately, our local host had a friend who owned an electric guitar, and he lent it to me for the night. 

While nowhere as nice as my guitar, it worked. And, had I not been so worried about the state of my own guitar, I might have had more fun in that concert, because the crowd was just as large and enthusiastic as the promoter had promised. 

But there was yet to be another surprise.

What the promoter didn’t tell us is that this crowd was exclusively made up of some of the nicest, most friendly and loving Amish people you could ever meet. But there wasn’t a one of them that owned a record player or cassette deck! And with absolutely no record sales, that meant that everything we had spent to get there was now on us.

By then, I was searching deep within for what could have been the moral of the story of this trip, and by God’s grace, I found it. First, not everything in life that seems to be a sure thing works out that way. 

Second, I learned a great deal about handling those all-important details (like making sure my guitar was packed away with me).

Finally, I learned that even when something is painful and downright awful in the moment, later in life you just might look back on those events with a smile. All that became true in my life. 

Oh, and back in Gary, my guitar was fine. I retrieved it the next day—just before our panel truck broke down on the way home.

Maybe that wasn’t really a great trip after all.

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