In 2009, my first year to teach at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, I attended the dinner for faculty at Wyatt and Barbara’s, at which I mostly stood around in a state of mild discomfort. While I knew the work of everyone there, I was personally acquainted with virtually nobody except the Pruntys themselves. In the mid-to-late eighties I’d taught for three years with Wyatt at Virginia Tech and spent a couple of pleasant evenings at their house. On one of those, having heard that I played bluegrass, he put his mid-sixties Martin D-28 in my hands. I played “Wabash Cannonball” and apparently did not thoroughly embarrass myself, since he complimented my playing.
The thing is that in 2009 I had all but given it up, for the same reason that so many people with creative inclinations abandon their pursuit of painting, poetry, fiction, music, or whatever art they’re drawn to: I knew what good sounded like, and it didn’t sound like me. I’d been playing the same licks since I was ten years old, and they didn’t consist of much more than a G run and some Maybelle Carter-style hammer-ons. I don’t think my guitar had left its case more than two or three times in two or three years. The fingers of my left hand had lost their calluses, so that when I did play, my ears were not the only things hurting.