Darin and Brooke Aldridge had time to spare before their evening set at the Coleman Station Bluegrass Festival last Saturday in southwestern Pennsylvania, so they took side roads instead of their usual turnpike route.
In the process, they made a new friend, were offered a gig, and had a chance to reconsider one of the darkest days in recent American history.
The route took them past the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel in Friedens, PA, which is dedicated to the 40 passengers and crew members who perished in one of four passenger jet crashes on Sept. 11, 2001. The actual crash site is a few miles away.
“We just sort of stumbled on that chapel,” Darin Aldridge said. “It was a neat place, and it was a beautiful day.”
The Aldridges and band mates were the only visitors at the time, so they talked at length with the volunteer docent amid items donated by friends and relatives of those who died.
For Brooke and Darin, the memories came flooding back. Like most Americans, they remember precisely where they were when they first heard the news, just as earlier generations could pinpoint how and when they heard about Pearl Harbor or President Kennedy’s assassination.
“I was a senior in high school,” Brooke told me. “I remember watching the news in our homeroom, thinking the world was coming to an end.” Darin heard about the shocking events after teaching a lesson.
Only fiddler Carley Arrowood is without personal memories from that day. But she has a good excuse: she was just five years old at the time.
As they wound down their stay, the volunteer asked them to sing a song, “in honor of all the fallen heroes.” They chose Sacred Lamb, with Brooke’s voice booming across the rows of 40 empty chairs and echoing across the ceiling, which is painted with 40 stars.
“It was a neat experience,” she recalled.
As the last strum of Darin’s guitar faded, their audience of one clapped enthusiastically, then invited them to come back in September to sing for a larger audience. They hope to be able to make it.
Later, at the festival, Brooke and Darin told the story of their visit, urged folks to visit the nearby chapel, and offered up the song again, this time with the backing of the full band.