Bluegrassers aid shooting victims’ families

John BowmanAs a former schoolteacher, John Bowman was “just so struck with grief” by the news that 26 people had been killed by a shooter at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December. “It just hit me in the gut,” recalled the fiddle player for the Boxcars.

John decided the best way he could help was to sell a guitar and donate the money to help out in Newtown. “I’d been trying to sell this guitar for a while and nothing happened, so I decided to sell it on eBay and give the proceeds to the families”

In passing, I mentioned John’s generous decision to fellow bass players at Newtown hit close to home for us because one of active participants on that forum plays in a band with someone who lost a child that day.

Several days later, I took a call from my friend Jim McKinney, who blurted out, “I bought that guitar!” It took me a few moments to figure out what he meant. Jim doesn’t play guitar, but his grandson does and will soon play a 1971 Martin D-35S, a slothead that John calls “an absolute monster” guitar.

Jim, who is retired from a federal law enforcement job, picks up the story.

“When I saw your post, I read John’s listing just out of curiosity. Then it just clicked. I could do something for my grandson and something for the kids. Plus, there was a bluegrass connection.”

Jim, who was already familiar with eBay because of his interest in vintage railroad pocket watches, put out a feeler bid early, then upped it as time on John’s auction wound down.

Jim set his maximum bid at $3,000. He ended up winning the guitar for $2,650, but sent John a check for $3,000 anyway. Another man said he couldn’t afford to buy the guitar but sent John a check for $100 to pass along to the families, and others kicked in to offset the PayPal fee.

In the end, John sent a check for more than $3,100 to a fund for the Newtown families set up by the local United Way. That fund met John’s primary requirement: “I wanted every penny to go to the families.”

He shrugs off suggestions that he did something very special. “I give all the glory to God,” he said. “I was just doing what the Lord told me to do.”

John and Jim got together for the first time a couple of weeks ago at a Boxcars show in southern Maryland. And they’re already planning to have dinner the next time their paths cross.

As for the lucky fellow who is going to get to play a special guitar with an extra-special story behind it?

Jim chuckled and said, “My grandson doesn’t have a clue.”

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.