From The Side of the Road… A Christmas Carol revisited yet again

I  want to wish you a very merry Christmas coming up this weekend. This is the long-awaited (by almost no one) follow-up to a Christmas Carol-inspired column that ran several years ago about a modern day bluegrass Scrooge, a grouchy, miserly and generally despised bandleader.

To keep you abreast of where we are in the story, this Scrooge had just finished performing at an indoor bluegrass festival, Bluegrass in a Large Hotel, and was terrified by a visit in his room by his long-dead duet partner Harley Marley. Marley was dragging the chain he forged in life, consisting mainly of CD jewel cases, dead cell phones, and miscellaneous banjo parts. He promised that Scrooge would be visited by three spirits over the course of the next three nights, despite Scrooge’s protests that the festival was only putting him up for one of those nights. In the previous column we covered Scrooge’s visit by the Ghost of Bluegrass Christmas Past. Now it’s on to the next chapter, or “Stave Three”:

Scrooge awoke in his room, feeling emotionally exhausted after his experience with the first ghost, not really sure how he slept straight into the next day and night without a sharp knock on the door from housekeeping. He followed a trail of light that seemed to be coming from an adjoining room. Finding the door unlocked, he wandered into a room that was bright and cheery, thoroughly decked out for the holiday. The original 1951 recording of Christmas Time’s a-Comin’ was playing over the speakers, and a large jolly-looking man with a brocade cowboy hat beckoned him: “Come in and know me better, man!” He looked very much like Jimmy Martin but with the voice of Carlton Haney. The spirit wore a fur-lined green smoking jacket, adorned with holly and covered with gleaming icicles. On his feet were patent leather boots as white as snow, and he held a Martin guitar with “Christmas Spirit” inlaid on the fingerboard.

He was seated on top of a massive pile of pre-war instruments, shiny flight cases, sets of mandolin strings, condenser mics, rare Stanley Brothers 78s, Jimmy Martin boxed sets of CDs, sparkly stage clothes, new cowboy boots, Blue Chip picks in various shapes and thicknesses, as well as backstage snacks the likes of which Scrooge had never seen or would never let his band have access to: sliced turkey, roast beef, assorted cheeses, sparkling water, cases of craft beer, and top-shelf bourbon.

The charismatic and flashy phantom addressed Scrooge: 

“You’ve never seen the likes of me before!”

 “I have not, or not exactly. Who are you?”

 “I am The Ghost of Christmas Present,” the spirit replied. “Have you not known any of the other members of my family born before me? I have over 2020 of them.”

“That’s a very large family band,” observed Scrooge. “How do you afford to travel? How do you find a big enough stage?”

Without answering, the spirit grabbed Scrooge and flew with him into the cold clear night, which was Christmas night. 

They came upon a humble family gathering in a sketchy part of town, yet even here, they knew the spirit. It was the family of Scrooge’s fiddle player whose daily pay rate he had just cut down to $65. The family was clearly struggling: their cable had been disconnected, and they were considering burning the youngest daughter’s entry-level D-28 knock-off guitar just to keep warm on Christmas Day.

Their curiously small turkey (heavily discounted at the Kroger) was ready for carving, and the father raised his glass. “I propose a toast to Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast, my employer off-and-on for 18 years.” His wife was having none of it: “I’d rather listen to Wagon Wheel through a distorted Bluetooth speaker 150 times than drink the health of that greedy ogre!” “Dear, the children. Christmas Day,” implored the father. She fired back, “That cheapskate fired you and left you at a truck stop just last Christmas Eve, then tried to hire you back a week later at half the pay.”

Their disabled son, Tiny Moore Tim, appeared to side with his mother. Scrooge was uniformly despised in their household, and because of him, they couldn’t afford health insurance and had to pay his medical bills through livestream benefit shows. Still he raised his own glass and exclaimed, “God bless us everyone.”

The scene had a softening effect on Scrooge, and he asked, “Spirit, tell me: will Tiny Moore Tim live?”

“I see a crutch without an owner and a mandolin with no one to play it.”

“No, kind and talkative spirit! Say that he will live!”

“If these shadows remain unaltered by the future, and you don’t open your wallet and pay his dad a decent wage, this will be his final Christmas.”

A more contrite Scrooge went on into the night with the spirit. Much they saw and far they journeyed, but everywhere they went the Ghost of Christmas Present left those gathered in better spirits, Scrooge included. 

Before the spirit departed, though, Scrooge couldn’t help but notice two child-like yet horrible figures, a boy and a girl, clutching at the spirit’s legs.

“Are they yours, spirit?” asked Scrooge

“They are the music business’s,” answered the spirit, somberly.

“The girl is management, the boy, social media. Beware the girl, but most of all, beware this boy, for on his face I see written a great deal of misinformation and a lot of wasted time.”

And so, as Tiny Moore Tim observed . . .