Just before he kicked off You Can Have Her on Friday afternoon, J.D. Crowe had a moment of doubt: “Can I really do this?”
But as the banjo rang loud and clear, he knew. The band knew. And the fans knew. Less than three months after he broke his arm and elbow in a fall, J.D. Crowe was back.
“You don’t know how long we’ve been waiting to hear that five,” Rickey Wasson said as the applause from the first song faded.
J.D. played a solid set and said he’d be ready that night for the second set, which he played as well. That he can play at all is something of a miracle. There were times after the injury that he said he wondered if he’d ever play again. His bandmates worried, too. Members of the New South said they were grateful for Jim Mills and Johnny Lewis being the main fill-ins for the legendary picker. But some promoters canceled dates and others cut the band’s fees, so there were natural concerns about their livelihoods.
But two weeks ago, bassist Kyle Perkins picked the phone and heard the boss say, “I’m ready.” Kyle asked if J.D. meant he wanted to travel with the band. “I’m ready to play,” J.D. said.
Rickey recently asked if he should line up a banjo backup in case J.D. needed a break or couldn’t play the second set. But J.D. said the same thing he said to Perkins: “I’m ready.”
In an interview after the first set, J.D. said he is still taking physical therapy because his left hand is stiff and his arm is weak. As part of his own therapy routine, he picked up the banjo about three weeks ago and played for 20 minutes a day, shooting for a comeback in June.
But when he saw the Gettysburg date on the calendar, he decided to shoot for this weekend. “I said, ‘well, hell, I have to start somewhere.’ ”
The test of the band broke into grins when J.D. nailed the kickoff of that first song, and from the audience it seemed like he was never gone. But J.D. could tell. “I didn’t have the energy in it that I usually have,” he told me. “I held back a bit. But, of course, most people don’t know that.”
J.D. said he never got morose, even when he didn’t know if he would pick again. “I’ve been there, done that,” he said. “You never know when you’ll pick your last.”