Reflections of two lives well lived – Gary Farris and Jerry Baker

This remembrance is a contribution from Chris Sexton, longtime fiddler with Nothin’ Fancy. He writes to recall the lives and contributions of two people whose lives were important to the band, and who deserved to be memorialized.

The members of Nothin’ Fancy and all of our extended family need to reflect on the lives of two men who have been driving forces of the band: one who helped found the band and gave the band its distinct sound, and the other whose support was unswerving and devoted.

Gary Farris and Jerry Baker both passed away on February 18 within a few hours of each other. Having traveled the road with Gary for 18 years ,and having Jerry be a memorable part of so many of our shows, this is one of the hardest tributes this author has ever had to write. Yet it must be written about who they were and what they meant to us. Both men served honorably during the Vietnam war. Both had an intense love and devotion for family, both by blood and in kindred spirits. Most importantly, they are truly unforgettable, and they will be remembered with honor and love.

Gary Farris helped start a bluegrass band in 1994 with Mike Andes, Guy Carawan, Mitchell Davis, and Tony Shorter. I ended up coming in to take over Carawan’s fiddling duties, and we became the band that stayed together for 18 years without a personnel change (except for one year with a young Eli Johnston on bass). How does one summarize 18 years? We garnered six SPBGMA awards. We toured in Canada, Norway, and the Netherlands together. We sailed the seas on bluegrass cruises together and played a memorable concert at Orient Beach in St. Martin on one of those cruises. We recorded an album with Rhonda and Darrin Vincent as co-producers where Gary sang harmony with the queen of bluegrass herself. We traveled so many miles in a conversion van which was eventually replaced by our first tour bus after leasing a few buses. Eventually the band made its way into the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame, and it was all born out of the efforts of Gary, whose most singular words of advice to me were, “You gotta be tough in this business!” And how tough he was: he held on long enough to see his first great-grandson born the day before he died, which is what he told me he would do back in September of 2020.

I first became aware of Jerry Baker as the quiet and kind man behind his charismatic wife Christi, and yet Jerry possessed a charisma of his own. If you knew Jerry, you were part of his family – end of story. We did not often get to talk, but his actions always spoke much louder than his words, and his acts were always borne out of love. As 2 Corinthians 9:7 tells, “…God loves a cheerful giver,” and Jerry was a prime example of that very cheerful giver who did not ever begrudgingly give, and he rarely, if ever, expected anything in return. In his giving way, he and Christi would often cook for bands coming to the Nothin’ Fancy festival as a way of showing their appreciation of the talents shown on stage, and if anyone left hungry, it was usually their own fault for not eating enough. Ever the expert grill master, he’d often told us, “don’t be bashful” when it came to filling our plates, and everything on your plate would be made by heart and out of love for making people happy. But Jerry gave us all more than just full plates and stomachs. He gave the world humor, light, and kindness.

Friends, pray as you are so moved for the spirits of Gary and Jerry that they are bathed in the light and free from the pain of their physical bodies. May the spirit of these great men live on in us as witnesses to their lives. The only fitting close to this tribute is a song recorded by Nothin’ Fancy with our special guest vocalist Rhonda Vincent joining in. May the words of the chorus bring comfort to the families both in kin and in kindred spirit as it is sung:

And I’ll have eyes that will never fill with teardrops
And I’ll have legs that will never ache with pain
And I’ll have hands that will never age and wither
And a heart that will never break again.

Amen, may it be so, and blessed be.