The Facebook page for Durham County Beer & Hymns proclaims, “We sing loudly. We drink slowly. We make friends.”
I am a slow drinker.
A loud singer mostly in the car by myself with Brooks & Dunn on the radio. Or on third shift at about 3 a.m. when somebody puts on Destiny’s Child, and we’re all too exhausted to care about our reputations.
Plus I like making friends.
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So I roll up to 726 Rigsbee Avenue with Katie and Olivia on the third Sunday of the month to attend the self-proclaimed “community sing with no regard to spiritual inclination or lack thereof,” at Fullsteam brewery.
Lines of orange wooden benches stretch from the back wall clear up to the stage.
And they’re already full.
Except for the front row.
If we are going to be Those People Who Got Here Late, we’re going to have to suck it up and weasel our way through the aisle, brushing past all the leashed dogs nosing our calves as we walk by. Oh hi, friends.
We sit on the front row.
“I kinda grew up with Baptist hymnals and the Beatles,” says Jesse James DeConto, frontman of local band The Pinkerton Raid (and fellow Durham News columnist), who leads this event. “And they both became hymns to me.”
I can get on board with that. A hymn is essentially a musical celebration poem.
Also, I realize, as I take a swig of my Working Man’s Lunch, a good glass of craft beer is a celebration poem too.
I put my feet up on the front row of God’s house as we begin to sing.
“O Wa Eee Ahhh Oh, come on the peace train.”
I’ve never heard this one before, but just you try to sing “O Wa Eee Ahhh Oh,” without laughing.
We move on to “If I Had a Hammer,” keeping time with a tambourine piece strapped over a two-tone saddle shoe thumping along on stage.
Then we slow it down, and heft our cold and broken halleluiahs over the dartboards and fire extinguisher on the wall. Past the clattering metal ceiling fan. Into the broaching dark.
“Thanks to Milton, holder of the fight card tonight,” says DeConto, as the man called Milton, in his Bulls T-shirt and goatee, hoists up a spiral bound notebook open to a page bearing a hand-written numeral:
“Nuuuuumber Seveeeeen!” he calls out.
Everybody turns to No. 7 in their songbooks, chatting and laughing. Apologizing for their dog licking your elbow.
Here, you are your next door stranger’s neighbor, no apologies for dog kisses, sour notes, or turquoise running shoes needed.
Here, “progress, health, wealth, and success” looks like black-gum-spotted cement floors, tastes like summer basil, and feels like sweat filling your knee pit until you uncross your legs. It sounds like the melody line of “Eleanor Rigby.”
Here, half of you know your Fanny Crosby, and the other half know your Bob Marley, and that’s what makes the mash-up of “Blessed Assurance” and “Three Little Birds” come out strong.
Here you can wear your “Inquire Within” T-shirt, your black combat boots zipped down around your ankles, and your stick figure and star tattoos drawn with a sharpie on your legs.
The front row might be the only one open, but you knooowaa eeh ahhh oh what?
It doesn’t matter where you are before God; you can always come sit on his orange bench and sweat through your shirt and sing true things and taste the beer, because that is what it means to be thankful for This Day.
I like this event. Come with me sometime. Let’s hear your set of pipes. Let’s drink slowly. Settle in. Milton is about to throw the fight card again.
You can reach Hannah C. Mitchell in c/o The Durham News at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us what you think about today’s commentary at the same email; please include your name for publication.