Melodic Stars Above a Summer Breeze
Published on 08/23/2023
Lyrics flew out of Mason Hayes’s pen as effortlessly as the breeze flowing through the second story curtains of his old country house. Focused on his chorus, he didn’t notice the stars stretching across the horizon as far as his dreams. His favorite George Strait song started over in the background, playing on repeat for inspiration.
Chorus finished, he put down his pen and scanned over the lyrics again. But after writing and rewriting all evening, his mind fogged with self doubt. Is this truly original? he worried. Paper fluttered in the breeze as he held it out over the trash bin. Then he set his lyrics back down on the desk, second guessing his own questioning. Maybe it’s not too bad after all. Slumping back, he looked down, hands folded between his knees.
Why can’t I write songs like George Strait? he wondered. He sat up and went through the lyrics again from top to bottom, thesaurusizing every three syllable word. After re-writing the chorus for the third time, he put his pen down and re-read the whole song again. With a sharp inhale through his clenched jaw, he decided this was as good as it’ll get. The following Thursday was open mic night at Big Mike’s Bar & Grille. The first week of summer inspired an upbeat crowd, creating an inviting atmosphere like the warm summer sunset over the back pond. Rounds of applause humbled a local college girl performing for her first time as she wrapped up her folksy tune.
“Easy on the applause folks, my spirit is strong but my heart is still weak.” she said with a curtsy.
Up next, Mason stepped on stage, hands trembling as he adjusted the microphone to his height. He couldn’t see the audiences’ welcoming gaze through the brim of his hat tipped low over his brow. Skilled guitar riffs and strums fell shy off the stage behind harmonious but soft vocals. Yet the music had no soul, his lyrics were a hollow attempt to what he thought people wanted to hear. Curious sensations flowed through the audience like a barely perceptible breeze as if they were listening from a distance. Exchanged glances and raised eyebrows confirmed a shared question of just what exactly they were watching. A few folks headed to the bar for another round before the song was halfway through. The remaining crowd didn’t boo but stood silently still, eyes wandering aimlessly in anticipation of the next act.
“Th Tha Thank you” Mason said over a few light claps, his eyes still shielded by the brim of his hat. He bumped into some friends at the bar while the next performer took stage.
“Sounds like you’ve been listenin’ to George Strait a bit too much these days.”
“Yeah, maybe” Mason said, looking down. He winced reflexively as criticisms sank in, hoping that no one noticed.
“Well I’m gonna call it a night here boys”, and with that Mason swept around his group of friends without making eye contact, and headed back to his truck. There weren’t any stars in the sky on his winding drive home, it was as if they would rather hide that night. Confirmation of his fears squeezed his chest tight, forcing shallow breaths. He rolled down the windows to get some fresh air, wind rushed over his face opening his lungs and his mind. Man, all I did all week was worry, and it got me nowhere he thought, I didn’t even enjoy my own music tonight. The road would have been completely pitch dark on the outskirts of town if it weren’t for one lit up word on a billboard for the local kids’ charity, “Gratitude”
The next evening Mason’s eyes sparkled as he sat upright at his desk writing out lyrics for a new song. His pen flowed steadily as he sharpened up the poetic chorus, in the midst of his intense focus he didn’t notice that he forgot to put on any music. He opened up his heart for this new song, telling the story of his biggest regret. Sharp pain from a brief flashback recoiled his hand, clattering of his pen skittering across the floor broke silence in the room and brought him back to the present moment. It was painful to think about how his first true love left him because of his own unfaithfulness. He never forgave himself for letting someone down like that. But he resolved to make himself vulnerable for this song, no longer worried about the judgement of others. Pain sharpened his mind, and the lyrics were his own.
Big Mike’s was chill the following open mic night. Murmurs of conversation cooled like the evening breeze after a long hot day as Mason waited his turn to go onstage. When his name was called he bounced on stage, shoulders back, guitar strapped. Bright eyes gleamed out from under his hat, tipped back tonight rounding out his sharp ensemble in a new look for him. Heartfelt confidence carried his music throughout the bar & grille. A couple in the back closed their eyes briefly, heads nodding in rhythm. Mason involuntarily stepped back from unexpected applause when he was done, briefly turning his head away from the cheers and whistles.
“Thank you” he said facing the crowd head on again, and lifting up his hands in gratitude.
He made his way over to the backside of the bar, where the beer never tasted better.
The lead singer from a local country band walked up and said hi.
“Them are some bold lyrics”
“Thank you, the name’s Mason Hayes” as they shook hands.
“You know, we could use some advice on a song of our own if you’d be willin’“
“Yeah…” Mason said, nodding his head as looked off into space for a moment.
“Yeah, let’s get a workshop going” said Mason, “Too much talent here in Willowbrook to let go to waste”
“Exactly what I was thinkin’“
Mason met weekly with other local musicians at Big Mike’s, the beer garden out the back was perfect for rowdy collaboration.
“Appreciate your advice on our chorus Mason”
“Hey Mason, remember that ‘Willowbrook Cares’ charity concert last year?”
“Why sure. But it kinda sucked to be honest” Mason said.
“Exactly what I was thinkin’. But I know the owner of the park, he’s a good friend of mine“
“Well then, why don’t we put it on ourselves this year?” Mason asked.
“Exactly what I was thinkin’. We could do a bang up job”
“No doubt we’ll get the best talent ever this year, I’ll start making calls tomorrow”
Mason’s first call the next day was to that kid’s charity. After all charity event wouldn’t be a charity event without a charity sponsor he thought.
“Why sure, we’d love to” said the young lady on the other end of the line after Mason made his pitch. His phone felt light as a feather as he spent the rest of the afternoon calling on local bands and musicians to perform at the event. After getting a “yes” from the last band on his list he set his phone down on the desk to relax for a minute. Glints of setting sun beams dancing across the phone screen were faded by caller ID pulling him out of his peaceful daze. It was the kid’s charity, they are going to be so excited to hear now many bands I’ve got signed up he thought.
“May I speak with Mason Hayes please” asked a voice he didn’t recognize.
“Listen, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but we can’t sponsor your event this year. I know my daughter promised you this morning, but she’s not actually authorized to make such commitments. She has been interning for us for the first time this summer, and she just got carried away you see.”
“I see. Well may I ask why? I mean why aren’t you interested in supportin’ us this year?”
“Well to be frank Mason, last year’s event was a flop. It just wouldn’t be a good look for us.”
“I see. Well you might be surprised to hear that I agree with you. I mean about last year’s concert, it kinda sucked really. That’s why me and my friends, that’s why we set out to organize the event this year. In fact I’m glad you called just now, I was want’n to tell you that we’ve got the best bands in Willowbrook lined up this year. I think you’ll be really proud to have your name on it this time around.”
“Well I can certainly appreciate your efforts. But we’re a small organization, every dollar counts. We just can’t risk it”
“OK, yes ma’am I do understand. Appreciate the call”
Mason’s heart dropped as he set his phone back down. His torso stiffened, he crossed his arms and pursed his lips, Man I just don’t wanna let folks down he thought, looking down for a moment. Then he stood up and stretched, Well if they don’t wanna support their own hometown then f ’em he thought, before heading over to Big Mike’s. He happened to step up to the bar right next to that college girl from open mic night.
“Evenin’ ma’am, I’ve been meanin’ to ask ya, why did you say that your heart is weak? Seems like you poured your heart out with ease on stage the other night? My name’s Mason Hayes by the way.”
“Nice to meet you Mason, I’m Lorna. Well actually, I was being literal. Since recovering from leukemia as a kid my heart’s always been a bit precious.”
Mason tipped his hat, “Sorry to hear that Lorna, I had no idea.”
“No worries, I don’t like to make a big deal out of it. I’m just forever grateful to the folks around here who supported me, along with kids charity, I wouldn’t have made it through my treatments otherwise.”
“You don’t say? Well I hope it’s not too forward of me to ask, but my friends and I are organizing the Willowbrook Cares charity concert this year and we have some great bands already lined up. Would you be interested in performing alongside this year?”
“Wow, yes of course. I’d never thought I’d get such a chance, sign me up!”
Mason called back the kids charity first thing in the morning.
“You’ll never believe who I’ve signed up for this year’s Willowbrook Cares event this year … Lorna”
“Well my stars” She continued after a pause, “I think, I mean we can rethink our position after all. You have my word.”
“Sounds like a plan, and thank you very much. We won’t let you down this year ma’am.”
Mild late summer sun corralled fog towards the creek across the way, revealing an empty field in front of the Willowbrook Cares Concert stage on the morning of the event. Looking down initially worried, Mason lifted his head back up, grateful for a beautiful day.
He welcomed fellow musicians, and helped set stage for the first band. A small crowd formed up around the stage by the end of their first song, Mason cheered along with the crowd’s applause as they finished up their set.
Mason himself was up next, owning the stage with his performance in the early afternoon sun. He maintained composure despite being totally surprised by a growing crowd singing along. I can’t believe they picked up my chorus from just a few nights over at Big Mike’s he thought in the back of his mind as he took a bow to warm applause.
“And now you are in for a real treat!” Mason announced to the audience, “The outdoor debut of Willowbrook’s newest singer/songwriter, up and coming super star, join me in welcoming to our stage a close friend of kids charity, and a new friend of mine, Lorna!!!”
Cheers and applause warmed Lorna’s face to a bright red as she took center stage.
“Thank you … thanks all …” she said, looking around the crowd before she started to sing.
“She’s pretty darn good” Mason said to the kids charity founder as they admired Lorna’s vocals from offstage.
“Impressive what you’ve put together here. Much better than last year” said a gentleman standing next to Mason that he had never met.
“This is Jasper Baton. He owns the recording studio downtown.” said the kids charity founder, introducing him to Mason.
“Pleasure to meet you Jasper, my name’s Mason Hayes”
“I know who you are son. And I’d like to sponsor your event here with some free studio time.”
Mason tipped his hat, “Not quite sure what to say sir, thank you. Thank you very much, and I’ll make sure it goes to good use.”
“I have no doubt”, and they exchanged mutual gratitude with a warm handshake.
The charity concert event continued well into the night, raising the most money in the history of Willowbrook. Mason invited Lorna to the weekly songwriting workshops at Big Mike’s.
“We’ll take your lyrics to the next level. Frankly, we could use your talent on some of our own lyrics as well.”
Lorna fit right in, and with some feedback from the group she got her chorus dialed in the following week.
“Listen Lorna, I think you’re ready for the next step.” said Mason “And I’ve got some free studio time that was donated from the Willowbrook Cares event, I’d like you to have it.”
“Are you sure?” said Lorna, putting her hand over her heart.
It was drizzling the morning of her first recording session, Lorna admired a rainbow as she walked across the parking lot to the studio.
She had never recorded professionally before, and it took her some time to get her voice adapted to such a quiet space. Mason eased her mind, “That’s the point of a recording session, to keep recording ’till we get it right” he said with a wink.
“I’ve got some connections in radio here and there” said Jasper, surprising both Lorna and Mason who didn’t know he was in the studio that morning.
“Well I don’t know how to thank you enough.” said Lorna.
“Pleasure is mine darlin’“ said Jasper. As summer cooled into autumn, Lorna’s first single went number one on major country stations across the country.
The next open mic night at Big Mike’s Mason was surprised to see Lorna onstage. After she finished her newest song, he bought her a beer.
“I gotta say Lorna, now that you’re famous I’m worried your heart won’t be able to handle all that cheering and applause”
Lorna giggled and blushed, “I’ll be just fine Mason, my heart is over the moon.”