Excellence sometimes appears at unexpected times and places.
Roland Julian, only surviving friend from the beginning of our sportswriting careers, again invited Sarah and me to join the Lunch Bunch at Lake Forest Presbyterian Church. He is program chair. We are an acceptable age.
This mostly senior group once endured one of my Tennessee football talks. It appears they have forgiven me. Julian has obviously upgraded the programs.
This time, outstanding bassist Rusty Holloway delivered a musical tribute in memory of his mother, Martha, a long-time member at Lake Forest and a pillar in the fellowship foundation. Jordan Wright played a smooth guitar and was the lead vocalist. Banjo picker Gary Davis stole the show. It helped that his nickname is Biscuit.
For an hour they performed an assortment of hymns, a childhood version of Jesus Loves Me and a surprise for October, Silent Night. The one for the road was a slam-bang rendition of Rocky Top. Some in the crowd sang along. Two South Carolina fans abstained.
The trio delivered the finest free concert I’ve ever seen and heard, a truly professional performance. It had big admission ticket plus cover charge all over it. In fact, it was the bonus treat with a budget lunch.
Rusty is a teacher, performer and recording artist. He was a long-time faculty member at the University of Tennessee. He doesn’t brag about it but he is apparently adept in classical music, jazz, swing, bluegrass, pure country and maybe several other genres beyond my pay grade.
Julian said Holloway has performed with such artists as Doc Severinsen, Woody Herman, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn and Stan Getz. In another time and place, he made television appearances with Bob Hope, Della Reese, Liza Minelli and Jerry Lewis.
By my measurements, that is fairly close to the big leagues.
Biscuit has been honored four times as national banjo player of the year. He is a legend in Kentucky and Alabama. He is, no doubt, headed for the hall of fame. I’ll offer you the short version of his credits. After Hee Haw, he played on or produced seven of Dolly Parton’s CDs.
The nickname was earned at Farmer’s Daughter Restaurant. Davis, long ago, discovered all-you-can-eat breakfasts for $1.95 plus tax. Rumor has it he went heavy on biscuits and gravy.
Gary and Rusty have been friends for more than 30 years. Jordan is a new adoptee.
“I am honored just to be in their presence.”
In real life, Wright is worship director at the new Resurrection Presbyterian Church. It holds services at First Cumberland Presbyterian Church on Nubbin Ridge Drive.
Jordan is the son of a minister. For 13 years, he lived in the Karns-Ball Camp area. The family moved to Louisiana, then Arkansas. Wright earned three degrees. He returned to Knoxville. He became a data analyst. He was a college speech instructor. He served as music director at Old North Abbey on Fairmont Blvd.
Music has long been a part of Wright’s life. At 13 he learned to play the guitar. He went to school with Kris Allen. He helped Allen prepare for his big win on American Idol, season eight. He helped produce Allen’s first album.
Believe it or not, the Lunch Bunch was the unnamed trio’s first gig. Holloway made it happen in honor of his mom.
“It may be our only time to play together,” said Wright. “Unless somebody calls.”
If somebody offers more than a free lunch, bet on Biscuit to win the race to the next event. He drives a bright yellow 1978 Trans Am, vintage Smoky and the Bandit.
Rusty says it has a thousand horsepower under the hood. Biscuit has similar get-up-and-go on the banjo.
Marvin West is a professional sportswriter and infrequent art critic.