April 7-8, 2017 - WABCJCL Convention, Washington

“I am a guy who travels around telling a story that a guy who traveled around telling stories told about a guy who traveled around telling stories."

For my blog about my shows for the Washington and British Columbia Junior Classical Convention, I was planning on just posting the keynote speech I gave at the Convention’s opening assembly.

But then, as it often does, the reality of my experience out on the road gave me something better to write about.

I am still posting a lightly edited version of the speech here on Medium (which is a much better platform for a longer piece anyway).

But here’s the story of how I came to recite this speech without the aid of a microphone during a power outage in northern Washington.

My Friday morning early flight from Austin to Seattle meant I had some time to kill before driving up to Stanwood, which is a little over a hour north of Seattle. I had lunch with my publicist (who lives in Seattle), grabbed a swim at LA Fitness, and then headed north to the Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center, a rustic retreat at which the WABCJCL was holding their 70th State Convention.  

The Junior Classical League is an organization of high school Latin/Classics teachers and students. There are state chapters and a national organization based in Ohio. Each state has an annual convention during the school year at which there are academic competitions, olympic games, creative arts displays, colloquia and academic talks, and other activities like costume contests and talent shows. There’s also a national convention each summer which draws well over 1000 kids to a college campus for a week of the same.

I’ve performed at 7 state conventions and the last 5 national conventions and these are without a doubt some of my favorite and most rewarding shows and audiences.

In addition to doing performances during the day on Saturday, the WABCJCL Convention asked me to deliver the keynote address on Friday night at the opening assembly so after I checked into my room, I reviewed the 10 minute speech I’d prepared.

And then the power went out.  And stayed out.

There was still ample daylight as I made my way to the dining hall at which the convention chair told me the conference center was working on the power but it was looking like we’d need to do the opening assembly (which began after sundown) without the benefit of lights and amplified sound.

So as we gathered in the main program center, a cavernous high-ceilinged room that could easily hold upwards of 500, daylight slipped away and soon we were left with just the low glow of a couple of battery powered emergency stage lights and the audiences’ cell phone flashlights. Someone pulled a car up outside and turned the headlights onto the stage through the back doorway as an improvised spotlight.  

The crowd hushed as the assembly began with officer speeches, the JCL pledge and song, and other announcements.  

Soon the convention chair introduced me and with just a handheld flashlight to see my notes, I delivered my speech to a silent and attentive room of 250.  

At the end of my speech, I sang the first song of my Odyssey, "Who Am I."  My voice and guitar boomed off the arched ceiling and back to me and I faded the ending into the dead silence of as close to an ancient performance setting as I’ll ever get.  

The power came back on 20 minutes later and though the next day my performances were wonderful in every way, what I will remember most about the weekend is that moment at the end of "Who Am I" as my rolling guitar was slowly swallowed by the sound of thousands of years of silent darkened rooms. 

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