Just about the time Franny tried to collect her wits about her on the sidewalk, Leo was setting up his own guitar on his own stool (plain, undecorated, and slightly rickety) at another venue. He did not know any cowboy songs or poems, but he knew how to win this kind of crowd over. He tuned up his favorite black acoustic guitar and launched into “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Johhny Cash to open, Elvis in the middle, and Waylon or Willie to close. In between, he could fill his fifty minute set with his own originals, the songs that mattered to him. His own tunes played in the territory somewhere between folk and rock and blues, and told stories of lost love, of course, but also of found dogs, and happy days, and good friends.
The audience in front of Leo consisted mostly of retirement-age ex ranchers and their wives, and one or two young families with small kids in tow. They were busy with their conversations and their children, but every once in a while, for a single moment, they all paused to listen.
These were magic moments for Leo, when he could make eye contact with a retired rancher, an old woman, a young mom, a grade-schooler. He would sing the next line just for her, directly to him, and adapt it if he could so the mom or rancher or kid would know the song was meant for them.
On pauses from singing, while playing simple but lovely patterns on the guitar, he’d encourage the little ones to dance. And the old ones, too. He’d make jokes about football or politics. Most of the time, his jokes went over the audience’s head. Or maybe they just ignored him. It didn’t matter.
Leo’s heart and soul were in his voice and fingers, and his guitar connected his voice and fingers to one another, and to the audience. Nothing felt better than sharing his heart and soul with a few friendly people.
If Franny had stopped by the cafe where Leo performed, she would have noticed that his audience was the smallest of all. Most people in town for the festival wanted the tragic cowboys and twangy guitars.
And if she’d asked Leo if that bothered him, he’d laugh and twinkle his eyes at her, and say he’d rather play for three people than three hundred, as long as they were the right three people.
As it happened, Franny walked by the cafe, heard the opening guitar chords for “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain,” and thought she’d spare herself another sad song. She didn’t see Leo’s eyes light up as he saw her, and she didn’t see the light in them fade just a bit when she passed without turning his way.