Everyone psyched for wedding except Mother Nature
by John Colgan-Davis

“I have known thousands of disasters, most of which never happened.”——Will Rogers

The Mt. Airy-based Dukes of Destiny, the longest-lived Philadelphia blues band, have been together for 25 years. They are, from left, Bob Holden, drums and vocals; Arlyn Wolters, vocals; Rich Curtis, bass and vocals; John Colgan-Davis, harmonica and vocals; Richard Adler, guitar; Carl Crabtree, saxophone and vocals, and (not shown here) Carl Snyder, keyboards and vocals.

The Dukes of Destiny (based in Mt. Airy) play a lot of different types of gigs, and we have done a fair number of weddings. These are gigs we like to do; we get to play a few songs we don’t regularly do, folks are in a good mood and happy, we get paid well, and we get fed. So we are glad to be there.

But last Saturday (Sept. 24) we played a wedding that was truly one for the ages. We were scheduled to play the wedding of Donald Johnston’s daughter, Molly, to her beloved, Dan, at Donald’s property in Chester County along the Brandywine Creek. We were up for it; we knew a number of the folks from our frequent January appearances at the Turtledove Folk Club.

The bride and groom and their friends and family were certainly up for it: Molly and Dan had known each other for years, and this seemed the logical extension of that relationship. Everybody seemed to be up for it and looking forward to the event. Everyone, that is, except Mother Nature.

It rained on Friday and Friday night: a hellish, strong thunderstorm that brought down branches, took out power, damaged crops and flooded streams. And most importantly for Donald and his family and friends, it seriously flooded the Brandywine Creek. Some 10 inches of water was on Donald’s property: the stage and dance floor, which had once been connected, were now six feet apart.

The field was soaked; the flowers displays had been uprooted and had floated away. And the parking area was a muddy mess. The winds had overturned some things and smashed others, and it seemed as if the property, which had been hit earlier by Hurricanes Irene and Lee, was definitely not going to be ready for a wedding.

But when we arrived on the scene, we were blown away. There were dozens of folks all over the property, spreading hay and chips, draining the fields, running tractors to move things into place, repairing and drying out the dance floor and the stage; moving and re-setting the catering trailer, putting up the decorations, cleaning and drying off the tables, and much, much more.

Like the barn-raising scene in the movie about an Amish community in Lancaster County, “Witness,” the whole community came together and was doing Herculean tasks to get the place back together. And that afternoon, on the property of Donald Johnston, Molly and Dan got married on a bridge overlooking the Brandywine River, and a party definitely did take place.

That in and of itself was remarkable, of course, but something even more remarkable happened later. We had played one set, and it was a full-blown celebration and party. Following a “wedding schedule” was out the window; first dance, dance with the Father of the Bride, etc. was gone.

So we started the second set with “Messin’ With the Kid.” And in the middle of the first verse — power failure! Lights off, no sound system, no electric guitar, no keyboard, nothing. But the Dukes kept playing: we were shouting the lyrics, the sax keeping up the rhythm, drums tapping the beat, and amazingly, the crowd joined in without missing a beat. Hand-clapping and dancing; shouting;; bringing out acoustic guitars, and setting candles by the stage; the party was still on. Meredith and Trevor brought out a violin and trombone respectively; harmonicas appeared, and we made our way through “Mustang Sally,” “Bright Lights, Big City,” “Hound Dog” and a rousing version of “Havah Nagilah” before PECO restored the power. It was simply a very fitting finish to an unbelievable and incredible day.

There are lessons there, I think, but I am just going to let them go for now. I simply want to sit in the wonderment of that day for a little while longer. But I will say that the wedding party, the bride and groom and their families, the catering staff — everyone associated with that affair — demonstrated something about community, working together, great spirit and tenacity that we can all learn from. And I thank them for demonstrating that. Yes, it was a memorable wedding, indeed.

John Colgan-Davis, 60, is a long-time Mt. Airy resident, teacher, member of Philly’s longest-lived bluesy band, Dukes of Destiny, and one of the world’s greatest harmonica players. You can reach John at j.colgan-davis@att.net or find out about any of the Dukes’ gigs at www.facebook.com/dukesofdestiny.