I decided to go to Florida after all

I drove to Florida specifically to meet up with old friends in Orlando whom I haven’t seen in 25 years and to meet my half brother, who’s a dear. I otherwise didn’t particularly want to go to Florida. I was born in Florida (though I obviously don’t remember much about that. The family history reads that my father was at a football game at the time, but don’t judge too harshly. It was his job.)

When I was stationed in Mississippi for my first Navy tour, my ship pulled into Mayport, Florida, nearly as often as it pulled into homeport. As I said to myself when I drove past the exit for Jax Beach on I-95, some of my worst decisions were made in Florida. 

I was originally going to skip that part of the South because I’ve already spent so much (largely unfortunate) time in it, but part of the point of this trip to is visit with old friends and family – particularly those I haven’t seen in a long time or have never met in person (because it turns out that having old friends and family you’ve never met before is actually not that an uncommon thing, at least in my life.)

I braved a crazy Uber driver who had trouble getting out of the hotel parking lot in Orlando to go to dinner with friends I met 25 years ago at Cannon Music Camp. 

I’m going to wax a bit poetic here. Cannon isn’t (or wasn’t, anyway) just your average “summer camp.” Hosted by the music department at Appalachian State University, it’s something pretty special to those of us who have gone. For many, it’s a stepping stone to further music education and entry into the music profession. It’s professional-level instruction for middle and high school students who show an acumen in music. For all of us, it was an opportunity to come together with peers who loved playing music, listening to music, immersing ourselves in music and the friendships that inevitably formed. 

A bunch of largely unsupervised teenagers (anywhere from age 12, which is when I first went, to age 17, which is when I stopped going) getting together over something as subversive as music for a month in the summer probably sounds like a recipe for disaster. We were given what seems in retrospect like an amazing amount of freedom during those summers. But I know that my circle of friends (all repeat attendees each summer) – when we weren’t practicing or in a rehearsal or attending a concert – did nothing much worse than hang out on the 4th floor of Broyhill Music Hall drinking cherry coke and eating Twix bars or at the Beanstalk getting hyped up on too many chocolate-covered coffee beans. 

It was heaven. 

The students who went to this camp were generally pretty serious about music. We all thought we were going to go against the standard advice on pursuing music as a career and make a success of it.

We didn’t, of course. We’re all IT experts, speech therapists, cyber professionals, graphic designers … things that actually make money. 

In the mid 90s, the internet was barely a thing, so I don’t know how we all managed to stay in touch long enough for Facebook to come around, but we did. And that’s why, 25 years later, I still have friends from that camp – just one month each summer – that have lasted all that time. That’s who I got to see last night, and I just think that’s so fucking awesome. 

We sat at a restaurant – two (former) flutists and a vocalist – telling stories and catching up and laughing and eating from a massive charcuterie board and HAVING FUN, which is what this whole journey is supposed to be about. 

Well, that’s part of what this whole journey is about. The rest will follow.

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