Sunday, June 05, 2011

Blue Ridge Outsider

I’d planned to write this piece about Blues in Blue Ridge at Blue Orleans Bistro in downtown Blue Ridge, GA (boy, that’s a lot of blue) from an outsider’s perspective, but I’ve come to realize, there are no outsiders in Blue Ridge. Coming from Chicago where you can stand in the corner of a function or benefit for hours without anyone even acknowledging your presence, the warm and welcoming reception I received at the fundraiser for Snack in a Backpack last night was refreshing and exciting. 

I was passing through Blue Ridge on my way to find an off-the-grid mountain home and had the luck to land at the home of Lisa Gagnon of the Fannin Sentinel. Lisa has opened her home for “as long as you need it” and has been a wealth of information about everything. This ‘pass through’ is quickly becoming a ‘stay home’ place. It’s not a place you leave easily—nor should you.

I saw the signs for Blues in Blue Ridge but failed to notice that it was a reservation/donation event to benefit Snack in a Backpack. When Elaine, Lisa’s mother and owner of the Sentinel, decided to pass on her reservation because of a rigorous day of interviewing, Lisa included me. I went clothed in a “Fannin Sentinel Press” name tag and had more fun, felt more accepted, and smiled more than I have in many years—as an insider, because there are no outsiders in Blue Ridge.

The host location, Blue Orleans Bistro, is housed in a Louisiana plantation-style white-pillared Victorian with screened porches, a separate dining room with southern belle bonnets hanging from the fireplace, and delicious bayou food—the crawfish tails with Remoulade and Hoisin sauce are to die for. And the owner, Tim Huffstetler, belts out a mean “Polk Salad Annie.” 

The real entertainment, The Buckeye Band, was electrifying. Feet were tapping, hands clapping, and by the end, tables were moved to allow for the hips swaying—and mine were included. It’s been years since I’ve danced, even if the music is jumping, but last night I was invited. People smiled, waved me up and actually danced with me, looked me in the eyes and smiled. I was an accepted and enjoyed part of the in-crowd.

Everyone who was anyone in Blue Ridge was there, and the MC for the night, Jack Morton of Wrapsody in Blue, was engaging as an MC as well as being both interesting and interested as a conversationalist. Even Gaye Whalton, who is the creator of Snack in a Backpack and coordinator of the extravaganza, took the time to inquire about me personally and welcome me heartily as a prospective new Blue Ridge resident.

Besides my own profound experience of warmth, the event itself was a booming success. Local businesses donated such auction items as diamond rings from The Diamond Center, a mountain cabin stay from BR Lodging Assoc., Atlanta Braves tickets, and the phenomenal Blue Orleans Bistro chef for a private party, and much more. The Buckeye Band donated a Fender Stratocaster signed by a host of blues artists, which went for a whopping $800 for the Snack in a Backpack organization, who were the real winners of the night, and the reason for all these welcoming and generous people coming together. Kids will continue to receive their weekend backpacks full of food thanks to the concern, generosity, and warm kindness of folks in Blue Ridge, GA—where I am not an outsider.

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