Good Enough For Folk Music

Good enough is a good enough beginning.

Years ago, a few friends of mine and myself drove to The State Theatre in Falls Church, Virginia to see the blues* musician Taj Mahal do a rare acoustic solo performance for a charity called Music Maker Relief Foundation, an organization that helps to provide financial relief to impoverished American blues musicians. As fans of the blues in general and Taj Mahal in particular, we were all super excited for this intimate evening of music and good will. We knew that this was perhaps the only time we would ever have the opportunity to see Taj, who almost always traveled with a band, perform alone on stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar.

After having some car trouble (we got rear-ended on New York Ave in Washington DC by a federal police officer who was somewhat resistant to helping us get on our way), we made it to the venue. Our anticipation was palpable, a trio of grown adults as nervously excited as little kids who just found a dollar on the ground outside of a candy store. We could not wait to get inside and to get as close to the stage as possible to see this giant of a man sit atop a stool and bare his soul to us through six strings and a couple of microphones.

The opening acts, all older, poor blues musicians from different rural regions of America and recipients of Music Maker grants, were amazing in their own right. Then Taj Mahal got on stage. He was larger than life and we were in awe. His presence, his stature, his voice all overtook us as we watched. He talked for a bit and then picked at his guitar strings, noticing that it was a bit out of tune. He began tuning it and then shrugged, “Well, that’s good enough for folk music,” he said, and then he began playing and it was perfect.

The lesson I took away from this was that we can do our best to prepare, but when it is our time to step up and act, to do something for others, good enough is good enough to make a beginning. In the act of giving of ourselves generously and courageously, regardless of whether or not we are fully ready to do so, our mistakes and flaws are forgiven. It is in the doing that we find grace and perfection.

*Taj Mahal’s music goes way beyond blues, into folk, rock, Caribbean, African, and South Pacific musical influences and genres, but the blues is how I got into him.

Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

All photos by Robert Van Valkenburgh (artist unknown, unless otherwise noted).

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