I lost a friend this weekend.
He wasn’t my oldest friend or best friend or my closest friend, but a friend I feel grateful that our paths happen to cross. Even that sounds weak compared to the …
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I lost a friend this weekend.
He wasn’t my oldest friend or best friend or my closest friend, but a friend I feel grateful that our paths happen to cross. Even that sounds weak compared to the impact he had.
James Olin Oden.
The man was an ogre — maybe even seven feet tall — and before the cancer hit, he had long locks of saxon hair and a beard that fit the caricature of something out of a fantasy novel.
He was a musician and could play any instrument. If you’ve been to any Shakori Hills festival in the past 10 years, you probably run across James. While as a performer, he often donned his guitar, but I will always know him best as a flute player.
I first ran across James at the Bynum Bridge. A group of us were going to watch the full moon on the summer solstice. I mean, do you really need much more of a reason to spend time with good people outdoors on a summer evening?
We met for the first time on the Bynum side of the bridge. His size could have been disconcerting, but his demeanor was not. Pleasantries were exchanged and about five of us began making our way toward the middle of the bridge.
As I picked up a mimosa blossom and put it behind my ear, James began to play his flute. It was like magic. We all practically floated down the bridge. As about a dozen of us chatted, joked, and enjoyed the summer air, James serenaded us with an impromptu jam — as he was known to do.
That night, we all grew closer as friends and family. It is still one of my favorite memories of all time. Pure joy.
The next time I saw him was at the fall Shakori when Hurricane Matthew struck the annual music festival. I found James where one could often find him, playing an impromptu jam under the coffee barn lean-to.
As the storm swirled and pounded around us, James and a merry band of minstrels played song after song. James, mostly on the flute, with a bottle of whiskey in his pocket that I may or may not have split with him.
Shakori was practically James’ second home. He started coming as a ticket holder then later as a performer. He would roam from campsite to campsite, playing music and creating songs about the festival.
Shakori’s gentle giant never met a stranger and was always game to meet new people. He even traveled up to the mountains to a disc golf tournament, even though he doesn’t play, because he was told a lot of cool people would be there. He played music for the players all day and night.
When James became sick, the outpouring of support was an amazing thing to see. Shakori provided him an opportunity to use one of the stages last fall to host an open jam for any musician that wanted to play with him, perhaps for the last time. His signature locks were gone, a victim of the cancer treatment, and he had difficulty raising himself up out of his chair, requiring the aid of a cane.
I found myself weeping that day, full of the knowledge that his time was growing short. And I was inspired by the huge group of friends and strangers who came to listen to and play with him. He was magic.
James could spread love to any crowd. And when he passed on Saturday to a rare form of cancer, a collective wail could be heard across the state. The posts of remembrances and love came from musicians, artists, and people who I didn’t even realize knew him. He made an impact.
He lived a life worth living.
Shakori will be hosting a memorial to James at their upcoming spring festival in May.