Jo Rae has turned up outside Addison Road Community Organisation’s Food Pantry with her banjo in tow and a small amplifier.
She has a clutch of folk songs to play about workers’ struggles and sufferings from another time and place. Not to mention some tales of love gone wrong and love gone right.
The words take on the strange timeless energy of old storytelling that needs repeating, and hard-won wisdoms that need to get won again.
Jo also has a handful of originals that have much the same ageless, reassuring quality. She says “music is a great thing in bleak times. I came along today because I thought playing for people might lift some fears. The banjo itself is something that naturally seems to lift stress,” she says, shrugging her shoulders like it’s a little mystery.
As of to prove her point, Jo hooks into a song of her own called ‘Tathra’. She explains later that “it’s about the place, yes. I was there recently with my friends. Resting, being peaceful, rejuvenating.” Those were the days.
People relish the sparks of communal joy in the song as Jo plays on. A couple start to jig on the road. Some children pull up seats in front of Jo and watch her with intense curiosity. “First time I’ve seen them paying that much attention to anyone,” their mother says wryly.
Everyone is seated or standing as they wait to shop at Addi Road’s Food Pantry. They take their positions on the white crosses that have been marked for them, a precise 1.5 metres apart on the ground. Social distancing, safely apart as these COVID-19 times demand. “Looks like Arlington War Cemetery,” a customer jokes.
Numbers are called out from the door of the Food Pantry and people steadily leave their white crosses behind to enter inside and get their day’s groceries, fruit and vegetables, and sourdough bread. Another person takes a white cross and waits their turn.
The sharp bright sound of Jo’s banjo and the lyrics of her song ‘Tathra’ vibrate through the crowd. She sounds like she’s lamenting – but she’s happy as can be. “Like river rocks we’re tessallating into stable configurations of love.”
– Story by Mark Mordue