Point of No Return — Love of harmonica helps forge connection

Date Published: 
July 14, 2017

Life is a series of connections.

If we’re fortunate enough, we form our first connection with our parents. These are the people charged with shaping us, teaching us about responsibilities and accountability, and putting food in our bellies and a roof over our heads. We then make connections with siblings, friends, teachers, coaches and, yes, pets. We connect later with bosses and co-workers, lovers and neighbors, foes and allies.

Each connection leads to further connections down the line, and each of those connections leaves a tiny, or significant, mark on us, helping form the people we ultimately become. Our personalities are often driven by those we most often come into contact with, and some connections leave an indelible mark on our hearts that will stand the test of time.

People who served together in the military often forge these kinds of connections. Time and distance apart do nothing to weaken these connections, as a shared experience — or series of experiences — creates a permanent bond that time won’t erase. You also see this often with college roommates or students and teachers or teammates.

Scanning the sports pages the other day, I saw that the Kansas City Chiefs hired Brett Veach to be their new general manager. For those with better things to do than breathlessly follow the hierarchy of NFL franchises, the general manager job is a big one — this is the person who collects talent, often hires and fires head coaches and is basically the top dog in terms of football operations.

It’s a really good gig.

Veach’s name rang a bell with me, but I couldn’t figure out why it did. This is a pretty common thread with me, as my increasingly poor memory leads me to forget where I’m going, what...

What was I talking about?

Veach, that’s right. Unable to place the name, I resorted to Google and discovered that he was a wide receiver for the University of Delaware from 1998 to 2001, under legendary coach Tubby Raymond. He was on the 2000 team that made it to the national semifinals. A link to a Kansas City Star article taught me that Veach is not the only former Blue Hen working with the Chiefs — the team’s co-offensive coordinator, Matt Nagy, was a quarterback for UD during that time, and another link showed an impressive touchdown pass from Nagy to Veach.

Apparently both men worked for Chiefs coach Andy Reid when he was in Philadelphia, and moved to Kansas City when he took that job. See what I mean about connections?

I filed away a few of these stories on Tuesday so I could put together this column Wednesday morning, and I went out for a night of fun with Susan Lyons and her husband, Andy, with a clear mind, actually knowing what I was going to write about the next morning.

But things can change quickly, right?

After a fantastic dinner, we hit the Freeman Stage at Bayside, excited about seeing Blues Traveler, a band I hadn’t seen play live since the mid-1990s. When we got to our seats, the opening band, Blind Wind, was already on stage. Blind Wind is a two-man team from Ocean City, consisting of Frankie Moran on vocals and guitar, and his 14-year-old son, Cole, on harmonica, and they already had the crowd enthused and energetic.

I remembered Blind Wind from a front-page photo we had run a few years ago. It was a photo of Cole blowing on that harmonica, and the caption told us that he was born blind, with cognitive disabilities and early-onset scoliosis. Our photographer at the time, Chris Clark, told me to go see them play — that they were really great musicians, and that Cole was extremely talented.

Time has a habit of getting in the way of my best intentions, so I never did get the chance to see Blind Wind play, until Tuesday night.

Wow.

They were both fantastic, and Cole blew everybody away with his work on the harmonica. Each song was met with hoots and applause from the crowd, and a standing ovation carried them off the stage at the end of their set. One could sense that part of the outpouring came from an appreciation for Cole’s efforts, part because of the warm father-son element and part because of the sheer excellence of their performance.

I leaned over to my wife and said, “Those two will be able to tell people forever they warmed up the crowd for Blues Traveler.”

Speaking of which, Blues Traveler was great. John Popper was still John Popper, making a harmonica do things a harmonica shouldn’t be able to do, and pouring every ounce of energy he had into each song. The band went from one song into the next, often without ever finding silence in between, and each musician of the band was highlighted throughout the show to showcase the talent that was assembled before us.

As the show reached its conclusion and the band made their way off stage, the crowd rose in unison, begging Blues Traveler to return for an encore.

They did, and they had Cole Moran with them.

Standing next to arguably the greatest harmonica player of his generation, young Cole held his own and was highlighted by the rest of the band while Popper accompanied him.

I guess his story is now a little cooler than warming up the crowd for Blues Traveler. He made a whole new connection.