My mother likes to say she was born singing.

But me? Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. The only people who know haven’t seen me since I was born, in China, twenty-two years ago. By the time my parents got me and brought me to this country, I hadn’t spoken a word in months.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t not talk on purpose. I was just listening. I like listening.

And somewhere along the way, maybe while my mother was reliving her days in the opera, belting out arias while she cooked, I decided to start singing, too.

So in this life, I sang before I talked. Music unlocked something inside of me. It still does.

When I hold my guitar—a Gibson L-200 like Emmylou Harris plays—when I hold it, my heartbeat slows and matches the vibration of the strings. It’s got a rosewood fingerboard that feels like it was made for my hands. The mother-of-pearl inlay on the floral vine design on the pickguard is so beautiful, it almost makes me cry.

People say the guitar is as big as me, but it just sounds that way. That’s the sound of maple, and good craftsmanship. We toured the factory in Memphis once, and when we came out to Montana the first time for the Jewel Bay Jazz Festival, my dad wrangled us a tour of the Bozeman factory, too. They don’t usually do that, but my dad is pretty good at getting people to do things they don’t usually do.

I’ve been to a lot of festivals the last few years. Some, like this one, include workshops, and I’ve gotten to learn from some of the finest guitarists and singers in the country. Most of the people who come to study or teach or play at the Jewel Bay Festival are really nice. If they’re not, they don’t get invited back.

In Jewel Bay, it seems like the whole town turns out to hear us play. When we walk down the streets—or street, because there’s only one street downtown, what they call the Village—people call out to us and thank us for the music. Even the really famous musicians have fun here, because they get treated like ordinary people. Once in New York, I saw Bette Midler buying Easter candy for her kids, and the clerks and other shoppers were like “Oh, hi, it’s you. Dark chocolate or milk?” And that’s how it is here, too. A nod of the head, a flick of the brows as if to say “I know who you are and thanks for being here—now, what kind of toast would you like with those eggs?”

But I will admit, sometimes my parents bug me. I know they only want the best for me. The best schools and teachers, the best stages, the best managers and promoters. But after playing here, I’m not sure that their idea of best and mine are the same. My parents may not think much of Jackson Mississippi Boyd and his blues guitar, but his songs make me dance inside. I’ve gotten to hear country artists, and take a master class from the guys who started the LA Guitar Quartet. A flamenco guitarist and his painter wife invited me over for dinner, and I learned more about music and life from them than in an entire semester at the conservatory.

It’s hard to figure out what’s best, you know? When somebody else has always had an idea what you ought to do next, laying it out—and paying for it.

But after what happened this summer, well, I know you’ve got to play your own songs. You’ve got to listen, and learn, and speak when you have something to say. No backing down, no biting your tongue.

So me and my guitar, we’re going to hit the road.

But I’ll always come back to Jewel Bay.


You can read more about Gabby in Tremble At The Jam Fest, the fourth book in the “Food Lovers’ Village” mystery series.

Erin Murphy, manager of Murphy’s Mercantile (aka the Merc), is tuning up for Jewel Bay’s annual Jazz Festival. Between keeping the Merc’s shelves stocked with Montana’s tastiest local fare and hosting the festival’s kick-off concert, Erin has her hands full.

Discord erupts when jazz guitarist Gerry Martin is found dead on the rocks above the Jewel River. The one-time international sensation had fallen out of sync with festival organizers, students, and performers. Was his death an accident? or did someone even the score?

Despite the warning signs to not get involved, Erin investigates. And when the killer attacks, she orchestrates her efforts into one last crescendo, hoping to avoid a deadly finale.

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About the author
Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two national best-selling series, the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana, and the Spice Shop Mystery, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Death Al Dente, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. The immediate past president of Sisters in Crime, she lives and cooks in NW Montana.

Find her online at www.LeslieBudewitz.com and on Facebook.

All comments are welcomed.

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