Stephen Bennett helped me make it through many a dinner shift…

Did you ever have a job that made you feel like throwing up every time you went to work? I did. Back in 1998, I took a job waiting tables at a well-established restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia. When I was hired, I didn’t know the first thing about waiting tables. I was also suffering from pretty significant depression and anxiety. For the first few months of my employment, I was constantly stressed out and on the verge of hyperventilation and/or projectile vomiting. Fortunately, I eventually learned how to wait tables and the job became easier. I was finally promoted to dinner, meaning that I could be scheduled to work at night. On many Friday and Saturday nights in the late 1990s, a then local musician named Steve Bennett would play music.

Stephen Bennett plays guitar. Actually, he often plays a harp guitar, which he inherited from his great grandmother’s second husband, Edgar Pierce. Steve writes on his official Web site that his great grandmother was married to Pierce for over fifty years, so he thinks of him as his great grandfather, even though the man was not a blood relation. The harp guitar Steve Bennett inherited is a Dyer Brothers symphony harp guitar, which was manufactured in 1909.

Although Steve was born in Oregon, which is where his great grandparents lived, he grew up in New York. Consequently, he didn’t really know the man whose magnificent harp guitar he inherited and now enchants audiences with. When I knew Steve, he was living in my hometown, Gloucester, Virginia. He has since moved north to Milford, Connecticut with his wife, Nancy. He has released many albums, several of which I own, and has traveled the world playing his guitar and teaching others. When I check to see what he’s up to these days, I feel very fortunate that I got to hear him play every weekend as we worked stressful night shifts at the restaurant. His soothing music got me through many tough evenings.

A great video showing Stephen Bennett playing “The Water Is Wide” with many, many harp guitar players…

As I get older, I find myself seeking music that is… shall we say… a little more soothing to the soul. When I listen to Stephen Bennett’s recordings play, I remember watching him live as I worked at the restaurant and how lovingly he held his instruments as he finger picked and flat picked beautiful music. I was always amazed by how he was able to coax such intricate melodies from his guitars. Sometimes he would play popular songs that everyone knew. Sometimes he’d play original compositions. Sometimes he’d sing. I remember a couple of times, he’d have guest musicians play with him. He was pretty well-known in Williamsburg and the surrounding areas. I’m sure his presence is missed by those who used to love to listen to him play as they enjoyed fine cuisine on date night as well as those who were privileged to work in his presence. Virginia’s loss is Connecticut’s gain!

Here he plays “What Child Is This”/”Greensleeves”…

While I can’t say I always appreciated living in Gloucester, Virginia when I was growing up, I do love to look at Steve’s CDs and see Gloucester referenced in the credits. Like I said, I’m getting older and starting to appreciate more soothing things. I can now understand why my parents decided to settle in Gloucester back in 1980, having moved us from the Washington, DC area. Back in 1980, Gloucester was a quiet, rural, peaceful place surrounded by rivers. Thirty plus years later, it’s become a lot more populated. But compared to the sprawling metropolis of Newport News, Gloucester is still pretty tranquil. And though Stephen Bennett doesn’t live there anymore, his music often takes me back to the place where I grew up. It calms me down… and frankly, kind of inspires me to want to learn how to play guitar. I’ve tried to before, but it’s not as easy as he makes it look!

I didn’t enjoy a lot of the shifts I worked when I was waiting tables in Williamsburg, Virginia. But I can say that many good things came from that job. I made a lot of great friends, learned a lot about good food, lost a lot of weight, got driven into graduate school, and was introduced to Stephen Bennett, a stellar musician with a gift for producing wonderful music. If you like acoustic guitar music and have ever wondered about the harp guitar, I highly recommend checking out Stephen Bennett. And if he’s playing anywhere near where you are, you should definitely stop in for a show.

Stephen Bennett and Tommy Emmanual play a scorching rendition of “Puttin’ On The Ritz”. You have to see this to believe it!