Author: Little, Cameron

Play It Forward

Pay it forward: a term originating in ancient Greece, and used by folks from Ben Franklin to Robert A. Heinlein, describing the beneficiary of a good deed repaying it to others instead of to the original benefactor.

(The following story occurred as a result of my August column, which you can read at, where I lamented the need to return my beloved CBA Lending Library loaner mandolin.)

It happened just after a big plate of nachos at Plymouth Bluegrassin' in the Foothills bluegrass festival. Skies were overcast with intermittent showers.

I was headed to track down a jam or two, when Bruce Long, who many of you know as the Darrel Johnston Kids Instrument Lending Library czar, moseyed up to my picnic table and said, "Hey, Cam. If you have some time, J.D. Rhynes wants to talk to you."

J.D. is a well-known character in these parts and beyond, and I figured it'd be a good idea to hup-to, so we strolled over and found J.D., Darby Brandli, and Lisa Burns seated on a picnic table near the festival audience area.

I reintroduced myself around the table and assumed they were going to ask me to volunteer for something. Either that or I was going to get in trouble for something I may or may not have forgotten I'd done the night before. I hoped it was the volunteering for something.

Bruce bent down to pick up a mandolin case. He handed it to me saying, "Open it."

Figuring this was his mystical way to show me a lending library instrument, I flipped the latches. Inside was a brand new mandolin, a very pretty The Loar LM-500-VS F-style mandolin.

"Here," said Bruce. "This is for you."

"Are you serious right now?" I said.


I sputtered. "This is for me?"


"To keep?"


"Forever?" I glanced around the table.

They assured me it was mine to keep forever.

At this point, J.D. gravelled, "I don't want to hear that you ever sold this cuz you'd better play it 'til the day you die, or if you find yourself not being able to play it any longer just pass on to some other young'un who can use it."

I experienced a momentary loss of words, which, for those of you who know me, has occurred my lifetime thus far. I went all fuzzy-headed as reality registered in my disbelieving brain. I had just been given a brand new mandolin. At that moment of realization I felt a big 'ol mandolin grin stretch across my face. And then I must've gotten something in my eye because I had to swipe away some moisture.

They had me play it a bit and the sound and feel made my heart quicken. I was running so much adrenaline by then I could barely strum, but the mando still performed perfectly. The picnic table gang then told me how this all came to be: it seems that after reading my August column, J.D. thought it'd be a good idea to have some folks chip in and buy me a mandolin. And just like that, a group of friends changed a young guy's life for the better. For the much better.

After a bit we all decided to get back to festivating, plus I couldn't wait to get into jam mode with the new baby. I hugged and shook hands all around the picnic table, and walked away with The Loar in my hand, feeling like a proud, new daddy.

As the saying goes, "With great power comes great responsibility." These people who banded together at the suggestion of J.D. Rhynes, some who know me personally and most who know me best through my monthly column and volunteering, entrusted me with a beautiful mandolin. They asked for nothing in return but I see it as my responsibility, indeed what I owe to the mandolin itself, to keep sharing the music that I love. To continue to share bluegrass, old time, and old country music with all ages, and to get lucky enough sometimes to ignite that spark in others. And I can't wait to do something like this for some other kids down the road. This is how I will pay and play it forward.

My heart is full of thanks to Jon Blummel, Dave Brace, Darby Brandli, Rick Cornish, Bert Daniel, Tim Edes, Larry Kuhn, George Martin, Jeanie Ramos, Dave Nielsen, Karl Pagter, J.D. Rhynes, and Jason Winfree. You people rock.

I guess I still have something in my eye....
Posted:  10/19/2013

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email