Dylan Love: editorial gun for hire.

A Father’s Day gift 20 years in the making

John Hartford is a total golden treasure of a guy. When he was alive, he seemingly had two big loves: music and the Mississippi River. The latter would see him on long riverboat trips and the former saw playing banjo and violin all over the world.

He came to town when I was much younger and played on the steps of the Loudoun County Courthouse in Leesburg, Virginia. Dad’s a sucker for bluegrass, so he took the family to see the show. I estimate this was 1992, making me six years old.

After the show, Hartford proved to be the kind of guy up for hanging out and meeting people. I remember approaching him on the grass in front of the courthouse with a sheet of dot matrix printer paper, asking him for his signature. He was happy to provide it and to my delight, instead of some hasty scribble, he wrote out a gorgeous capital-A Autograph, the likes of which are only seen in archived letters from the Civil War.

That piece of paper got lost almost immediately, and then a bunch of life happened — John Hartford put out a few more albums before dying, my sister got married and moved to Oregon, I graduated college and wound up in New York, and somewhere in there I developed a love for playing banjo myself.

Out of nowhere just a few weeks ago, Mom found John Hartford’s autograph while sorting through old piles of who-knows-what, some 20 years after we had lost it. I am a dreadful gift-giver and blatant opportunist, so it seemed a pretty obviously great idea to give the long-lost autograph to Dad this Father’s Day (my normal gift-giving strategy is to thoughtlessly troll Amazon and buy the first book that reminds me of someone). Mom was kind enough to be an agent for me, getting it framed and even honoring my request to leave the holey strips attached to the paper.

So happy Father’s Day to a guy who has miles of patience, a two-ton heart, and an unquenchable thirst for jangly banjo music.

John Hartford under glass.