Chuck Stewart’s photography provided by Fireball Entertainment Group, courtesy of Chuck Stewart Photographs of John Coltrane, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Fog settles over the Ozarks. A car, winding through the hills, stops short—a mountain lion is slinking across the road, in patient, determined pursuit. Southward, in Little Rock, a group of Southern film devotees gathers in a basement to view an early screening of Jeff Nichols’s Midnight Special. Nearby, a gospel quartet warms up, summoning the Holy Spirit, ready to take their next audience to church.
One evening in Nashville, a man walks down the railroad tracks, singing, and his voice rolls through the heavy air. In Meridian, Mississippi, a child runs barefoot in dry grass, chasing lightning bugs—yellow lights that disappear just as his hands reach toward them.
It’s humid in Alabama. On a makeshift sandlot pitcher’s mound, a lanky kid begins his wind-up to the tune of a song he alone can hear. It’s a lilting number, chaotic and beautiful, clarinets and fiddles weaving intricately. He lifts his arms above his head. He could be the greatest ever, the poet laureate of baseball, he thinks—then he smiles, takes a deep breath, and delivers another swinging strike.
It’s nighttime in Mississippi. A bluegrass legend, alone in the hills, rolls into a familiar lick, catches a wrong note, winces, and sighs a hot, whiskey breath. Letters between lost friends float by, lifted on a westerly wind.
It’s snowing in the South. A woman rises early, looks out her window at the sheets of ice, and then, smiling, falls back into bed. In an apartment down the hall, Stephen Curry highlights play on TV, and someone sings, They could have had him any day, they only let him slip away.
Dusk falls in the city. In a small and dimly lit corner bar, a jazz collective tunes up their horns, preparing to combust rhythms into the night. A man, trying to find the club on Google Maps, stops for a passing group of black-dressed mourners. From his car window he sees a young woman leaving a used bookstore with a copy of C. D. Wright’s Cooling Time.
A collector ambles down to his basement, tripping on boxes packed with rabid miscellany. He hears Julien Baker’s “Blacktop” wilting from the turntable in the living room. Somewhere on the highway, a car idles in the snow, its headlamps brightening the darkness beyond the shoulder.