The Nature of Listening: A Meditation on Spencer's Vanguard

Marcelo Quarantotto is an Argentine-American writer, photographer, filmmaker, and father living in Lynchburg, Virginia. Find more of his work at

Photo by Hannah Terzek

I arrived to Speakertree Records only a few minutes before the event began, giving me a sliver of time to slide backstage and trade daps with my friends who were about to perform. 

The back of the venue, a small cinder-blocked space cluttered with assorted store supplies, music memorabilia and hand-written graffiti from bands that have played there in the past, is separated from the stage by a door-sized curtain. Nick George, founder of The Listening, appeared through this curtain dreads-first with an invitation for the performers to pregame the show by joining hands in prayer.

As the circle formed, I was reminded that not everyone present claims to be a Christian. Even still, I am willing to wager good money that each of these folks — creative types — would unanimously agree that their abilities speak to (and draw from) something greater than the mental processes their personal egos identify as “I.” 

It’s that “something greater” that The Listening aims to display through a multitude of voices with a shared vision.

That “something greater,” though, is not uniformly perceived by the members of Spencer’s Vanguard. For some it exists beyond and for others it comes from deep within. The important insight isn’t the stated differences, however, but the understood connectivity made manifest through the holding of hands while large posters displaying the likenesses of Kenny Rogers and a many-eyed Abe Lincoln preside over a haphazard crew in broad hats, beanies, bandanas, torn denim and multicolored skin — kin to one another in more ways than one.

Pictured: B.A. Scott

Photo by Susan McLaren Photography

One performer — B.A. Scott — comically dished our orders like the captain of a sandlot baseball team. His horn-rimmed glassed shimmered beneath the lights, his head moving in union with his enthusiasm.

“I can lay down the bass but you have to bring us home! You’re the home run hitter,” B.A. said while looking at Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon.

There was a perceivable hint of mischief in the zen-like smile that grew on Jeremiah’s face. “No pressure,” he laughed.

We all laughed, having many times experienced Jeremiah’s music, which is equally magnificent in terms of his vocal ability, aesthetic sense and experimental fortitude.

B.A. continued the metaphor: “We’ll all be waiting at home base for you. Just bring it in.”

Low profile shoes and worn leather boots shuffled around the backstage confines as Nick took to the stage. The heterogenous crowd donned everything from hunting camo to bolo ties. Red and blue lights illuminating all. A quick breath and Nick began the opening ceremony — a syncopated incantation laced with dramatic pauses and melodic inflection.

At one point, he addressed the crowd directly (sans verse) about ongoing efforts to bolster the Lynchburg, Virginia, creative scene. “We’re trying to change this place, but the question remains …How?”

The question predicates the answer: Through poetry in loudspeakers and old journals. Through music like B.A.’s — jazz-minded keys and smooth vocals with no concern save a focus on this moment of creation revealed, spinning forth from fingertip and tongue like an ever-spreading gossamer of shared experience ... of love.

Photo by Susan McLaren Photography

It’s unlikely such a gathering existed anywhere else in Lynchburg that night, enjoying alternating performances of poetry and song. A rag-tag group not entirely unlike Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters (minus the psychedelic drugs and technicolor school bus, as far as I can gather) in their intention to go “Further” (sic) socially, creatively, spiritually … to manifest a fuller and clearer sense of what it means to be human. 

Instead of asking folks if they’ve ever passed the acid test, The Listening presents another question: “If you had a room filled with people willing to listen to you, what would you say?” 

Spencer’s Vanguard doesn’t answer for the crowd, but answers for themselves — as individuals and as a collective — through performance. 

For us, the members of the audience, our task is to find our own response to that call, using our inspirations as lamps to illuminate the path, but not to guide it. The only true guide will reveal itself through the inner alchemical processes of daily, surrendered practice.

Pictured: Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon

Photo by Susan McLaren Photography

I feel the effects of those processes when I come to these events. It’s the main reason I bother coming at all. I feel “something greater" coursing through and around me while watching Jeremiah perform a paired-down version of his experimental mixtape: piano and voice over bass-and-drum support.

Would it have been great to hear those songs in their fullest forms? Sure. But technical flourishes are not what interest me the most. They can even get in the way. What I’m seeking isn’t the resulting thrill of flavorful embellishments, but the great mystery that makes those elements cohesive. 

If what you do can be stripped of bells and whistles and what remains is a captivating revelation of the soul … well, then, you have me hooked.

I’m listening — with my mind, body and spirit.