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In this special guest blog post, songwriter Jim Broyles discusses the mystery behind the real-life events that inspired his folk musical Davey Do You See the Light? Jim will perform Davey in its entirety in Daniels Hall at Swallow Hill Music on Saturday, March 21. Jim, who plays guitar, will be joined on stage by Steef Sealy on banjo, Chris Sealy on mandolin, Benjamin Cowhick on bass and Luke Halpin on fiddle. Together, they present an emotionally engaging tale in rhyming verse, woven together by a collection of original songs with elegant harmonies and vivid instrumentation.
Davey Fellin, a real life coal miner gifted with clairvoyance, is the unlikely hero of my folk musical called Davey, Do You See the Light?
We’ll be performing it on the evening of March 21st in Daniels Hall at Swallow Hill. It’s our CD release concert, where we will proudly present the cast recording that was so beautifully produced by Brian Hunter in Swallow Hill’s Sawtelle Recording Studio.
Each member of the cast brought their very best into the studio this past year. The vocal harmonies are crisp, the lyrics are compelling and the instrumentation is boldly driven. Brian’s engineering work is simply brilliant.
Davey is an epic tale rendered in poetic verse with original songs woven throughout. As strange as it may seem, it comes directly from the accounts of the miners who lived out the story in 1963.
Although it happened in real life, there is something deeply enchanting and other-worldly about this story. It captivated me at the time it happened—I was turning thirteen at the time—and the spell was cast once again when I began working on the music and poetry of Davey.
At the end of Act One, Davey and his companion Hank are hopelessly trapped in total darkness deep inside a Pennsylvania coal mine. A mysterious blue light appears, and a Dark Stranger—a priest dressed in black–speaks to them from within its glow. The miners learn that their salvation relies on a journey that the Stranger has compelled them to take.
Hank declines the offer, but Davey accepts, not sure where he is headed:
My passage begins now I am told
The universe is vast and cold
My destination unrevealed
My purpose yet remains concealed
I sense my spirit now to rise
I begin to dream with open eyes
Captured by this paradigm
I traverse lands now lost to time
The ancient capitals now in view
I’ll do what I was called to do
The question still a mystery
And the answer still eludeth me
Events that here shall be observed
Conspire to make my purpose served
And with these words, Davey leaves his body and, with “the wind in his sails,” undertakes a journey into the infinite universe, during which he witnesses the most important events of human history. He sees the building of the Egyptian pyramids, spends time on Columbus’s ship and takes in the entire span of civilization in the blink of an eye.
Most importantly, he succeeds in learning the lesson he was sent to learn. And in the moment of this insight, he returns to the desolate cavern and the sound of drilling is heard above. The incredible rescue is underway!
Was there some linkage between Davey’s astral voyage and the extraordinary luck the rescuers had in reaching the trapped miners? Did the Stranger somehow cause it to happen? Is there some supernatural purpose to the lesson Davey learned? Would he share it with the rest of us?
These are the enduring questions that the production seeks to answer. When we look at the remaining years of Davey’s life, some pieces begin to fall into place and the purpose of his journey begins to make more sense.
It’s our great fortune that the details of Davey’s experience were carefully documented by a journalist named Ed Conrad in the years leading up to Davey’s passing in 1990. The out-of-body travels are also explained in extensive video interviews that Conrad did with Davey in those years.
In the summer of 2018, I went to Pennsylvania and located Ed Conrad, now a much older man still living in the region where these events took place. He gave me a pile of documents and video recordings that became the basis of my folk musical.
Most telling to me was the reaction that Davey’s community had to his revelations about the visions. To a world that was (and still is!) oriented to rational thought and conventional cause-and-effect, these were strange and difficult things to understand. As events unfolded, they became less important than the sensationalized tabloid story of the rescue, which was a global front page media event.
The conclusion that virtually everyone reached was that, of course, these were just hallucinations—common occurrences to those trapped in darkness for days. The American Journal of Psychiatry even published an article that dismissed the possibility of supernatural events and explained it all in common sense terms.
There was never any further need to explain the journey.
So Davey and Hank lived out the remaining years of their lives without sharing much about what they saw. But they never denied any of it either. They feared they would be judged insane if they said too much. That is, until Ed Conrad met Davey at a funeral for a mutual friend and all the details came spilling out.
Davey, Do You See the Light? takes on the question of why Davey had kept quiet about the fundamental wisdom he had acquired. In the finale of the show, he reveals it to us.
People tell me that Davey sparked deep philosophical conversations with their partners after they left the theater. Some have told me that months later they are still thinking about what they experienced—musically, poetically and spiritually.
Come see the show and decipher the mystery for yourself.