Saturday night my husband surprised me. We have a long tradition of planning mystery dates for each other, often for special occasions or as the result of a bet. But sometimes we are just inspired by an opportunity that comes along. A friend of mine remarked that he is impressed by how we are able to do these things for each other and “keep the magic alive.” I am thankful that we are committed to this and feel like it’s absolutely necessary. If we didn’t do lovely things for each other sometimes, we would go insane. These outings remind us why we love each other and that there’s more to life than paying medical bills and playing pretend with our daughter.

But usually I am a good guesser and it can be hard for my husband to keep his plans a complete mystery. Saturday, however, he had arranged for Zoe to have a sleepover at my parents’ house, and had orchestrated our afternoon so we dropped her off by 4pm. I thought because of the hour we were going out of town. Then he was trying to figure out the best route from my parents’ house to our destination. He mentioned Mt. Vernon so then I thought we were going to or near George Washington’s house, which seemed like an odd choice for a date. But then he said Mt. Vernon Avenue, and I knew we were going to the Birchmere.

I have seen dozens of concerts at the Birchmere and never been disappointed. Eddie from Ohio, Cheryl Wheeler, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Hem, Greg Brown, Cry Cry Cry, and a bunch of other amazing artists. And I have on many occasions seen Dar Williams. She is one of my favorites. I have all her cds.

So I was totally surprised when we drove into the Birchmere parking lot and the marquee read DAR WILLIAMS. Not surprised that Randy would take me to her show, but that I had no idea she was in town. I didn’t know she was touring. I was thrilled and totally impressed by my husband’s stealth and cleverness.

The show was wonderful. The Birchmere, which has historically served terrible food that you are more or less forced to eat because if you get there early enough to get a good seat, you might as well eat, has gotten a new chef or at least a new menu. We had great meals. The opening act was the Sweater Set, who I had never heard of but were fun and talented and played the flute and glockenspiel, among other instruments. And Dar’s set was wonderful. She played new songs and old songs and songs in between, and told her trademark weird little stories in between. She brought her guitar and a piano (and pianist to play it) so the music was pared down to its essential goodness and not overwhelmed by a drum set.

And best of all, afterward she came out into the lobby to talk with fans. We waited in line for a while and when it was our turn I told Dar about how the role her music played in our early courtship. When Randy placed the personal ad on that he was required to post in order to respond to my ad, he mentioned that, if a first date went well, he might take someone to the Dar Williams show at the 9:30 Club on April 19. It turns out that our first date and our second date and several consecutive dates went sufficiently well that, when we went to Dar’s show at the 9:30 Club on April 19 (which happens to be both Dar’s birthday and mine), I thought he might propose. He didn’t, but he did ask me to marry him just two weeks later. When we got married, Dar’s cds were the only duplicates in our music collections (Randy’s was mostly classical, mine primarily folk and rock).

So I told Dar all this and she seemed to think it was cute. She said she was glad it all worked out and that she could see we were very compatible. I’m not sure what about us illustrates that, but it must be true.