Moose goes to Merle Fest

        One day the Moose called, and said Neuse River needed to take a road trip.  He had heard through the bluegrass grapevine (this was before the days of the Internet) of a new festival way up in the mountains.  He thought it had potential, and the band needed to go.  It was in Wilkesboro, and was called the Watson Festival.  Moose was right- it was to be a big one, as it morphed into the now famous Merle Fest.

       Me and Moose, Rossie Douglas, and Jimmy Coltrane all loaded up the Neuse River converted school bus and headed west.

        We didn’t even have reservations.  We landed in the lobby of the only hotel in town at the time, instruments in tow.  Merle Fest was still a small affair in those days.  The lady checking us in spotted our instruments.

        “Welcome to Wilkesboro.  Are you boys artists?”

        “Howdy, ma’am.  My name is Dr. Tommy Bibey.  Yes ma’am, we are artists- we heard about the festival and….”

        Moose elbowed me, and motioned for me to move aside.  He saw an opportunity not to be overlooked.  “Yes, Ma’am.  We are.”  He produced a business card and flipped it on the counter.  “Neuse River- Harnett County.  We need to pick up our artist’s badges, if we could.  Also, if you would please show us to our rooms.  We’re opening for Peter Rowan at seven, and need to warm up.  I apologize for our tardiness- Dr. Bibey there ain’t much of a driver.”

        The woman went back into the adjacent office, and began to sift through some papers.  She looked flustered, and made a few calls.

        “GG, (Good Grief) Moose.  When she asked if we were artists, I think she meant like performers on the stage.  You’re gonna get us in trouble.”

        “NTW, (Not to worry) Doc.”  Moose was confident.  “You worry too much- it’s bad for your health.”

        In wasn’t but a minute, and the woman retrieved some documents indicating we were on the bill.   “I’m sorry for the delay, Mr. Dooley.  Your room will be available shortly.  Let’s see, that is four artist badges, is that correct?”

        “Yes ma’am, and thank you.”

        I couldn’t believe it.  When we got to the room, I inspected the contract.  All of us could read it, so the boys were certain I had nothing to do with it.  This was the work of the Moose. 

        “Hey Moose.  Where did that come from?  Is it forged?”

        “I dunno.  You worry too much.”

        And so it went.  Thanks to the Moose, and those passes, we had the run of the place.  We ate breakfast with Mac Wiseman and Earl Scruggs, and rode to the festival every day in the courtesy van, one day with Doc himself, the Moose chatting away with him like a long lost friend.  We picked in an onstage jam with Jack Lawrence- I thought we pushed our luck there- Moose was a fine banjo man, but I think Jack had some doubts about the qualifications of the mandolin player- and hung out backstage all weekend.  All in all it was large time, as we say in bluegrass.

        Even then, with no advertising other than word of mouth, it was clear Merle Fest was special.  It was slated for indoors at the Community College, but the venue was quickly overrun, and a second stage was set up outside on a flat-bed trailer.  It was just the kind of setup we were accustomed to, so the Moose was again right at home. 

        It might be hard to believe now, but back then the bluegrass business was new to Wilkesboro, and local law, as well as the public, were unfamiliar with the music world.  For most of them, their background in event security had been crowd control at the local NASCAR race.

        New Grass Revival was up next,  and the Moose was slouched over a fence waiting to take in the show.  About that time Bela Fleck came running up.  He was late and had left his I.D. badge at the hotel.  He was spotted by a burly security guard who was determined to deny him access.

        “I’m sorry son, if you don’t have a badge, you can’t come backstage. College President orders.  No tickee, no washee.”

        “But I’m Bela Fleck.  I play with Newgrass- we’re on in twenty minutes.”

        Moose noted the commotion, and moved to intervene.  He waved at the officer and flashed his artist pass.  “It’s O.K., officer, he’s one of us.” 

       The officer inspected Moose’s badge, called in on his two-way, motioned Bela on in, and turned to the Moose to apologize.  “Sorry, Mr. Dooley.  This music thing is new to us here.”

        “NAP, (Not a problem) Boss.”

        As so it continues to this day.  I learned early on it was best to have the Moose run interference for you, and filed away the experience for future reference.

        Merle Fest has since become the biggest acoustic music festival on the East Coast- check out their web site- it is sure enough one Dr. B recommends, and that ain’t fiction.

Dr. B

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