MerleFest- Mandolin Disney World (and more)

        For an old mandolin player MerleFest is better than Disney World.  So many choices, just not enough time.  There is more to it than just mandolins, or just bluegrass.  At MerleFest you can take in a Marty Stuart country show, (he is a heck of a mando man too) or Roy Bookbinder blues.  Anywhere a banjo player jams with a rock ‘n roll xylophone artist and a jazz clarinetist is eclectic if nothing else.

        I like the workshops.  Claire Lynch led the vocal one.  I could never sing like Ms. Lynch, but I enjoyed the harmony part pointers.  She said, “If you can sing your part, you can find work.”  I took comfort in that.  A bluegrass band is much like a good baseball team, where everyone brings their strength to the table- the trick is the blend.  I knew from the start I was no star, and I had to work to even be a serviceable part singer.  With  Ms. Lynch’s comments, it occurred to me I had found my part in the music world a long time ago, and I was thankful to have it.

        The mandolin workshop was led by Tony Williamson, a mainstay of the mandolin community for many years.  Also on stage was new face for me in the mandolin word, a Miss Rebecca Lovell.  This kid could play!  Anyone who says bluegrass ain’t gonna attract any young people best take another look.  The lovely young lady was the first woman to win the Merle Fest mandolin competition.  She is one of those folks God put on Earth whose talent will make our journey more bearable.      

        Tony Williamson is an old hand, but still a world class player.  I was intrigued with his back up work- intricate passing chords in the Texas tradition.  Someone asked where to go to learn the material, and we were surprised to learn no one had a definite reference for it other than in Mr. Williamson’s brain.  The suggestion was made to do a DVD on the technique.  I have struggled for years to get a small part if it, so an instructional piece on the subject is one I’d love to see someday. 

        MandoMania was Saturday’s highlight.  Tony Williamson again played and moderated, and the best players in the world were gathered on one stage.  (I direct you Ted Lehmann’s blog for pictures, he always posts the best collection.)  Sam Bush, Mike Compton, Tim O’Brien, all my perennial old favorites, along with the new Miss Lovell, and another teen-aged sensation Sierra Hull, just tore it down.  My favorite new man on the national scene was Darin Aldridge.  This guy played with as fine a tone as anyone I’ve heard.  He is a top ten in the world mandolinist.

        It struck me how there is room for all sort of folks in the mandolin world.  Bluegrass superstar Sam Bush was there with Tony Williamson, flanked by two talented teen-aged girls, one from Tennessee and one from Georgia. 

        The bluegrass is a small world after all.  Here was a young woman, Miss Lovell, who studied classical violin and piano as a child, and Darin Aldridge, who grew up in the small town of Cherryville, N.C.  His training was on the road- he went to work right out of high school and toured with Acoustic Syndicate and then Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen.  Their backgrounds could not be more diverse, yet both jammed along at the highest level of artistry.  

        Later, I got caught out in an afternoon thunderstorm, and ducked into a building for cover.  ( I have always been a rational sort- I did not want to be remembered as the country doc who got struck by lightening in a port-a-john.)  Mr. Aldridge was there with his band the Circuit Riders, and I stopped to take it in.  These guys just cooked straight up bluegrass for a full hour.  Perfect harmony- dead on picking.  I pondered how many years of practice went into the refinement of that talent.  It didn’t happen overnight.  Representatives of the Red Carpet were so taken by their show they turned down their beds and put chocolates on their pillows to acknowledge best performance by a new band at the Festival.

        We try to catch Doc Watson every time we can, and took in both his Saturday night and Sunday morning show.  I have every album Doc ever did, but but my favorite is his gospel work.  His version of “What A Friend We Have in Jesus” moves me every time.  Honest simple elegance- pure Doc.  Doc once said he would rather be remembered for being a good human being than for his guitar picking.  It says much about him- he is one of the best in the world, yet remains genuine and humble. 

        After Doc’s Sunday gospel set, we caught one more from my favorite new MerleFest artist, Darin Aldridge.  This time he did some tunes with his fiance, Brooke Justice, and she is a gem.  They said they have a gospel CD due out in a month.  They have a MySpace page. I’m gonna check it out and see if I can review it.  I sense, as the song said, they have “only just begun.” 

        When I left out for MerleFest a few days ago, I was one more tired little doctor/writer.  My agent recognized it, and suggested I take a break and recharge.  His advice proved wise.  I had a weekend to reflect on where to go next. 

        Right before I left, he told me a big editor from New York might read my book rough draft when I finished it.  I was shocked, and even scared.  I mean, how in the world is an unknown country Doc gonna attract the attention of a big city editor?  They get thousands of manuscripts every month and I’m sure Tommy Bibey ain’t on their mind one bit.

       I almost panicked.  I couldn’t write that good.  I had to get better, and real fast- like tomorrow.  What was I going to do?  So far, my agent has been smart.  I followed his advice, and turned to the music for inspiration.  Over the weekend it came to me.

        It’s like Ms. Lynch said.  “If you can sing your part you can find work.”  All I can write about is the life of a country Doc.  I can only try to be like Doc Watson- true to to myself.  If no one publishes a word I write, then it wasn’t meant to be, but all I can be is what I am.  I gotta be like that Darin Aldridge, who is from a little town but not scared to have big dreams.  So, I’m gonna just have to write about what I know and hope for the best.

        Now my blog is six months old, and has ten thousand hits.  You guys have now persevered through the world’s longest “About the Author.”  Now I am comfortable enough with you to let you inside my world as a Doctor.

        So, with my next post, I will introduce you to a friend of mine, Dr. Henry “Indian” Jenkins and start to show you around.

        See you in a few days. 

Dr. B

Explore posts in the same categories: memorable gigs

12 Comments on “MerleFest- Mandolin Disney World (and more)”

  1. amberfireinus Says:

    Dr. B. You know, you do have a really important part. You inspire and you amuse with your wit, your honesty and your charm. Not a common occurance in the “big city”.

    You don’t need to be the most skilled writer, you simply need to be you. I mean.. you are authentic and original. How many Bluegrass country music playing doctor/writers are there out there? Not too many I suspect. You have a unique view on the world.

    I could say that about my own blog you know. After all…Im a simple housewife living in Napa right? *wink*

    Keep writing.

    P.S. Did you see my latest medical triumph? Im quite impressed with myself I must say…lol

  2. Ted Lehmann Says:

    Darn! I kept my eye peeled for you, but between my taking photos and Irene’s serving as photo assistant, taking some great pics herself, and focusing on the music as only she can, it just didn’t happen. I took some pics of people I thought might be you, and I’ll post them if I have space and time. The fact that there’s about 20,000 people a day there and fourteen different venues makes it hard to connect with people you know, let alone those who you don’t. Hope to meet you soon, but maybe you’ll remain something like one of those literary ghosts who never achieve reality. Gotta go write. – Ted

  3. drtombibey Says:

    Hey thanks Ms. Amber. I reckon we all got our own story, huh? The blog crowd all seems to have a good one.

    Will go check out your blog- just getting settled back in and have been off line a few days.

    Dr. B

  4. drtombibey Says:


    Have checked out your blog- great MerleFect reviews- the most comprehensive anywhere I know of. I saw a lot of press/photojournalist folks there- are you one of them? I’m just a face in the crowd, brother, but it was a huge crowd sure enough.

    Dr. B

  5. Mrs. Chili Says:

    I’m looking forward to being brought along on the next step in your journey, Doc. Thanks for having me!

  6. drtombibey Says:

    Bless your heart chili. You and the English Professor are among the first to follow my journey, and I thank you for coming along. I have learned a bunch from both of you.

    Dr. B

  7. Rahma Says:

    Greetings Dr. B:
    Glad I kept reading down your post since I caught the ‘hidden’ reference to your book draft. I always suspected that there might be a book in the making from you and am looking forward to meeting your characters.

    In reference to ‘being comfortable enough to let us inside your world as a Doctor’, I have thought about this phenomenom of blogging. What drives us to talk to perfect strangers all around the world? How much the element of trust is involved in becoming comfortable enough to reveal our thoughts/our lives. You seem to have a lot of dedicated readers and that has to be rewarding.

    Even more so, in writing a book, any book, involves months of dipping down into ourselves and capturing the right moments, the right words. It’s an awesome process.

    I am glad that you have taken the time and energy to write about aspects of your life which are all too rare now, i.e. country doctors and bluegrass mandolin players.

  8. pandemonic Says:

    Seems like you have the most fun on the weekends. You must be exhausted!

  9. drtombibey Says:

    Shoot fire Ms. Pande, I’m just a rocking ‘n rolling. I ain’t been tired since 1957 or so. (Had the measles)

    Dr. B

  10. drtombibey Says:


    You are most perceptive. Indeed the main character of my book is going to be introduced in my next post. It is almost ready, and will go up tonight or first thing in the am.

    You are right- I have gotten comfortable that my readers are willing to let me be me and not quit reading, so I am ready to tell more.

    Dr. B

  11. kwjwrites Says:

    First – I love mandolin. I’d give a body part to be able to play one! Second – it’s rewarding to attend workshops and classes led by people who make sense to us. I’m going to do that this summer, and I can’t wait! Finally – I’m starting to sing again. I used to sing in a band at church, and I miss using my voice like I use words. One day, I hope to meet up with you in person and see which songs we have in common.

    Kim J.

  12. drtombibey Says:


    You know, I love the doctor gig, and have three years left on my full time contract. After that I plan to re-sign, but cut back a little and travel some. At that point, I hope to get all of my blog friends up to speed on my mandolin/band/book/whatever tour and see a bit of the country.

    Dr. B

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