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.