Doc Watson/David Holt
Last night we went down the road to Spindale, N.C., the home of WNCW radio, for a festival and concert by Doc Watson and David Holt. Trust old Dr. B and put this on your calendar for next year; these folks know music. We sat up our lawn chairs on a gentle grass slope right in front of the stage. The backdrop was a small lake/large duck pond. The wind whipped up a few waves and the leaves fluttered around. All the best regional bands were there. Very soon I forgot of the troubles I brought with me.
If you have never seen Doc Watson, the time to go is now. Like the Appalachian mountains he still calls home, Doc has seen a lot in his time and he continues to express it in his artistry. He is genuine, no put on whatsoever. David Holt led him to the stage. Doc was in a flannel shirt and had on some kinda dark dungarees, white socks and worn brown brogans. As he tuned up my heart pounded with the anticipation of a small child. I have heard him many times, and yet never grown tired of Doc. He is as comfortable as a front porch session and yet brilliant. He began to play. My wife and did not speak a word until the first break for fear we might miss a note.
David Holt was the perfect picking partner for Doc. His respect for him was clear. He’d coax Doc into telling old stories, some of which I’d never heard. Doc told us how his dad taught him the harmonica, or French harp as they called it back then. He told of a day as a young boy when his grandmother sang ‘Uncloudy Day’ on the porch or listening to Merle Travis in the late 30s and how the ‘Deep River Blues’ came to him. He talked about courting his wife with ‘Shady Grove’ (said his heart turned a flip the first time he heard her voice) played old fiddle tunes like ‘Rag Time Annie,’ and told of the days when he worked the other end of a cross-cut saw with his Dad.
There was ‘Step it up and Go’ with David on the washboard, bones on Fisher’s Hornpipe, then hambones and harmonica. David laid his banjo in his lap and used the head as a snare with some brushes and they rendered the old Eddy Arnold number ‘Any Time’ with a swing feel that was might near jazzy. Doc sang the Crystal Gayle “Ready for the Times to get Better’ in Bm all weary and worn but with hints of hope. There was the African-American “You Must Come in at The Door’ Doc first heard on a scratchy record many years ago.
It was David on the slide resonator with Doc doing ‘Sitting on Top of the World’ to Doc alone right after the break with “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.’ Simple, elegant, true. Doc is Gershwin to spirituals; ragtime to blues. He is real. Please don’t miss him.
For me it was a reverence close to a church service, though Doc would be the first to tell you we are all just imperfect humans. Maybe so, but Doc is a mighty fine human, one who overcame a disability to become an American institution. The remarkable thing is he remains simple and humble. I don’t think he knows how special he is.
They did one encore, and then the magic was over for the night. We turned to the young couple next to us and they shared they had never seen Doc before. I shook the young man’s hand. “I’m so glad you were here. I took my kids to see Doc twenty years ago, because I wanted them to experience truth in music. They go to see him every chance they get.”
“I will too, sir.” The boy watched as David led Doc off the stage. “I promise.”
I’ll go see Doc every chance I get too. I learn something every time I get to hear him play and sing.