Archive for April 2010

MerleFest 2010

April 30, 2010

        We rolled in late. I stopped at the desk. An elderly man in overalls and a railroad hat is seated in a chair in the lobby. “Evening, Doc.”

        “Good to see you, John. I trust you’ve had a good year.”

         He stroked a long gray beard, turned his head to the side, and coughed. “Breathing but not bragging, Doc.”

        “Been out to the music?”

        “All day. Too cold at night for me anymore. My back freezes up. Down with old Arthur most of the winter.”  

        “”Hope it gets better.”

         “It won’t, but what the hell.”

         The desk clerk checks us in. “Your usual room, Doc. The one by the pool.”

        “Thanks, kid.” 

        Friday morning. We crest the last hill before the grounds. An American flag flaps in the breeze. Vendors of every brand of acoustic instruments have begun to set up shop. It’s early, but people from all over the world already mill around. There are T-shirts and hot dogs and sand castle artists and kids with their faces painted by some street artist for  a couple bucks. If your idea of a rocking good time is a Board meeting with a bunch of rich guys in suits who hope to finagle another million from someone else who has more than they know what to do with, you don’t need to come here. You’d be bored to tears; this is too real.

        I can smell the roasted peanuts. I think I’ll have a bag of those and a cup of black coffee. It makes a fine bluegrass breakfast. I might follow it up with the morning paper and a nap before the Gibson Brothers crank up.

        It’s Merlefest, the only event I look forward to as much as the Harvey County Fair. I’ll eat all the wrong food, I’ll stay up half the night and sleep in between sets. I’ll sleep with one eye open, though. I ain’t gonna miss a thing.

Dr. B


Talk About Suffering Here Below

April 28, 2010

        Darin Aldridge called me yesterday. One of his band members had some sickness in the family, and he wanted to know if I could fill in. He asked if I would troop over after the office to play a church revival service.  I checked my watch and the rest of the afternoon schedule and had enough time to make it with thirty minutes to spare. It took two seconds to decide.


        If you know me at all you know this. If I’m not on call, and you want me to play music, it’s “have mandolin will travel.”  This is extra true with Darin and Brooke Aldridge. One trip through “White Robe” with those children is a revival for old Doc all by itself.

        Ricky Skaggs does an old spiritual number called “Talk About Suffering.” I see a lot of suffering in my work, and like to believe my music helps dull the pain for a while. I don’t know if it does for other folks but it sure does help me.

        Last night the preacher talked about suffering. No human has ever suffered more than Christ. When we go through hard times some good can come out of it if we wind up more empathetic to our fellow human beings. If we can somehow deal with our troubles more like Christ would it puts us a step closer to perfection even though we can never get there on our own. We aren’t gonna be perfect, and just have to accept the Grace that forgives us for that.

        I believe some people wind up as excellent counselors, ministers, nurses, or doctors because they were able to take their own suffering, come to terms with it, and then use the insight as a tool to develop empathy. But here’s the human coming out in me. It seems like some of my people have suffered enough. They are already as Christ-like as any humans I know, and more keeps coming at ‘em. Sometimes I want to ask God how come he doesn’t put some of that on the bad guys who seem to be more in need of the lessons. I guess it’s because I’m only human and it isn’t for me to understand. I ain’t the Judge.

        Maybe it’s because we are supposed to pray for the bad guys too. I often fall short on that, so I’ll work on it. But I’m still gonna pray my friends are relieved of suffering too. Pain and suffering are against my office policy, and I need all the help I can get.

Dr. B

A Tip For Those Who Serve

April 26, 2010

        Years ago my wife and I used to take the kids to a little pizza place here in Harvey County. It was our idea of a big night on the town. We got the same waitress almost every time; a young girl who looked about high school age. Our kids were good young’uns, but like any other young family we made a mess; food on the floor etc. I’m one to tip okay anyway, but this kid was always nice and we made it a point to leave a little extra. My wife was a waitress when she was in high school and she hadn’t forgotten what it was like. We were just starting out and had a lot of debt at the time, but we figured we were better off than this child, and besides the service was always good. 

        When the kids grew up a little and started to go out with their friends we got out of the habit of going there. My wife and I didn’t much need to eat a lot of pizza anyway, and without the kids the outing wasn’t the same. We lost track of the young waitress.

        Several years ago a young lady showed up at the office and asked to speak to me. They paged me and then brought her back to my office. “Doc, do you remember me?” she asked.

       “You look familiar, but no kid, I can’t quite place you.”

        “I’m Kathy. I was the waitress at Pizza Joe’s.”

        “Well, son of a gun. Good to see you. What you up to nowadays?”

       “I’m a nurse in Raleigh. I was just passing through and wanted to say hello. Back then I was struggling and working two jobs. I always looked forward to seeing your family. It wasn’t just that you tipped good, you didn’t fuss at me and treated me nice. I wanted to say thanks.”

        I didn’t know what to say.

        She pulled her wallet out of her pocketbook and showed me pictures of her husband and children. “When we go out to eat we try to act like your family. I appreciate you being nice to me, and the tips sure did help me get through school.”

        I shook her hand and she went on her way. I thought about that for a minute. I can understand if a man doesn’t have anything and maybe he can be excused if he’s not too generous. But when I see a guy who owns some business worth eight million bucks be mean to a young waitress who works hard to make his life easier, and then stiffs her on a little tip, I can’t understand it. I want to walk over to his table and say, “Pal, what goes around comes around. For all you know that kid might be a nurse who looks after you in the nursing home some day. What’s wrong with you?”

        I know one thing. That young lady and her husband are doing quite well these days, but I’m sure they haven’t forgotten where they come from, and I bet they still tip good, too.

Dr. B

Journey of The People’s Mandolin Update

April 24, 2010

        The People’s Mandolin is ready for its long journey home.  As I said I’m gonna drop it off at MerleFest to start its voyage.  There it will be picked up by Ted and Irene Lehmann. They have had some discussion with Gabrielle Gray of The International Bluegrass Music Museum about the best way to send it off, so we’ll see what they have in store for it.

        I know there are skeptics from the non bluegrass world. They say it won’t make it. I’m betting it does. Ms. Gray and Lehmanns think it will too. You see, John Hartford used to say bluegrass was the last American small town where everybody knows everybody; a place where you can leave your doors unlocked and windows wide open. I am not naive. I know the world has changed. I also know bluegrass is growing and we have new people all the time. Still, my bet is we haven’t changed that much.

        Just think, if the case makes it five years and winds up back at MerleFest in 2015, we all have a chance at a tiny corner of the world’s biggest bluegrass museum. I can envision it in a shadow box with a legend to identify each geographic area represented by the travels of the case. It could even be set up with one of those little gadgets where you could punch in a number to hear a certain clip. Let’s say Missy Werner from Cincinnati or little Kathy Boyd way out in Portland ran across the mandolin on its journey and logged onto my blog with a YouTube clip of their band at a festival out there. We could turn all those posts over to the museum. Then someday when you see the exhibit of “The People’s Mandolin” and click on clip #73, there they’d be for all time. You’d hear them and learn where all the good festivals were around the country. Pretty cool huh?

        One disclaimer here, though. These are just my early thoughts. Ms. Gray has a museum to run and I’m just a country doctor. How they decide to present it I’ll need to leave entirely to their judgment.

         Of course all this is just a bunch of dreaming of old Doc. If the naysayers turn out to be right and the case is lost, it can’t wind up in the museum at all, so we’ll see. But again, I like its odds.

        By the way, folks have already written to tell me the page for “The Journey of The People’s Mandolin” is hard to find.  Right now it is in the upper right hand corner of my blog just below “Home,” “About Dr. Bibey,” “Disclaimer,” and “The Charitable Arm.” A web site is in development for “The Mandolin Case” and will have a link or a page devoted to the “Journey of  The People’s Mandolin.”

         And also I wanted to tell you I have seen the layout of my book. Very, very, cool. I can’t help but believe it is gonna be good for bluegrass. I say this because already folks from my other worlds (medicine, law, business, etc.) want to know where my serenity comes from. They come out of environments that are often hyper-competitive, aggressive, or just downright mean. When they step into my music world they have trouble believing it could be real. After a while they realize it is, and more than one has decided we bluegrass folks are onto something.

        We coulda all told ’em that a long time ago, but some folks are slow to believe. One at a time though, they’re coming around.

Dr. B

Message in a Mandolin Bottle- The Journey of The People’s Mandolin

April 19, 2010

        As a kid I was fascinated with the idea of messages and far-away lands. I was just a country kid who loved to read books and had a big imagination. In reality, my odds of a Tahiti tour were about as good as Jimmy Stewarts’ character George Bailey in “A Wonderful Life,” but it didn’t stop me from being a dreamer at times.  I always wanted to put a message in a bottle, toss it in the ocean and see where it would wind up.

        As an adult I haven’t changed much. The life I chose was the right one for me, but it kept me close to home.  I was good with books and people and a country doc was just the right career. I loved music but didn’t have the talent or the temperament for the road. But at times I still dream. My wife and I plan to see some of the country before we get too old to go, and we hope my book will be our tour ticket to find all the right people.

        The other day I came up with an idea I want to run by my readers.  Even though I’m an old man, deep inside I’m a kid who still wants to float that message out to far-flung places I’ve never seen. I decided for me it had to be a message in a mandolin bottle.

        I’m sure you must wonder what I mean. Who ever heard of a message in a mandolin bottle? I guess it would take a fellow who wrote a book called “The Mandolin Case” to dream it up. Here’s how I’m gonna send it out there.

        I have an old Kentucky ‘A’ style mandolin I’ve had for many years. Sometime back a luthier friend dressed out the frets and replaced a broken bridge. The pick guard was lost years ago. It is not any kind of investment grade mandolin but it is very playable. I decided this mandolin was the perfect vehicle to float out my message. It is the people’s mandolin.

        The people’s mandolin will begin its journey at MerleFest, 2010. There I’m gonna turn it over to some picker who lives far away and ask them to kick off the journey.  After they play it and sign it, I want them to pass it on the someone else.

        There are only a few prerequisites to participation in the message. I ask that no one keep it more than one month. I want each person who plays it to sign the mandolin before they pass it on to the next person. You may pass it on to anyone you wish, but I hope you will try to choose true bluegrassers. You know who they are.

         I would like for folks to put on a case sticker to promo their geographic area or favorite band. Also, I want you to log onto the “Journey of the People’s Mandolin” page and leave me a note and picture of your neck of the woods so I can post it on my blog to document the mandolin’s travels. If my mandolin shows up at your favorite festival maybe a picture of you holding it beside a banner to promo your event would help your cause. My blog now has readers all over the world, so it can’t hurt.

        When you find it, leave me a post as to its whereabouts. I’ll plug it into one of those maps with the dots to show where it is and we can watch it criss-cross the country. Who knows, maybe I can convince one of my favorite bands to take it abroad when they tour Europe or destinations even farther removed.

         I hope at times it might serve to introduce kids to the instrument. If your grandchild were to borrow my little mandolin and learn “You are My Sunshine” off my double stop lesson of April 14, 2010, that would be very cool. I would want to hear about anything like that, and would love to post links to You-tube videos of this kind of thing.

        It is hope that my mandolin message in a bottle will find me new bluegrass friends and serve as a scout of sorts to show me and my wife the path to festivals and bluegrass events around the country.

        As the mandolin makes it journey if you are uncertain of its authenticity, you can take it to the record table of festival performers to be sure it is the right one. Mandolin pickers like Darin Aldridge, Wayne Benson, Alan Bibey, Mike Marshall, Darren Nicholson, and many others will verify that I am real and the little Kentucky is indeed my mandolin. Buy a CD from them, the road is hard and they make great music. Ask them to slap on one of their case stickers when you see them.

        Pass it on. I would like to get the mandolin back in five years or when I wind up in the nursing home, whichever comes first. But don’t forget, it belongs to the people.  After I get it back I want to donate it to some music museum if anyone will have it. They should, because anyone with any sense should know this music belongs to the people. If we all stick together, no one can take it away from us.

Dr. B

Classical Mandolin- Bach

April 17, 2010

        Wayne Benson has me working on a Bach piece right now, “Prelude From Suite 1.” When you get up with the early birds and sit on the back porch and play a tune like this, you can’t help but feel like you are part of something bigger than just your little self. As I struggle to get the piece under my fingers, I realize nothing good every came easy to most of us. My mind wanders. Maybe it did to Bach, but I bet he put in his time too. The wind whistles through the trees. I think Bach could hear the ancient tones just like Monroe. As Wayne says, “it’s all music.” 

        At the turn of the last century, as Mike Marshall says, “mandolin orchestras roamed the earth.” I think my friend Butch Baldassari might have made it happen again if he had not died so young.  Maybe Mike will see mandolins rule again. I do know this; I believe our kids would be better off in the orchestras than to watch reality television. T.V. is all instant gratification. For me, the best of life came from long years of commitment, be it to family, friends, doctor books, or cello suites.

        Maybe it’s just what they call “cognitive dissonance” where you have to believe in your cause for your existence to have meaning, but I feel like so far I’ve used my time on earth the best I could, and I’m gonna continue in my quest until the end. My talents are humble but I’m gonna do my best with ’em every day.

Dr. B

And The Employee of The Month is….

April 16, 2010

        Me! You might not find that so special, but as far as I know I’m the only Doc at the clinic who has ever been honored as such. I didn’t know it was coming either. Maybe it’s because I’m getting a lot of gray hair and they feel sorry for me, but I was rather proud. In spite of the fact I’m a guy it’s a clear indication I’m just one of the girls, and I take that as a compliment. The best awards are the ones who come from the people who know what goes on every day, and trust me my office ladies do.

        Except for Dr. Dee, our P.A., and our X-ray tech, I work around women all day. I try to treat them all like sisters, even though I only had brothers and really don’t know exactly how to do that. I can be peculiar about my relationship with them. I don’t go out to eat with them, I don’t play golf with them, and as a doc I’ll only treat them from the neck up and the knees down. We have two lady doctors they can see for any other troubles. I don’t get into their personal problems, although they don’t seem to have many. It’s just as well, one time one of ’em got real sick and I ’bout got tore down over it. (Like you would if it was your sister I guess.)

        I was proud to win that award, but the truth is I wouldn’t be the doc I am without them. My nurses have worked along side of me more than a quarter century. They always put the patient first, they’ve never shaded the truth, they do not seek personal gain, and they’ve never acted the wrong way towards me. It’s take a pretty thick-headed guy not to make a decent doc under those circumstances.

        Sometimes the group will do things I don’t understand. I ain’t nobody’s Secret Santa, and I’m not much for hat day mostly ’cause I’ve got such a fat head the darn things look silly perched on top of my gray mop. When they have a party and open presents I might say a gift is precious even though I’m not sure why.  I think it is sort of like when Andy Griffith tried to make Ernest T. Bass a bit more presentable for that tea party.

        But they all go along with what I am. They let me play my mandolin at the Christmas party, and they understand I am particular about patient care to a fault. I can be stubborn as an old mule if anyone wants me to do something I view as potentially dangerous and I am decidedly boring. My idea of risky behavior is to hit a seven iron over the water when it might call for a six, or throw in a jazz phrase in an old-time tune.

        I am protective of them. A patient is better off to test their luck cussing me than my people. One time one did, and I told him those ladies worked their hinnys off for him all day long and only got to pee twice so he’d best take his chances being mean to me instead. He declined.

        Someone once said all men are dumb and all women are crazy, just in different ways and degrees. Somehow I haven’t been too dumb and my office ladies aren’t too crazy. I am dumb in a way, though. I’ll put on blinders and work like a pack mule with no complaints and expect no reward other than an apple and the satisfaction of being the best I can be. All men are dumb animals; women just have to decide what kinda dumb animal they want to live or work with. 

        I’ve found when you work with women you do have to pay attention to the details.  If they disagree with you they ain’t gonna rassle you or punch you in the nose. They expect a civilized adult human being to understand subtlety, and they will get a little crazy if the only way you’ll pay attention is for them to hit you over the head with a two-by-four. And their verbal negotiation skills far exceed most men I’ve worked with. Maybe that’s part of how I became a writer.

        Maybe I ain’t all dumb. I understood enough to be the only guy in the office who ever won Employee of the Month, and that’s good enough for me. If I make them happy enough to vote for me and I didn’t even campaign for it, I must be doing  something right.