Merle Fest 2010

        First let me tell you even when you’re a musician you’re still always a doc first. I ran into a couple of my patients who some urgent (although nor emergent) problems. With a couple quick phone calls I was able to make their MerleFest stay better. So, I wanted to thank both CVS pharmacy and Aero Care. Wilkesboro is a whole bigger than Harvey County, but they treated me and as fine as if we’d grown up together. I wasn’t too surprised. Wilkes County is true bluegrass too.

        One patient apologized. “Doc, I hate to bother you, but if have to go back home to get my blood pressure medicine, I’m afraid I’ll miss Sam Bush.”

        “Not to worry. I can’t allow that for lack of one phone call.” I didn’t mind. It is what I do. “Besides,” I said. “I don’t think Sam is gonna hire me to play mandolin do you?”

        The patients smiled. “I reckon not Doc.”

        One disclaimer here, though folks, When I’m out a festival I love to talk to anyone, but state law does not allow me to treat anyone without an established doctor patient relationship. It’s okay to refill blood pressure medicine on a patient I have already seen, but I can’t treat without an exam, and most folks aren’t too keen on the notion to disrobe in front of 60,000 people.

        So, back to Merle Fest. This has been a different year for me. I spent almost as much time jamming as playing, and I met all kind of new people. One fellow came up to me and said, “Are you Tommy Bibey?”

        “Yes sir.”

        “When is the book coming out?”

        “I’m almost certain we’ll be able to make an announcement in June.”


         Tim Stafford and Caroline Wright (the Aloha kid) were there with the new Tony Rice book they co-wrote. I sped read about fifty pages at lunch, and can already see this is gonna be an insider’s view of a complicated artist. It is true bluegrass. Tim knows. He was a big part of Alison Krauss’s early signature sound, and has been the lead guitar man for Blue Highway for fifteen years, so he is connected with most everyone in the biz. Many of them contributed to the development of the book. I’ll get it finished next week and report back to you.

        I heard the Gibson Brothers at the Walker Center. Tight sibling harmony, precise picking, they delivered just as true a bluegrass as if they’d grown up in Kentucky. Backstage, mandolin player Joe Walsh was the first pro to sign the people’s mandolin.

        I ran into old friends, pro pickers, radio personalities, luthiers, and tons of regular pickers like me there to get way from reality for a weekend. The folks at GHS strings were quite interested in “The Journey of the People’s Mandolin’ and said if a string broke while it was on tour to bring it up to their booth at a festival and they’d put one on for us to keep the journey alive.

        I went by one of the jam tents and got to pick with the Snyder family. It was a jam session for kids, but I couldn’t resist sitting it. “Is this session for children of any age?” I asked.

        Samantha cut her eyes my way and broke into that trademark toothy grin. She nodded for me to sit down without ever missing a note on her fiddle break. Her brother Zeb came up as a guitar player. He’s an old veteran at thirteen, and was wearing out the mandolin today. I noticed the finish was already worn of the neck of his F9. For a while I didn’t take a break; this was a session for the kids. I was more interested in hearing them play than me, but Samantha was insistent I was gonna be one of the gang. I did a twin part to Zeb’s lead on “Gold Rush.” Samantha turned and smiled again.

        I’ve been around the North Carolina music scene a long time, and these kids are the best new young players I’ve heard since when Darin and Brooke Aldridge were coming along. Even more important they are just a fine genuine family whose parents are raising ‘em right. They are respectful of their elders, and even let old Doc play! How many places are left in this world where the kids are like that? They make me proud of bluegrass.

        We ended up the evening with Sam Bush. Mix in bluegrass, reggae, rock ‘n roll and the best right hand in the mandolin world and you’ve got a start on Sam. He’s still the most energetic show in acoustic music, but then Sam is like me. Even though he’s a famous pro, and I am an obscure amateur, we’re both just perpetual young’uns.

        The People Mandolin will start it’s journey today so I’ll report back tomorrow.

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4 Comments on “Merle Fest 2010”

  1. Fun times there, Dr. B! You’re a kid at heart, so of course the Snyder kids were going to let you play with them – and may you ever remain so.
    Can’t wait for an update on the People’s Mandolin!

    • drtombibey Says:


      Yeah look up those Snyders kids. They are some kinda cute and talented.

      You’re right; I am a kid at heart. Merle Fest is a mando heaven, and I’ll report some more soon.

      Dr. B

  2. Camara Sheets Says:

    I am so glad I was able to meet you on Friday. I am the lady who was selling water for my wedding. I did not realize you were a medical doctor until I started your blog. I am finishing nursing school at Wilkes Community College on May 17. I will take my state boards in June then get married in July.

    I love Merle Fest just for the fact I get to meet new people. I never go “inside the gate” because I live on a college budget but I can still sit in the grass and watch people go by.

    Thank you for coming to support the music as well as supporting Wilkes County.

    • drtombibey Says:


      All the best to ya kid and here’s to a long and happy marriage. If I lived that close I’d just put out a lawn chair, listen to the music and watch the crowd go by too.

      Study hard. For all I know you might wind up looking after old Dr. B in the nursing home someday.

      Dr. B

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