Harvey County is small, the kind of place where City Hall is in the back of the Dairy Queen, and our only fancy restaurant is the Magnolia for Sunday lunch after church. In all my days, I have never seen the likes of what’s cooking over in Cleveland County, the home of Don Gibson and Earl Scruggs. Two famous people and both from the same county. Here in Harvey County we’ve never had anyone famous I know of, except one time back in the black and white T.V days my aunt was on “The Price is Right.” She won some nice patio furniture and almost got the new car.
Cleveland County is a different matter. They’ve got it going on. It’s big enough that they have a Smithsonian educational exhibit on traditional music there. It came to the attention of music scholar and U.N.C. Chapel Hill Professor William R. Ferris who came and gave a speech at the ribbon cutting. He said to mark his words; in just a few short years the world was gonna beat a path to Cleveland County, Shelby, N.C. just as sure as pilgrims to Mecca ’cause it is one of the birthplaces of traditional music as we know it.
That sounded like something I wanted to be a part of, so when Darin Aldridge called and asked if I wanted to sit in with him on my day off for a gig, I said “yes” right away. Darin and Brooke Aldridge are at #5 on the “Bluegrass Unlimited” hit parade this month and have made #1 on some of the gospel charts this year. Check out their website: wwwdarinandbrookealdridge.com.
I had to ask. “Hey Darin, I heard the Gibson stage was for professionals only.”
“You’ve sold some books haven’t you?”
“Then you’re a professional artist. Don’t worry, I’ll get you in.”
I showed up at the back door, and was greeted by a dapper man in a tweed coat. His name was Stan.
“You Dr. Bibey?” he asked.
“Where’s your hat?”
“The wind kept blowing it off. I left it at home.”
He looked in my eyes. “Hm. One blue, one green; it is you.”
We shook hands.
“Mr. Aldridge is waiting on you. Artist lounge.”
Can y’all imagine that? Some old country doctor jamming with the pros at the Don Gibson theater. Lord, where is my mandolin gonna take me next?
I found Darin warming up on the Bill Monroe number “Jerusalem Ridge.” I was as excited as a large child. “Let me get my mandolin out. Whadda you think we ought to play for ’em?”
Darin smiled. He reached in the refrigerator and got me a Co-Cola. “They’re just little people. They’ll like the same songs we do.”
First we played an IBMA film clip of Sierra Hull and Ryan Holliday. Darin thought they would identify with them because they were so young. He was right. Sierra and Ryan played some tunes and explained about the roots of the music and how it came from across the pond. We put the video on pause and played some old Carter Family tunes to demonstrate.
The second segment of the film was on bluegrass, and had some old footage of Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs. We played “Reuben,” which was the first three finger banjo tune Earl figured out years ago, and then “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” the theme song for Bonnie and Clyde. Back when T.V. came to Harvey County we used to watch Earl on the Beverly Hillbillies show, and we played a line from that one too.
I wanted to be certain they understood the significance of their heritage. “Y’all are from Shelby, the home of Don Gibson and Earl Scruggs. Be proud of that and never forget it.”‘
We had time for questions. I played mandolin for most of the gig, but guitar on FMB. One asked, “Why did you learn the guitar?”
“To meet girls,” I said. The child scratched his head. I could tell he was confused. “That was a long time ago,” I explained. “After I met my wife I took up the mandolin. Didn’t need to meet any more girls after that.”
Darin laughed. “Way back then his folks were afraid he was gonna run off and turn into one of ‘dem Beatles.” (Lots of young people learned the Beatles repertoire from my old LP collection; they were long since disbanded when Darin came along.)
At one time or another, we had played guitar, mandolin, banjo and fiddle. The kids looked at all the instruments on the stage. “Which one is the hardest to play? one asked.
Darin allowed as to he thought it was the fiddle. He picked it back up and broke into Sally Goodin. One of them wondered if I’d play the fiddle. I declined. I wanted to be asked back someday, so I didn’t push my luck. Sometimes I play it when no one else is home, and the family dog always howls and runs for cover. In bluegrass they call it rough style.
It was a fun gig, and Darin said he’d come help me do my talk at the Rotary Club. Tomorrow I’ll be back at my day job; prostate exams, PSAs, and prayers I don’t ever overlook a cancer. That’s what I do, and I’m pretty good at it I guess, as I’ve stayed out of trouble for many decades. More important I try hard to the point of being driven to migraines at times. If I miss a diagnosis, it won’t be because I don’t care.
But that’s tomorrow. For today old Doc gigged with the pros, and how many country doctors can say that?
Friday I’m gonna go back to the Don Gibson theater. Now that I’m a performing artist there, I feel more at home than ever. Earl Scruggs will be at The Don Gibson Theater with his boys Gary and Randy. It’s already sold out, but I’ll tell you all about it soon.
Back to the salt mines.