After arriving in Boone, North Carolina for this years Trail Dames Summit, I was picked up within moments of our arrival by our friends Sally and Johnny, who whisked me off to the annual Doc Watson Festival.
Sally and Johnny are musicians who live in the area, and they wanted to get to the festival while the good seats were still available. There were no bad seats! The festival was on the lawn of the Jones House Community Center. Throughout the summer the center hosts free Friday night concerts downtown.
I was lucky that The Trail Dames Summit started the same day that the locals celebrate the life of Doc Watson. While Sandy was reuniting with outdoor women, I was making new friends and enjoying great music.
Doc, a local musician had made it big with his guitar playing and song writing. He lost his sight while he was still a baby. He bought his first guitar with the money he and his brother earned chopping down trees on the family farm. Self-taught, he recorded his first solo album in 1964. And through the years he would play with many top country and folk legends, including Bill Monroe.
In the 70s and 80s, Doc and his son Merl toured the globe, introducing their unique blend of music to millions of new fans.
Merl died in a tractor accident on the family farm. Doc continued to play until his death in 2012 at the age of 89.
Most of the performing artists I heard that night had either learned from or played with Doc. It was a gathering of old friends and lovers of bluegrass music. Over and over I heard stories of how Doc treated everyone as an old friend. It didn’t matter that he had toured the world, won seven Grammy awards, and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was still just Doc, and that is the way the locals and his friends will always remember him.
Between the performances I talked with my fellow music lovers. Music was not our only common bond. Over half of the people I met were fellow Floridians. Many had been spending their summers in the mountains for years to avoid the hot Florida summers. Some still split their time, while others had become full time “mountain people.” One fellow spoke of heading north up I-95, out of Florida, for that last time. The couple seated in front of me had a winter home in Rockledge, near where I grew up.
As the music played the sky grew darker. Watching the fellow next to me checking his smartphone, I could see the massive storm was getting closer and closer. But these hard-core bluegrass fans were not going to let a little storm stop them from enjoying their music. The sky became darker, and an eerie feeling was in the air.
With the sky nearly black and the winds violently shaking the oak trees around and above us, the first wave of people began the dash from the open-air concert for their cars. We were not far behind.
Even with the large raindrops and threatening storm all around us, I had to stop for a photo of myself seated next to the bronze statue of Doc. I did not want to miss a great photo op just because of a little weather. How many people do you know that have a picture of themselves there with Doc?
I’ve always loved bluegrass and folk music. Years ago, I added “learn to play an instrument” to my bucket list. Little did I know that this brief time spent in the memory of Doc Watson and a chance conversation at a local British car club breakfast a few weeks later would lead to my first jam session, and four chords on a mandolin.
But that’s another story.