Saturday, April 28, 2012

Day Three, April 26, 2012 Continued

Road Trip, Day 3, April 26, 2012 Continued 

A post script from day 3: we finally got to Merlefest as I noted. It was its first day and after the long, hairy drive, inertia had beckoned and we were tempted to skip the first night of the first day and just stay in this lovely lodge we'd lucked into in Boone, North Carolina, home to, and doesn't this sound poetic, Appalaicha State University, originally Appalaicha State Teachers College, now a 17,000 student state university and a good one. We had a beautiful room at the inn, a common sitting room with a working fireplace; it was cold and dark with night hinting it was coming. Something wrong with a little reading by the fireplace, or, heaven forbid, watching television?

But NOOOOOO! The lovely, soft spoken, slow drawling, slightly matronly, more sexy, middle aged blonde lady behind the desk who checked us in--I was wishing the check in would've taken hours, so much did I like her way of talking--had to go and tell us Vince Gill was headlining that night at 10:00. At $100.00 per day for the tickets, my mother's "stop fucking around voice" got the good better of me, and to Sharon's imperceptible chagrin--her mother wasn't my mother--off we went, driving down our new found correct mountain road to the highway and another 35 miles to Wilkesboro, home of Merelefest, noting landmarks--blue lit car wash sign, Bubbles Car Wash, a Country Inn, a Toyota dealership--to guide us a back, a return trip that was an altogether shaky proposition.

Well sir we got to Merlefest and had our reserved seats for the Watson Stage, named for Doc Watson, a 93 year old, blind, popular music musician, a multi instrumentalist and fine singer, whose head should be data mined for all the tunes and songs and lore and stories he knows and stored in the Smithsonian. The festival itself is named for his son Merle, a superb musician in his own right, who, in 1985, died from his tractor overturning in the Wilkesboro area. (Doc Watson lives in Deep Gap, North Carolina, Watauga County, here in the Blue Ridge high country, more crossroads than town, just to give you some specific local favour through the magic of naming.)

Doc and some of Merle's friends in 1988 decided to do a small bluegrass and roots festival in Merle's honor on the campus of Wilk Community College,a junior college, and the players shifted between the indoor Walker Center to a grassy field where players set up on flat bed trucks and used the flat beds for their stage. From that humble beginning it has evolved into perhaps the world's biggest blue grass and popular music festival. The festival allows no liquor, Wilkes is a dry county, no tobacco, is insistently kid friendly and families oriented, and is brilliant for that. 

The crowds in the main are friendly and happy, VERY predominately white, and span class and age, mixed of a lot of what we used to call "granola crunchers," working class men and women, and upper middle class professionals essentially populating the reserved seats. What seems to bind them all to a man and woman is their love of the music. Nearly everybody is happy and genial, most from the immediately surrounding area. So I'm in talk heaven, stirring up any conversation I can with anybody willing to talk to me about any little thing. That southern way of speaking, slow and easy and gentle, captivates me. I can't get enough it.  And matching the audiences' love of the music is the pervasive excellence of the many performing musicians, the best in the world at what they play. As if Merlefest is a living, breathing, organic, dynamic Hall of Popular Music Fame.

So, as I say, we got to Merlefest and mother's banging in my head faded away. We were blessed to hear Dudley & Vincent, a fantastic and fast rising bluegrass band, with a bass singer Christian Davis of Alabama, who has the deepest bass singing and speaking voice I've ever heard. The musical aplomb was extra terrestrial: the mandolin player, a fat man, Jeff Parker,  played the mandolin faster than any man I ever heard; the banjo player, a 21 year old kid, whose name escapes me, didn't, blessedly, play too many notes too quickly, and so was a tasty player; the group harmonies were just a lovely thing; and the country stage patter was self deprecating, easy and funny. 

Then Vince Gill in his all laid back, comfortable-in-his-own-skin glory and fame. After one particular song, he said, "Thank God I can sing in high register here, something that doesn't go over well in country these days. But I don't care. I live in a real nice house paid for by me singing like a woman."  Trouble was driving back to our lodge was starting to freak us both out and the effects of this extraordinarily long day really took hold of us. So we left about half way through Vince Gill's fine set and set to getting back. We were the only ones on the unlit highway save for the gleaming cats' eyes in the middle of the road. And then wouldn't you know it, it started raining, yet again, and hard. Jesus, you'd think we were being punished for something, and I'm stressed out trying not get to lost yet again and trying to find the lodge. 

But guess what?

The landmarks worked. We found the tiny, winding mountain road running off the highway and crawled along till we got to the lodge road, fought like wild beasts whether to turn left or right, turned right, right was wrong, we yelled at each other some more, I turned around, SOMEHOW, on that sliver of a road with ditches running beside it on both sides, and got us blessedly back, got in showered, and slept in fresh sheets on a good mattress in a comfortable room, and felt GREAT.

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