Saturday, April 30, 2005

merlefest 05

You can learn alot about life by being at Merlefest. For example:

1. It is important to remember those who have gone before you. The festival is held each year in memory of Merle Watson, who died in a tragic accident in 1985. Merle's father, Doc, conceived the annual festival, which began in 1988. Over 80,000 folks attend each year. It is held in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

2. It is good to hold your elders in reverence. Doc Watson is 82 years old, and is something of a living legend in North Carolina, and a patron saint of traditional music. I am sure that many of the performers who make their way to Merlefest wonder if this will be his last year with us. I sometimes wonder about that myself, and imagine how different this festival will be without him. And yet, there he was this year, making his way through "Rollin in My Sweet Baby's Arms" and "Columbus Stockade Blues". And doing so in fine fashion.

3. It is also appropriate to make way for the next generation. This began, ten to fifteen years ago, with the emergence of artists like Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Bela Fleck, and has continued in the welcoming of groups like Nickel Creek and the Duhks, the latter band being featured this year (they are phenomenal). We need the energy and the innovation.

4. People want to watch the masters, but they also want to participate. I continue to be amazed as the number of folks at Merlefest who are carrying around guitars, banjos, violins, and even upright basses. They want to listen, but they have also come to play and sing, and be heard. After awhile, being a spectator can become boring.

5. You can enjoy the traditional and non-traditional. There is a kind of core music that is played at Merlefest---bluegrass, appalachian string music, with a touch of gospel mixed in---but a variety of genres season it all---jazz, blues, folk, rock, celtic, french canadian, latin, classical. Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer, for example, record classically for Sony. The variety is nice.

6. You can share your faith in natural and humble ways, and people will hear you. I am amazed at the explicitly Christian messages that are embedded in the songs, and indeed, in the culture of Merlefest. I am quite sure a good cross-section of those gathered are not there to hear these messages, and yet they seem to listen. It's inclusive, and it's real.

7. It is okay to have fun. Sometimes you simply enjoy the good things that come along, at regular intervals, in this life. You eat the roasted corn, you watch the sunset, and you listen to Jerry Douglass, the best dobro player in the world. It's fun. Merlefest is a post-Easter ritual of spring for me.

8. If an event is important, you will endure hardships to be there. I have been at Merlefest and listened to Steve Earle at midnight, in a tremendous downpour. It almost always rains. It is muddy. You ride a scout bus from the parking lot to get inside. You walk some further distance to get to the main strage area. The restroom facilities are, as they say, primitive. It is worth it.

9. Most people in the world do not know who you are. I get around, at least among Methodist and civic circles. I know alot of people in Charlotte, in the triad, in the triangle, even in the mountains. But I can spend several hours at Merlefest, and in general I will not run into anyone who knows me. This is a reminder that I am not at the center of the universe. The world turns, with or without me. The beat goes on.

10. If you stay true to your gifts, and if you really try to hone them and perfect them, and if you are willing to share them, people will find their way to you. Folks attend Merlefest from all over the world. They are construction workers and physicians, bankers and academics, preppies and mountaineers. They share one thing in common. They have carved out this time and have made the effort to be there, for the music, and to remember Merle.

Next year in Wilkesboro! April 27-30, 2006.



14 Comments:

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