Saturday, April 29, 2006

merlefest again

It has become a part of my liturgical calendar: Ash Wednesday, Lent, Easter, Merlefest. It happens in the small town of Wilkesboro, on the campus of Wilkes Community College each year, generally the last week of April. Last year 80,000 people came, so it would qualify as a mega-church. I have attended consistently over the past few years, usually choosing one night. This year the night was dictated by a wedding rehearsal and wedding on Friday and Saturday nights (a really nice couple named Cyndi and Billy). Sunday is a workday, so that left Thursday night.

Steve, Moe and I left Charlotte before rush hour hit, making our way north on I-77 and then west on NC 421. We took the Wilkes Community College exit and parked in lot C. A scout bus took us to the entrance, which is something like mecca for roots music fans. We entered. We settled into our portable chairs and listened to Doc Watson singing "Summertime and The Living Is Easy" and "I am A Pilgrim". My friend Richard from Winston-Salem met us. He and I had once listened to Steve Earle in a rainstorm at Merlefest. The weather was nicer this evening. Doc is eighty-three years old...amazing, and he has not lost anything. He remains a virtuouso guitarist. The music alternates between the Cabin Stage (smaller) and the Watson Stage (larger). The evening then progressed from Feufollet (cajun) to Darrell Scott (singer-songwriter) to Jim Lauderdale (country) to John Prine (folk).

Feufollet had an energy that reminded me of prior Merlefest concerts by Nickel Creek and the Duhks. Darrell Scott began his set with a funky version of "Long Time Gone", which he wrote for the Dixie Chicks. I have always loved this part of the song:

"Now, me and deliah singing every sunday
Watching the children and the garden grow
We listen to the radio to hear what’s cookin’
But the music ain’t got no soul
Now they sound tired but they don’t sound haggard
They’ve got money but they don’t have cash
They got junior but they don’t have hank
I think, I think, I think

The rest is a long time gone..."

He then moved through a lot of material from his latest cd, The Invisible Man. Jim Lauderdale and his band performed a number of bluegrass, gospel and country pieces, including "Joy, Joy, Joy" from I Feel Like Singing Today, which he recorded with Ralph Stanley, and 'Zaccheus" from his new cd, which is just out. I felt like I was in church. My kind of mega-church, out under the stars. He didn't sing 'Goodbye Song", but you can't have it all.

John Prine was the headliner for the evening. Pam and I had seen him about ten years ago in Greensboro, at the Carolina Theater. He began with "Paradise" ('Daddy, won't you take me back to Muhlenburg County"), and 'Angel From Montgomery", which was covered nicely by Bonnie Raitt. He closed his set with "Lake Marie", which must be one of the darkest and more bizarre folk songs out there, interweaving "Louie, Louie" into it along the way.

We left after his set, although there was more, that evening and indeed throughout this weekend. Among the performers this weekend are Emmylou Harris, Bela Fleck, Sam Bush and Gillian Welch. It is an amazing event. Last year I wrote an article about it for the Charlotte Observer. It is nice to get out of the city; nice to watch the sunset, listening to roots music, among friends, eating an ear of roasted corn. It did get cold later than evening, but we were prepared. Finally, we collected our things, caught the shuttle to parking lot C, found my car, and made our way back to the big city, the music still ringing in our ears.


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