As almost anyone whos discussed music with me on the nets knows, my admiration for Doc Watsons (http://www.greensboro.com/nronline/projects/doc/links.htm) music knows no bounds.. and, Ive never managed to catch him in live performance. Well, Im happy to report that I have finally been able to remedy that sad state of affairs!
I discovered Doc Watson late. I totally missed all the great material Doc waxed during the Great Sixties Folk Revival. Missed it the first time around, that is. I first heard him sing and play on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Bands great "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" album. And I didnt even catch up with that one until a few years after its release; 1975 or 1976, as I recall. So, Ive been trying to manage to be in the same place at the same time as Doc for well over two decades.
On to the show. First, Id like to thank my dear friend Noble for alerting me to the concert, securing tickets, and putting us (my daughter, Dana, and myself) up for the night. We had a nice dinner before the concert.. and the fellowship was great! Even that early Saturday morning bicycle ride in the rain was a pleasure. ;-)
I should note that St. Louis is well over a 300-mile drive for me. But who knows how many more chances Ill get to see Doc? So I was not about to pass this one up! As I told Noble, I would have happily driven 300 miles of pot-holed gravel road in a snowstorm, stopping every 3 miles to open a gate, to see this concert. ;-)
What: Doc Watson live in concert
When: February 26, 1999, 8 p.m.
Where: Sheldon Concert Center, St. Louis, MO (http://www.sheldonconcerthall.org/)
My first impression of the Sheldon was "This is a great place to see a concert!" That impression proved true, Im happy to report. A grand old building with inclined seating and a full-width balcony, the seating capacity is 728. Quite intimate, in other words, and the acoustics are excellent. Despite being in the back row of "hard" seats (there were several rows of folding chairs behind us), the stage was well within spitwad range.
We arrived at about 7:40, and got a close parking spot for a reasonable $5 (rare in that neighborhood, Im told). It was obvious already that the concert was sold out. Perhaps a dozen hapless individuals haunted the steps, seeking extra tickets.
There had been no official announcement as to who would back Doc, save the web page saying that it would not be David Grisman. Still, the presence of two chairs on stage confirmed that there would, in fact, be a second picker accompanying Doc. When Doc took the stage at about 5 after the hour, we learned that it would be fellow North Carolinian Jack Lawrence. Jack has recorded quite a bit with Doc of late, (he took part om Docs most recent project, "Doc and Dawg" (http://www.twangzine.com/rev/rev-dawg.html)) and is a fine guitarist in his own right.
Doc looked hale and hearty, and appears to by exceptionally spry for a man of his years. Good news! I wouldnt be surprised if Doc keeps picking and recording for another 20 years. After receiving a rousing welcome, Doc thanked us for coming to the show, and it became apparent that the down-home "just folks" demeanor that he exudes on his recordings is, if anything, understated. I immediately felt at home, sort of like I was on a porch under a tin roof somewhere, watching an informal jam session.
The first number was "Ill Rise Up When the Rooster Crows". Doc and Jack did a great job on it, and set the standard for what was to follow. Docs picking is as stunning as ever, and his singing voice remains a warm, comfortable treasure.
Id intended to record the set list, but alas, I forgot my pen. The songs that I remember (and this is less than half the set, Im sure) are:
Hobo Bills Last Ride (Jimmie Rodgers)
(The Brakemans Blues) (Jimmie Rodgers)
Windy and Warm (John Loudermilk)
10 Miles To Deep Gap (Jack Lawrence)
Ill Never See My Home Again (the Dillards)
Spike Drivers Blues (John Hurt)
Nobodys Dirty Business (John Hurt)
Creole (Belle?) (John Hurt)
Dont Think Twice Its Alright (Bob Dylan)
Keep On the Sunny Side (the Carter Family)
Every song was uniformly fine, with those songs listed being perhaps exceptionally fine (there must be a reason they stuck in my mind, right? <grin>). My favorite of the entire show would have to be "Windy and Warm", I think. It was simply astonishing! And "Beaumont Rag" wasnt far behind.
As might be surmised by the partial set list, Doc leaned pretty heavy on the John Hurt and Jimmie Rodgers songs. I know Im forgetting at least one Rodgers song, and I believe there was another John Hurt song thats not listed. Likewise, Im pretty sure there are a couple of other Carter Family songs that have escaped my mind.
No surprise on the John Hurt. Docs love for his music is well-known, and he has recorded a good portion, perhaps a majority, of Mississippi Johns repertoire. Despite Docs apology for using a pick to approximate Hurts finger-style picking, and his allowing as to how Merle was far better at Hurt-picking than he, I love his John Hurt covers dearly. I suspect that the Hurt songs are among Docs favorites, and his passion for them seems obvious.
The number of Jimmie Rodgers pieces was a bit of a surprise, to me. Not only the number, but it seems that Ive been seriously underestimating Docs yodeling ability! He does those Jimmie Rodgers yodels as well as anybody, folks. At one point he did an extremely long, drawn-out yodel, and punctuated it by saying "I dont smoke" (which got a nice laugh out of the audience).
Indeed, humor was a large part of the show. At one point, Lawrences crack about Doc spending too much time "hanging around with hairy-legged ol boys" broke Doc up to the point that he missed an entire verse.. he never missed a lick on the guitar, though! And Doc told a couple of humorous stories himself. One, "The Preacher and the Bicycle" can be found on the (excellent!) "Doc and Merle On Stage" live album, so I invite the reader to hear it there. The other two are unrecorded, as far as I know, so Ill do my best to relate them.
There was this ol boy who was hoeing his corn patch one day. It was a mighty hot day, and you could smell a storm coming, not far off. Well, he sees his little boy come tearing down the lane, and he hies up and says;
"Daddy, Mamma says for you to come up to the house right now, cause the preacher is a-coming."
Well, the ol boy thinks about it, and he knows he has to get those last two rows of corn hoed before it rains, since theyre plum full of weeds. So he says;
"Son, you run back to the house and tell your Mamma Ill be there just as soon as I finish these last two rows."
"But looky here, son, you sneak down the road and see which preachers a-coming. If its that Catholic fellow, you go and get my jug of wine from behind the door and hide it. There aint much left, and hes sure to drink it all."
"Now, if its that Methodist preacher, you go and take that money Ive got hid in the cookie jar, and put it under my pillow. That fellerll get to eatin them cookies, I know, and Id hate to tempt him with that money."
"But, now listen close, son, if its that ol Baptist boy, the one who dresses so fine and always tries to look so purty, you go and sit on your Mammas lap till I get to the house!"
The other joke has been circulated quite widely on the nets, so I apologize it youve heard it. However, try to picture Doc telling it.. ;-)
This fellow gets up one morning, and his ear is bothering him something awful; itching and burning and just generally vexing him terrible. He tugs at it and itches it all through breakfast, and finally tells his wife that hes going to drop by and see the doctor on his way to town.
So he goes in to see the doctor, describes his problem, and the doc has a look in there with his little light. He gets a puzzled look on his face and tells the ol boy "Sir, I dont know quite how to tell you this, but youve got a suppository in your ear."
Well, the fellow studies on this for a minute, and then asks to use the doctors phone.
"Honey? Its me. No, everythings alright. I just wanted to tell you that I figured out where my hearing aid is."
Got a big laugh, did that one. <grin>
Doc announced that the Carters classic "Keep On the Sunny Side" would be the concert-closer, and asked the house to sing along on the last chorus, saying he wanted to see us off on a joyful note. They did a fine job on it, and got a thunderous standing ovation. Doc bowed low, and held the pose for a long time, perhaps 30 seconds. When they got to the wings, just short of actually exiting, Doc said a word to Jack, and they returned for one more number. Alas, I cant recall what the encore was, for the life of me. Rest assured it was great, though! ;-) Doc got another ear-ringing round of applause, the house lights came up, and Doc exited the stage for real, after again bowing humbly.
Indeed, in addition to Docs sincere "just folks" attitude, his great singing, wicked sense of humor, and, of course, his extraordinary command of the guitar, the thing that really impressed me was his humility. I mean, given his abilities and his success, itd be understandable if he was a bit big-headed. However, judging by this concert, nothing could be further from the truth. He made any number of self-deprecating remarks during the course of the night, and at one point he remarked on what a pleasure and a privilege it was to "pick for folks who appreciate it". Not only is Doc an outstanding musician, but an extraordinary human being.
All in all, one of the most enjoyable concerts Ive ever attended. Perhaps the two+ decades of anticipation made it all the sweeter, but sweet it was. It made quite an impression on Dana, as well! Which proves, I suppose, that Docs music knows no boundaries. Dana is 16, and her usual taste in music runs to current "heavy" rock like Korn and the Deftones, Swing Revival (Brian Setzer, Big Bad Voodoo Daddies, etc), classic rock and pop from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin, and oldies (Buddy Holly, the Coasters). Country and folk are not her usual fare, but she makes an exception for Doc! Indeed, she says the concert was a "spiritual experience" (her term).
Now, I hate to rant in a Doc review, but Ive just got to speak out on a couple of annoyances. First and foremost; cell-phone and pager owners, LEAVE YOUR ELECTRONIC GIZMOS AT HOME WHEN YOU ATTEND A CONCERT. Nothing is more distracting, to me, than hearing one of these scourges chiming out in such a setting. It happened THREE times during this particular concert. NO one needs to be that connected, with the possible exception of someone whos on a waiting list for an organ-transplant. Come on, people, leave em at home.
One other thing (and this didnt bother me nearly as much as the darned lectronic katydids); it is NOT necessary to applaud in the middle of a tune, folks. I appreciate those especially noteworthy licks, too. But you dont have to applaud right then and there. Honest! Its OK to wait til the end of the song, then applaud extra enthusiastically. Heck, give us a Rebel yell or two; just wait til the songs over to do it!
nough said about that. Sorry to end the review on a sour note; rest assured its really only nitpicking. Itd have taken a lot more than that to spoil such a special concert. If youre lucky enough to have Doc playing near you this year (http://www.pollstar.com/tour/TARTIST?doc+watson), I recommend that you do NOT pass it up! Hes scheduled to play in my area in mid-April (with David Grisman). Seating is very limited, with first choice going to "subscribers" of the venue, so Im not holding my breath. Im sure going to give it my best shot, though! The show will likely be completely different, no doubt relying heavily on the material from "Doc and Dawg". But even if I knew it was going to be the exact same set list, Id still go! After all, Ive missed a lot of Doc concerts, so have a lot of catching-up to do. ;-)
Thanks for reading.