Well, it’s been two weeks since the Germantown Doc & Dawg concert.. time to get off my duff and write a review. Here goes;

It was a dark and stormy night… Oops! Wrong forum! Thought I was in the LIT_CLICHES echo there for a moment... ;-)

Thing is, it was a dark and stormy night. But what better way to brighten up such a night than a Doc Watson concert? Right! There ain’t nothing better. Sadly, my daughter had to bow out due to a conflict with a school band competition. We tried to get her excused, but her band teacher is apparently some sort of philistine, and refused. So rather than take a drop of a full letter grade, she chose to attend the band function. A co-worker, Gordon Cervo, took the extra ticket off my hands, so at least I didn’t have to stand out in the rain and hawk the ticket.

But remember that dark and stormy part? Due mostly to the torrential rains, Gordon got lost and didn’t arrive until ¾ of the way through the first set. Could have been a problem, since I was holding his ticket, except the good folks manning the gates let me leave the ticket with them, with his name on it. So, mercifully, we didn’t miss a note of the concert, in spite of it all.

What: Doc Watson, David Grisman and Jack Lawrence live in concert
When: April 14, 1999, 8 p.m.
Where: Germantown Performing Arts Center, Germantown, TN
( http://www.ci.germantown.tn.us/gtgpac.htm )

Unlike the St. Louis show, I made sure I had a pen with me this night, so I was able to make an exact set list. Well, complete except there were a couple of songs I didn’t recognize, nor did I catch their titles, if they were announced. Here it is, with a few comments thrown in;

New River Train
In the Pines
<Jack Lawrence comes onstage>
Doc & Dawg
Corrina Corrina
The Kentucky Waltz
Rails Leading West
Unknown.. but it was "quick & devilish" according to Jack, and improvised
judging by the "arrangements while you wait" comment.
Blues at Dawn (aka Corey’s Gone)
Eastbound Freight Train
A’rovin’ On a Winter’s Night
Used To Be
Aggravatin’ Beauty Lula Wall
Paddy On the Turnpike
Way Downtown
Lonesome Bill’s Last Ride
Bye Bye Blues
I’ll Never See My Home Again
Stony Creek
Will You Be Lovin’ Another Man
Wedding Bell Blues (aka Blue-Eyed Jane)
Unknown slow tune, several phenomenal Grisman solos.. he
almost outdid Doc & Jack.!
Lady Be Good
Ready For the Times To Get Better
Travelin’ Man
Slidin’ Delta
Greenville Trestle High
Big Cindy/Salt Creek

As you have probably inferred from the set list, Doc and Dawg opened the show by themselves, and brought Lawrence on stage for the third number. Doc and Grisman seem to have a wonderful rapport, and their banter was highly amusing, sometimes downright hilarious. And it started before they ever plucked a string; Doc came in on Grisman’s arm, seated himself, plugged his guitar in, and powered up the amp (finding the jack, then the amp’s switch by feel, of course). Then he says "See there, Dawg, I found that rascal this time". To which Grisman replies "I don’t know why you fool with that thing, Doc", brandishes his mandolin, "There ain’t no cords on me!" Doc counters with "Yeah, David, but the way that thing barks, it’s easy to see how you got your nickname." ;-)

They then launched into one hot "New River Train". Doc was even more "on" than in St. Louis, if that’s possible, and Grisman showed himself to be a master of the mandolin. Not only can he make it bark, but he can play with great restraint (something that strikes me as a bit difficult, with a mandolin) when called for, as he proved on the next song, "In the Pines".

At that point, Jack Lawrence joined Doc and Dawg, and the fun really started! My estimation of Jack definitely went up with this show. Perhaps it’s because Grisman removed the focus from him somewhat, but his playing seemed to gel with Doc’s much better at this show than at the St. Louis show. I mean, Lawrence is a phenomenal player, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes, it’s quite obvious that he’s pushing himself. OTOH, the music just seems to flow from Doc, and no matter how technically breathtaking the lick, he seems relaxed, with plenty in reserve. Technically, Jack may even be more than Doc’s match, at this stage of the game. He often chooses intricate double-jointed fingerings, vs. sliding down the neck to grab the same note on an alternate string (Did I say that right, Martin? You do know what I’m getting at, right? My vocabulary is limited, not being a player myself..). But Doc makes it seem so effortless, and he has such great "feel"!

To give Jack his due, I’m afraid I might have been a bit hard on him in the St. Louis review just because I was missing Merle. Perhaps I’m a bit resentful of never having seen Doc and Merle play together. No, Jack Lawrence will never fill Merle’s shoes. I think the "feel", the ability to play without apparent effort, must be genetic. Merle had it, Jack don’t. But Jack is an excellent second guitarist for Doc. Given the fact that Merle is gone, he may be the best match available. But it doesn’t seem quite up to the level that I hear on the Doc and Merle recordings.

OK, enough pseudo music-critic jargon. I won’t try to play critic for the rest of the show, I’ll just hit the highlights.

Ironically, the two tunes I’ve listed as "Unknown" were among the best of the concert. Murphy’s Law, I s’pose. I’d never heard the one from the first set, but it was indeed "wicked fast", as Grisman commented. And while I’ve heard the one from the second set a time or two, I’ve never heard it done so well! I’d really like to know that one’s title, as it was phenomenal.

Doc again proved himself the master of Jimmie Rodger’s covers, with "Rails Leading West", and the Grandpa Jones cover, "Eastbound Freight Train", was mighty tasty, too. But the highlight of the first set, IMHO, was "Paddy On the Turnpike". It’s a favorite tune of mine, and it simply doesn’t get any better than this performance.

Doc, Dawg, and Jack seemed to have been just warming up in that first set, ‘cause the second set was even better! The leadoff song, "Way Downtown", was absolutely the high point of the concert, for me. It’s a song I can sing confidently (and I did, too, albeit very softly.. though not so softly that my neighbors didn’t give me a glance askance.. <grin>), by dint of hundreds of listenings. Dawg and Jack obviously know the song very well, and the live rendition was quite close to being a note-for-note clone of the recorded version (from Down South). On this tune, at least, it ceased to be a mere concert, and crossed the over the line to a bona fide transcendental experience. Words simply can’t do it justice!

Every song in the second set was excellent, with "Lonesome Bill’s Last Ride", "Bye Bye Blues" "Ready For the Times To Get Better", "Travelin’ Man", and "Big Cindy/Salt Creek" deserving special mention.

The one slight fly in the ointment, ironically, is one of my all-time favorite Doc Watson songs; "Slidin’ Delta". It’s actually a Mississippi John Hurt cover, of course, but if I had to pick one recorded studio song from Doc’s repertoire as my favorite, odds are it’d be "Slidin’ Delta". It’s my daughter’s favorite Doc song, by far, and those of you who read my review of the February St. Louis concert may recall her disappointment that it wasn’t included that night. She was livid when she learned that she had missed it at this show. Indeed, she refused to believe it, at first. ;-)

However, this performance was, to me, a slight disappointment. Jack handled his part fairly well. Nothing special, mind you, but competent, certainly. Grisman’s playing on "Slidin’ Delta", though.. well, to be honest, I thought it stunk. Now, it’s possible that Doc sprung this one on him unrehearsed. It certainly sounded like it. His breaks didn’t seem to fit the song at all, and his playing was a bit distracting throughout. But Doc’s playing and singing were superb, as usual, so I was glad to hear the song included in the set!

And what review would be complete without a Doc Watson joke;

I was in town the other day, and I run into this ol’ boy that I hadn’t seen in a coon’s age. We used to pick together a fair bit, and we had us some good times. Well, he told me he’d just built himself a new log home, and said "Doc, come on home with us, see the house, and we’ll pick some. I’ll bring you back home tomorrow." "OK", I says, "I got my guitar in the car. Just let me run tell Rosalie where I’m going", and so I went on home with him.

That new log home was beautiful, the logs felt like a hundred years old on the outside, but they was just as slick as could be on the inside. It was pretty small, just one big main room, a little kitchen off to the side, and one bedroom. Well, we sat around the fire picking, and has us a good old time.

Now, I’d missed lunch, and pretty soon the good smells coming from the kitchen got my belly to rumblin’. You know, when you’re really hungry, you just can’t get enough of some vittles. One of my favorites is a pot of navy beans or great northerns cooked real slow all day, with a big slab of salt pork thrown in, or maybe ham. With some hot biscuits to go with ‘em, boy, you really got somethin’. Well, the good woman had fixed all that, and a lot more besides. I was ashamed to eat half as much as I really wanted to, and I pushed my plate back a little early.

Well, we sat around the fire picking some more, and we had so much fun the time sorta got away from us. Pretty soon the ol’ boy says "Doc, I got to work tomorrow, I reckon we’d better turn in." "OK," I said, "I’m sure I bumped into a big pile of quilts over there in the corner a while ago, just put a couple down in front of the fire, and I’ll be fine for the night."

"Doc, I won’t hear of it", he says, "we’ve got a carpet in the bedroom, and we’ll make you a pallet at the foot of the bed." I told him I didn’t usually go in for that kind of thing, but that floor was awful hard, and my back ain’t what it used to be, so I allowed as how that’d be alright just this once. So we turned in.

Now we hadn’t hardly got to sleep good and proper when the dogs started raising a fearsome ruckus. I heard the fellow get out of bed, and I heard him break that double-barrel shotgun down. "You all go ahead and get some sleep" he says, "I’ve got to go get that bear before he carries off another one of my little suckling pigs." I heard him tromp down the steps, whistle up his dogs, and off they went.

Well, he hadn’t been gone for a minute when the little lady leaned over the edge of the bed and said "Doc, here’s your chance." Now, it was like she’d read my mind, and I wasn’t about to make her say it twice. So I got up from there, went out to the kitchen, and ate up ALL the rest of those beans…

OK, OK, it’s sort of a shaggy dog story. But Doc tells it great! Cracked me up, it did. ;-)

Definitely a concert to remember. It’s difficult to compare this show with the St. Louis date. The set list doesn’t overlap much, really, and Grisman wasn’t sitting in at St. Louis, of course. His mandolin added a whole new dimension, I think, and all in all it heightened my enjoyment of the show. Also, his harmony vocals were a welcome addition. In truth, I think his voice complement’s Doc’s much better than does Jack Lawrence’s. So all in all, I’d have to give the edge to the Germantown show.. but it’s a near thing!

And to close, I’ll repeat my advice from the February review; If you get the chance to see a Doc Watson show, do not pass it up! He doesn’t tour as much as he used to, and I’m sure he’ll cut back more and more as the years go by. In fact get your Merle Fest tickets NOW!

Thanks for reading.