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Road Trip to Raleigh | So Long, Doc, Earl & Doug

Road Trip to Raleigh
By Yvonne Tatar

On Sezptember 5th, most of the Virtual Strangers hit the road to attend the IBMA convention in Raleigh, NC. Since the convention didn’t happen until September 24th, we were leaving a little early, but we and Kit and Mary Birkett were combining this road trip in our motorhomes to see some of the scenic sights between San Diego, Raleigh and points beyond. In Raleigh, we attended the IBMA’s World of Bluegrass convention on Summergrass festival business, and there I also attended board meetings for the Foundation for Bluegrass Music. Jon and Nancy Cherry were also on a road at the same time but headed on up to Niagra Falls and Pennsylvania areas on their trip.
First off, we made a 2 day stop in Las Cruces, NM to visit family. We had a great jam there with our CBA friend Jerry who plays a great dobro! We played for about 3 hours to family and neighborhood friends that gathered.

The evening was like a beautiful Southwest painting with the picturesque outdoor veranda where jammers played on this warm country evening in the middle of pecan orchards and ranches. In the background were towering mountains, and the most breathtaking display of night stars I have seen in a very long time. A real show stopper!
Motoring eastbound down Highway 40 through Texas and Arkansas, brought us into Tennessee on our way to Nashville. We never seem to be able to see all the things we have planned when we come to Nashville. Such a vibrant city with such a varied menu of attractions. As we entered Tennessee, crossing both the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers, the cornfields of Arkansas gave way to rolling hills and green everywhere.

Our campground in Gallatin, TN, was right on Old Hickory Lake and offered a great place to relax and camp. We spent a week here and did some sightseeing. Tuesday night was one of those great times you remCages Brendember for awhile. We had a potluck and jam session with our son Mike Jr., friends in the area, Steve and Carol Smith, and others we knew were in town including LeRoy and Jan McNees. LeRoy used to play with the Kentucky Colonels and appeared on the Andy Griffith show years ago with the Country Boys band. He is an awesome dobro player. A full moon overhead graced our campground there on the banks of Old Hickory Lake that night. Food and music were fabulous. Two days later saw us off to Raleigh.

After a quick visit in Asheville, NC, to see the Biltmore Estate (a must see), we made it to Raleigh and camped at the county fairgrounds which was really convenient. The city provided daily shuttles from there to the Marriott Hotel/Convention Center where the convention took place. The city really went all out to make IBMA attendees feel welcomed and wanted. We heard and saw bluegrass featured at every turn…on the news on local TV, on the front pages of the Raleigh newspapers, on the radio stations, etc. Coming from the musically diverse town of San Diego, this was really surreal for us…bluegrass in the mainstream media…it was a good thing.
And, as the numbers are collected and calculated, it looks like this year’s WOB was the best one yetStreet Fair Stage. The festival on Friday and Saturday were sold out as was the Awards Show on Thursday. The street fair on Saturday was really packed with folks for about an 8 block section of downtown with 3 or 4 stages of music playing there both days. This was in addition to the two festival stages going on. It was really amazing to witness the whole week of activities. KUDOS to IBMA, the City of Raleigh, and all those that made this year’s convention so successful!

After the Wide Open Bluegrass convention, we headed on up to Appomattox, VA. for a “bucket lisBanjo Marker signt” trip for me. My great, great grandfather who was in the 11th Infantry Regiment from West Virginia, was at the signing of the surrender of the Civil War at Appomattox back in 1865. I had always wanted to see where this took place and stand where he was on that momentous day. His name was on their attendance roster which was awesome in itself. But at the surrender, he took a piece of the bark from an apple tree at Appomattox. Underneath this tree is where General Lee hears from General Grant that the signing of the surrender would in fact happen. That piece of apple tree bark is still kept in my family and passed down to each new generation. Music History Factoid: During the Civil War, Samuel Sweeney served as Maj. Gen. J.E. Stuart’s personal banjo picker. Seriously that is the truth. There is a roadside marker explaining this fact near Appomattox. And, of course, Mike Sr. had his photo taken with that marker.

From there we headed back down toward onto Nashville for another short visit. While we were there we went to a small little bluegrass jam in little ‘burg of Millersville. The community came out and had a rousing time. It was heartwarming to see the local involvement and support. It was kind of like our Tuesday jams. The bands varied from beginners to pretty accomplished players. And I loved hearing their drawl when they sang too.
Over the next couple of days we saw Tupelo, MS; Red Bay, AL; and Natchez, MS. Lots of local flavor here and folks were super friendly. Red Bay saw the Birketts get some needed RV repairs done at the Tiffin Motorhome headquarters. We enjoyed an impressive tour there and even had a jam in one of the repair bays later that day. The repair guys gathered around and were really liking the music we provided.

We spent a couple days in Abbeville, LA, at Betty’s RV Park where she is widely known for her hospitality, happy hours and music jams. While there we jammed on two occasions with other bluegrass musicians camped there along with locals who came by to play. It was a great way to meet the other campers and share our music. We also saw a bluegrass band at a downtown festival as The Black Mountain Boys performed on the main stage. These guys were another example of the multitude of great local talent we have seen on this trip.

We had one day to do up New Orleans and we did just that with a chartered tour bus in the morning where we saw the city’s sights…French Quarter, Lake Ponchertrain levees, lower 9th district devastated by Hurricane Katrina, antebellum homes, infamous cemetery/mausoleums, Jackson Park, and ate beignets and gumbo and lots of iced drinks with the temps in the 90s and humidity in the 50s. Whew! This California gal was definitely using a fan that day! Later that afternoon we visited the new World War II museum downtown and it was really impressive. If you’re a history buff, this place is a must see. We connected with a longtime family friend in the area who owns a restaurant - Restaurant des Famillies. What a great place! They even have a bayou behind the restaurant where you can look out and watch the alligators swim as you dine. Food was awesome. Alligators were kind of intriguing…..

We’re got on the road to San Diego via Las Cruces, NM, where we enjoyed one last soiree with reChili Peppers Las Cruceslatives and friends there. In Las Cruces, we saw two bluegrass bands performing at the farmer’s market and our friend Jerry was there playing that dobro. Spread the news, Jerry! The locals were harvesting all kinds of peppers when we went through and here’s a field of some small variety.

I’m feeling good being able to witness so much bluegrass and roots music in so many places we have visited on this trip. Bluegrass music is making inroads in many places. This music is like a net gathering our country together in a common heart and soul. Our road trip has been inspiring and reassuring. We count ourselves blessed to be a part of this bluegrass heritage and to witness how it enriches so many lives.


So Long Doc, Earl & Doug
by Dan Crary

2012 was the year of the passing of three of our music's monumental figures; flatpicking legend Dan Crary shares his reflections on Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs & Doug Dillard

Earl, Doc & Doug

"Give sorrow words" the poet advised; not an easy thing to do when we have seen the passing of some of the greats of our music. And it always comes as a shock; you "know not the hour" as the Bible says. 2012 has been the year of the passing of some of our music's greatest monumental figures, especially for me, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, and Doug Dillard, as well as other greats of our music, including Everett Lilly. Sic transit gloria mundi, "thus passes away the glory of the world." And so we grieve for these giant figures in our lives and music, we feel their absence, make speeches, write memorials, and as the characters in the play said, gathered around the deathbed of Richard II, "For God's sake let us sit down upon the ground and tell sad tales of the death of kings."

The tales of Doc and Earl and Doug will be many to tell, in fact they already have been: happily these great players did actually receive some of their flowers while they were living, as the old Stanley Brothers song has it. Earl Scruggs seemed to come out of nowhere in the 1940's playing a style of banjo that was, by the time the world heard it, so complete, so powerful, all banjo playing since has been judged by its standard. The old tapes of the Bluegrass Boys on the 1940's Grand Ol' Opry record how audiences went berserk for Earl's banjo, demanding so many encores, it almost stopped the Opry rest of the show.

When Doc Watson burst on the national scene in those early 60's Newport Folk Festivals, he blew the New England folkies away with the power of his gravel-pure voice, and the greatest guitar flatpicking that had ever been heard. And when Doc and son Merle toured the world starting in the late sixties, they began the biggest migration of a single musical instrument in history. The steel-string guitar went from deep obscurity in the mid-20th Century to become the most ubiquitous instrument on earth.

Out of all the sincere and well-intentioned attempts of politics, diplomacy, philosophy, religion, and education to get people to be peaceable together, ironically today, the last thing on earth that all seven billion of us agree on is that we like the steel string guitar. If you could get into Tehran, Bejing, or Mogadishu there would be a peaceable jam session, and someone there would know the "Wildwood Flower." Having thus swept the world, Guitar music may, just maybe, someday save humanity; If it does, Doc and Merle started the trend.

Doug Dillard was another tremendous personality and player, very influential, and with The Dillards band, came roaring out of the California music scene in the late 60's and early seventies. The Dillards showed the world that Bluegrass music, acoustic instruments, and entertaining stories and repartee could make it on a major label and stand on its own surrounded by electrified country and rock music.

So it's shocking to think of our world without them; for me Earl was the blazing banjo sound that hooked me as a little kid in 1951; in my world, Doc was the fifth face on the Mt. Rushmore of music; and Doug was sassy, smart old time music walking unapologetically up and down Santa Monica Blvd. Now, without them, the world feels very strange, and we wonder what more to say about their absence. Books will be written, memorials created, and most of all, we will tell stories of Doc and Earl and Doug for a long time.

So what more is there to say? Just one thing more: to remind ourselves how their music and their example ought to influence us. In history the great funeral orations were aimed not at the departed, but at the living. Pericles after the Peloponnesian War and Lincoln at Gettysburg, for example, reminded the living to carry on the vision of those being memorialized. And that's what we can do as we celebrate and feel the loss of Doc and Earl and Doug. We can go back to the source, listen again to the recordings, hear in Doc's singing and playing what Utah Phillips called "the power of an authorless folksong." Listen to the beautiful inside stuff of Earl's banjo, the irony, the tone, the drive. And revisit those sessions from over three decades ago when Doug and the Dillards took Bluegrass to town and made it dance in the city streets.

And there is another important tradition that these heroes of our music all taught us: the tradition of, it's OK to do something different. Realize that the passing greats of 2012 are immortal and revered by us both because they were true to their roots and traditions, and also because the music they actually performed changed everything that went before. Doc, Earl, Doug: all innovators who warped and altered the music drastically while somehow never letting you forget where they (and it) came from. That's a difficult line to walk: their legacy of rooted-but-different is a challenging course for us to navigate, and it can get divisive. If you don't think so, just sit in on some of our beer-and-opinions arguments that range everywhere from "bluegrasser-than-thou" to "it's my guitar and I'll play what I want to." It's a dialogue as old as western civilization: will it be permanence or change? The answer to that one, my friends, had better be: "Yes!"

The examples of Doc and Earl and Doug are a perfect guide into our future. They're a compass to keep the music on course in some sense, but also to point to the next Earl, Doc, or Doug, the next inspired young player waiting in the wings to knock your socks off.

Think about it: somewhere out there, today, walking around, are the players who will be the heroes of 2062. So our job is twofold: we need to be the old curmudgeons nagging the young players to remember the tradition, and then we need the wisdom to get out of their way as they change things, become Doc II, or the kid-who-will-become-Earl, or a Doug-for-the-next-generation. Because as Lee Hayes of the Weavers famously said: "The future isn't what it was cracked up to be; and what's more, it never was."
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