Returning the Favor and other Slices of Life

Returning the Favor
Returning the Favor
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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Merlefest Saturday report

Merlefest Day 3 – Saturday Jam

Sorry for the delay in posts, I’ve been working on clearing a bonus through the kind folks at Poker Source Online (I love my sponsors). I managed to clear the Pokershare bonus in about 1500 hands, and was able to net a decent profit at the same time. I highly recommend folks check our PSO and their neat gifts, it’s a good way to get cool stuff or money while checking out new poker sites.

But when we left our heroes, we had just had a fantastic time at Merlefest Friday night and crashed in our hotel in Lenoir. So Saturday dawned clear and beautiful, not hot at all and looked like it was going to be another absolutely perfect day at the festival.

So the plan was to get up around 9 or10, eat the Shoney’s breakfast bar, and make it to the festival around noon. Yeah, well ,anyway. So we got up, made it to Shoney’s and got to the festival around 1:30. Suzy was rolling up from Charlotte with her aunt to meet us at the festival, and they were running just a little behind us. So we got there, got set up around the Watson stage, and cruised back up front to meet Suzy as they came in.

The Watson stage didn’t have a ton to attract me on Saturday, so my plan was to check out other stages, try to catch more Duhks and Mammals, maybe see a little Guy Clark, and definitely see Laura Love and John Cowan at the Dance tent. Good Plan.

And it mostly worked. First we caught Casey Driessen and friends at the Americana Stage, including Luke Bulla, Matt Mandano, Scott Senior and a pile of other guests. Great set by this young fiddle players and all his buddies. This set was great in that there was a lot of cross-pollination among the younger acts at Merlefest, which made it exciting for a lot of the younger fans.

The festival has many faces, and that’s one of the things that I really enjoy about it. There’s plenty of old-time and traditional music for the folks that are into that, plenty of rocking jam music for folks that are into that, and a splash of world music/Celtic boogie with a little bit of dance music thrown in. So there really is something for everyone, including some traditional country and straight-up Americana singer-songwriter stuff. So no matter what kind of jam you’re into, you can find something at Merlefest to appeal to you.

So after that, we grabbed more overpriced pizza, then over to check out the Duhks in the Dance Tent. Holy crap, what a high-energy set. The Dance Tent was rockin’ to the Duhks, with some of the most smoking Celtic/Canuck/Traditional boogie I’ve seen in forever. Top-notch musicianship and great entertainment is the norm at the festival, but these guys have added even greater energy than normal. Hope they come back for many years to come!

Hung out at the dance tent a little bit longer, then it was time for Laura Love and John Cowan. Dueling bass players with plenty of funk, this was sure to be one of my favorite sets. If you aren’t familiar with John Cowan, get there. He played bass for New Grass Revival for years and is a killer bass player and vocalist. Laura is a great bass player and singer herself, so this should be killer with lots of Laura’s songs, maybe a little bluegrass and some old R&B. And they did not disappoint! From Mustang Sally to Higher Ground, they went all over the song map, from John’s stuff to Laura’s stuff to straight up covers. And a killer backup band, with Barbara Lamb on fiddle and Scott Vestal on banjo. Phenomenal musicianship all around, kinda the theme of the weekend.

So while I’m jamming with the Duhks and Johhny C., Suzy and Debbie were checking out the shopping at the merchandise tents and the craft tents. And of course the cool food tent. So it didn’t take long for her to come find me for more cash. A couple of purses, hats and small pieces of pottery later, we found ourselves with a second mortgage and me having to cash out my 401(k) to afford our presents.

After getting my groove well and truly on in the dance tent, time for my last set of the day – The Mammals in the Traditional tent. The traditional tent is a small 200-300 person tent (small by Merlefest standards) and pretty unaccustomed to the kind of slammin’ jammin’ that was about to be unleashed. One of the coolest parts of this Mammals set was Ruth Ungar bringing up her dad an stepmom, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason to jam on a couple of tunes. That kind of family vibe and atmosphere is one of the things I love the most about Merlefest.

The clogging/dancing was fun to watch, too. There were clogging boards set up off the side of the stage. Ok, they were more like sheets of plywood, but they served to give folks a place to dance without thrashing the grass in the tent. And they did, and it was cool.

So then I moseyed back to the Watson Stage where Suzy and Debbie had watched Nickel Creek and eaten ice cream. They loved their set, Debbie has a Nickel Creek album, so she was already familiar with them, and Suzy has heard them often enough in the car, so they really enjoyed that. Then we waited for Bonnie and Steph to meander down from the Hillside Stage, where they had gone to catch another set by the Waybacks.

And we waited. And we waited a little more.

Finally they make it down the hill, and Steph is grinning from ear to frickin’ ear. Bonnie looks over at me and says “we won.” Apparently she was under the impression that they had seen the ultimate set of the festival. And I think she may be right – The Waybacks with Bob Weir in a reprise of last night’s set, then adding Sam Bush to the mix just as the icing on the cake. Zeppelin covers, Dead covers, Dylan covers, and all red hot according to the sis. That was all the boogie we could stand for one day, so we packed up and headed to Sagebrush right by campus for foodage.

And that’s where I had dinner with Bob Weir. At least, that’s what I told Steph to tell all her friends. What actually happened was we ate at Sagebrush, and afterwards Bonnie got to chatting with the manager. She waits tables at a Ruby Tuesday’s on weekends, so they talked restaurant bs, I suppose. She told him we had just left the festival (like it wasn’t obvious from the plethora of Birkenstocks) and he mentioned that one of the artists was in the banquet room eating. She asked who it was, and he said “I don’t know, Bob something, used to play with the Grateful Dead.” So Step charges off towards the banquet room to meet the legend, only to find that we had missed him by about two minutes. So that was my dinner with Bob Weir. Good grilled chicken, though.

Sunday was a much more relaxing day, with an amazing Hillside set from Bryan Sutton and Friends (hint to festivalgoers: if you see a billing for xxxx & friends, it’s going to kick ass). His friends included legends like Jerry Douglas and Tony Rice. Nice friends to have. I got a great picture of Peter Rowan and Jim Lauderdale in the crowd for Tony’s portion of the set, because everybody in their right mind loves to watch Tony play.

Then down to the main stage to see Emmylou Harris play. This woman is an absolute living legend of country music, and I’ve been a fan of hers since before I can remember. Bonnie introduced me to Emmylou’s music when I was just a little kid hanging around her house instead of going home, so it was super-cool to see her with my sis. Supercool for Bonnie, too, she cried through most of the set. It brought back a lot of great memories of her late husband for her, I the way that only brilliant songs can evoke memory. Interestingly enough, that was only the second time she’s cried at a live music event, and I was with her both times. The other time was when I got a comped box at the Newport Folk Festival tour and she got to go down to the front row to see Joan Baez.

Emmylou’s set was amazing, a voice like an angel and such fantastic musicianship. A great end to a great festival. Next year will mark the 20th anniversary festival, so I can’t wait to see the lineup they put forth for that puppy!


EAC said...

One Day you'll turn around and Watongo will be there, holding a hippie's severed head, by the hair.

cc said...

You had me at Shoney's breakfast.