Cherokee Shuffle*

On Monday morning, we packed up the car again and set off westward. The next scheduled stop on the road trip is Cherokee, North Carolina. Why would we include such a small town on our list of stops? Poker.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 provided Native Americans with a legal structure permitting them to formalise gaming establishments on tribal lands, and thus generate economic benefits for the tribes. It should come us no surprise that a town called Cherokee lies within the boundaries of the reservation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation.

So it was that we set off from Yadkinville after breakfast. We were in no desperate hurry because, as travel days go, this was a fairly short trip at only 185 miles. En route, we stopped in Asheville as I needed to buy some new trousers. That morning, I had disposed of a pair of Columbia technical trousers that I had worn out. Luckily, there is a chain of outdoor stores called REI that had a sizeable store there so we stopped off and I bought a replacement pair.

We carried on to Cherokee and checked in at the Harrah’s Hotel. It’s part of the Caesar’s chain so I was able to exploit my elevated status from Vegas and booked two nights at zero cost, which was nice. We had a nice room, although it looked out on to the car park roof – but free is free.

The poker tournament was due to start at 7:00pm so we grabbed an early dinner and registered. The tournament eventually drew a field of 37 players in total. Ishbel got unlucky early on and busted out while I was able to build a decent chip stack and lasted quite deep into the tournament. I suggested to Ishbel that she buy into the 10:00pm tournament while I continued to survive in the earlier one. Eventually, I bust in sixth place, and they were only paying four places which was unfortunate. On the bright side, Ishbel met with greater success in th 10:00pm tournament and the last three players agreed to an even split of the prize pool, so her winnings comfortably covered the costs of our entries, and then some.

Ishbel had played quite late so we were a little slow getting started on Tuesday morning but after breakfast we were raring to go. We had driven through some beautiful scenery on the way to Cherokee and decided to get away from the casino for a while and take in some of the countryside. We discovered that, about a 45 minute drive away, there was a waterfall, called Dry Falls, that had a walkway behind it. We jumped in the car and headed out.


The falls looked great from above, and the noise was deafening as we walked towards them. This was a good time of year to see them as the water was still running off of the mountains while the weather was pleasantly warm. As we approached, Ishbel filmed a video.

This was a lovely little spot to just relax and breathe the air.

After the falls, we headed back and both signed up again for the 7pm tournament at Harrah’s. Ishbel lasted longer than me but neither of us cashed. We didn’t feel like having the late night that would be necessary if we played the 10pm tournament that night, so we headed off to bed. Tomorrow, Nashville!

*Cherokee Shuffle is a traditional American fiddle tune often played at Old Time and Bluegrass jams.

They don’t have a soul like a Vincent ’52

The song 1952 Vincent Black Lightning was written by British singer/songwriter Richard Thompson, whom it would be fair to describe as a music industry outsider. It was a surprise, therefore, to hear a number of Del McCoury’s loyal fans calling for him to sing the song when Del asked the Sunday Merlefest crowd for requests. I was unaware that he had recorded the song back in 2001 and that it had become a favourite at his live appearances since then. I liked that the location of the song was changed so easily by substituting Box Hill for Knoxville.


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Sunday was another gloriously sunny day in North Carolina and we had made it to the festival gates even before they opened, with our instruments in hand. Once again, we wanted to jam for a while before the picking place got too busy and we achieved that goal. If anything, we were a little too early and we were there before the designated jam leaders showed up. Merlefest appoints local players from Wilkesboro to take the lead in these on-site jams and support anyone who comes along to play, which is a really nice touch for nervous pickers like us. We spent only a little while here before checking the instruments and going to listen to some professionals.

Doc Watson, the festival’s founder, described the target genre of music as Traditional Plus. We were definitely on the plus side of traditional for our first act of the day when we listened to Roy Bookbinder and guests play some Sunday morning blues. It was after Roy that we went to hear Del McCoury play.

Del was, undoubtedly, one of the highlights of the weekend. He played as a Blue Grass Boy with Bill Monroe back in 1963 and today was his 80th birthday. For an octogenarian, he played a mean guitar and still had an amazing voice. Also, the band use a single vocal microphone to sing three part harmonies. This means you get the theatricality of the traditional bluegrass instrument players stepping in and out of mic range in a miracle of choreography that is a joy to watch.

There wasn’t much that could follow that, so we went and watched Wayne Henderson and friends, including young Presley Barker again, pick some great traditional tunes. Before finally saying goodbye to Merlefest for the last time and heading back to the hotel, we stopped by the sand sculpture that had been a work in progress most of the weekend and was now finally complete.

We had watched this evolve out of a huge pile of sand as the weekend wore on. A very impressive piece of impermanent art.

We had been delighted to discover that the hotel had HBO so we were able to watch Game of Thrones on Sunday night. Avoiding long distance spoilers is important at the moment so we are compelled to watch each episode as quickly as we can.

Monday we will be moving on to Cherokee, NC.