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.
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.