With just a Dobro, acoustic guitar, and one great country blues voice, Jerry Douglas and Travis Tritt filled the North Carolina night with terrific music at the end of Day One of Merlefest 2009.
I left this morning and drove to Wilkesboro on a picture perfect spring day. The Shenandoah was beautiful as I drove up the valley: red-buds were everywhere, and the hardwoods were just beginning to green. Just another reason I treasure my 15 years in Staunton and go back as often as possible.
I arrived at the Wilkes Community College campus – home to Merlefest – in time to catch most of the Lovell Sisters’ act. I’ve written about the Lovell Sisters before, but they continue to grow as musicians and as a band, with more complex arrangements and beautiful harmony singing. They ended with a tune by that well-known bluegrass composer Jimi Hendrix.
Wayne Henderson followed on the Cabin Stage. Wearing his Boston Red Sox hat (see photo at right) and finger-picking on a beautiful Henderson guitar, Wayne and his band-mates put some life into tunes such as the old chestnut Sweet Georgia Brown. Henderson was also the subject of an earlier post on More to Come… as I wrote last January about his appearance in the Fretboard Journal. Regular readers will know how much I love that magazine, so I was thrilled to walk into one of the store tents after Henderson’s set and walk straight into the Fretboard Journal table. I had a chance to thank the editors for producing such a great magazine and to tell them of my quarterly blog posts when their current issue hits my mailbox. They were kind enough to say they’d seen More to Come… in their Google analytics.
Peter Rowan pulled together a bluegrass band for the evening and featured Stanley Brothers’ guitarist George Shuffler on a few numbers. Rank Stranger was the highlight – a perfect tune for Rowan’s voice and Shuffler’s guitar.
The disappointment of the night was Dailey and Vincent. They are the hottest new act in bluegrass, racking up awards right and left. The playing was technically fine, but it was all just a little too canned and too contrived – even down to stopping songs, cracking a joke or two, and then picking up where they left off. I finally wandered off to find some dinner, and only returned when I heard the beautiful voice of Tift Merritt. Part of the “Tradition-Plus” part of Merlefest, she was new to me and brought a jazzy, singer-songwriter sensibility to the night.
The stars were out on a crystal clear night when the stars of the evening, Jerry Douglas and Travis Tritt, walked on stage a little before 10 p.m. No band, no contrived jokes – just two very talented acoustic musicians. After a short instrumental, Douglas and Tritt launched into the Allman Brothers’ Come and Go Blues, showcasing Douglas’ bluesy slide and Tritt’s bluesy voice. They played for an hour-and-a-half, with each entertainer taking a short solo set in the middle, and the energy and musicianship were high throughout. They played Tritt’s hits (Here’s a Quarter, Call Someone Who Cares), a song to warm the heart of this preservationist (Country Ain’t Country No More – about the paving over of land for suburbia), and ended with the old Elvis hit T-R-O-U-B-L-E that Tritt has made his own. Douglas’ electric dobro was making enough music for a full band as they left a satisfied crowd.
Time to put this one to bed and get ready for a full Friday.
More to come…