Month: April 2012

Oh Happy Day! – Merlefest 25 Wraps Up

Sunday is “Go to Meeting” day in the South, so it figures that the final day at Merlefest has a heavy gospel flavor. But because it is Merlefest – and therefore eclectic – you have your choice of shape-note singing, bluegrass gospel, Sunday blues (which should appeal to the non-believers and sinners alike), and black gospel. I opted for the black gospel sound this year, mostly by default.  (Not surprisingly, I was “late” for church because I slept in after a night of the blues with the Tedeschi Trucks Band.) But the Lord moves in mysterious ways.  And with the Benedict College Gospel Choir (photo at top of post) the Lord definitely moves! By the time I arrived, the choir had an enthusiastic crowd at the Watson Stage swaying and singing to that gospel standard Oh Happy Day!  There was testifying by some of the best voices of the weekend (and that’s saying a lot).  It was the perfect way to kick off Day Four – the final day – of Merlefest 25. The only …

All Ages Welcome – Merlefest 25

Merlefest has a multi-generational flavor built into its DNA that was on full display Saturday. The festival’s patriarch, Doc Watson (top of post), took his turn at age 89 on the main stage that bears his name and that of his late son Merle for an hour-long love-fest by musical friends who have played with him since the 1970s.  As soon as the last chorus of Will the Circle Be Unbroken rang out, the Snyder Family Band – featuring 16-year-old Zeb Snyder playing some amazing flatpicked guitar along with his 13-year-old fiddle playing sister Samantha – took over on the cabin stage to showcase that roots music is in good hands with the new generation.  It was like that all day. I was dragging when I arrived on Saturday morning, but found a pick-me-up that’s better than coffee:  Jeffrey Broussard & The Creole Cowboys. Playing the pumping accordion that’s the heart and soul of Creole music, Broussard and the Cowboys rocked out on traditional Zydeco tunes such as Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You (described …

Back to the Future(man) – How Are We Going to Top Merlefest Day Two?

At 12:30 on Friday afternoon, I thought I had seen the best show I was likely to catch on Day Two of Merlefest. Well, when I’m wrong, I’m really wrong! And I’m here to be the first to admit it. The day started strong.  As I expected, The Steel Wheels had a huge crowd on hand at the Americana stage for their morning set, and they didn’t disappoint.  The Shenandoah Valley band – at both this set and a later gig at the Creekside Stage – played to large and enthusiastic crowds.  I heard more than one person turn to their friend/partner/spouse and say, “These guys were incredible last night.” Spider Wings (“When you got too much, you don’t got anything”…or something like that) was my favorite, but they had so many good tunes coming out of them all day long it was hard to pick out just one.  Lead singer Trent Wagler’s piece about his grandfather’s response to Alzheimer’s – entitled Can’t Take That Music From Me – was lovely. The juggling of schedules …

Merlefest at 25 – Gifts in Small Packages

Sometimes the best gifts come in small packages.  That’s how it felt for me on the opening evening of the 25th anniversary of Merlefest – the Americana music festival tucked away in the hills of North Carolina. Opening day at Merlefest is the easiest to navigate, because virtually all the music is centered around the main “Watson Stage” – named for the blind guitarist Doc Watson from nearby Deep Gap and his late son and musical partner Merle.  (It was Merle’s tragic passing on October 23, 1985 that led to the first festival twenty-five years ago in 1988.)  Juggling between the 14 venues and making tough decisions about which acts to see and which acts to miss only happens later in the weekend. So I arrived after my drive from Silver Spring in time to catch the first of the main acts on the Watson Stage – The Boxcars. Coming together after stints with Alison Krauss + Union Station, J.D. Crowe, and Blue Moon, this is a “new” band with a lot of experience.  Even …

Adding Another Calatrava to the Collection

I was heading out of Dallas to Ft. Worth this morning, when I caught a glimpse of a signature white bridge crossing the Trinity River.  Could it be a Calatrava? No sooner had the thought crossed my mind, when a friend across the aisle said, “That’s the new Calatrava bridge which just opened here.  Yes! I knew then what my late afternoon schedule would include: a trip to photograph yet another Santiago Calatrava creation for my small but growing collection. I began photographing Calatrava bridges while on a 2009 trip to Dublin, Ireland, where two of his signature bridges cross the River Liffey.  My son Andrew is a big Calatrava fan and had alerted me to the existence of the bridges in Dublin. A couple of weeks later I was in Milwaukee, and was fortunate to be able to photograph the “flapping” of the wings of the Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Museum of Art.  That blog  has been one of the most popular I’ve ever posted, as web surfers have found the images online. So on a …

History says, “This is what happened.” Preservation adds, “Right here.”

  I’m in Dallas, Texas, for a meeting with preservation supporters.  On our tour, the preservation architect stands outside a building and says, “We’ll restore this building to its 1914 AND 1963 levels of significance.” Guess the building. It could only be the Beaux Arts style Old City Hall, where Lee Harvey Oswald was held and interrogated by Dallas police and then – while being transferred to the County jail – was shot and killed by Jack Ruby on a November weekend in 1963. Everyone of a certain age remembers where they were on November 22, 1963 when they heard the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated while riding in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas.  The various members of our tour group heard at their offices (one was actually working in Dallas at that time), from their children who had been watching cartoons, and from their parents.  As for me, I remember the principal at Cookeville’s Capshaw Elementary School coming over the intercom to tell us first that the president …